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Before the magical world of Harry Potter came into my life, The Hobbit was actually the first “fantasy” book I ever read.
I say ‘read’ but use the term very loosely – my godmother bought me a copy of this beautifully illustrated version for either Christmas or my birthday way back in 1998-9, and I remember spending hours just devouring the pictures, stroking the glossy pages and trying to read the words but not really succeeding. The Hobbit is hard-going stuff for a six-year-old.
At some point during my childhood, I did manage to finish reading the whole thing – pictures and words, pat on the back for me – and found myself in complete and utter awe at the intricacies of this whole entire universe JRR Tolkien had invented and brought to life all those years ago.
Fast forward 15 years to Spring of 2014 and I’m living in Granada, Spain, doing my weekly shop at El Corte Ingles when I come across the Spanish version of the book (El Hobbit, in case you were wondering) for an absolute bargain price of €0,99. Needless to say, I bought it there and then and…still haven’t got past the fifth chapter.
Trust me when I say The Hobbit is just as hard for a 25-year old to read in her second language as it is for a 6-year old to read it in her native tongue.
Somewhere in amongst my repeated failed attempts at reading The Hobbit in two languages, the film trilogy came out, and oh sweet mother of pearl, stretch my feet out and call me Bilbo, because I want to join the hobbitses! It’s not often I enjoy the film interpretation of a book more than the book itself, but each new release of The Hobbit made me more and more determined to pack my life in and find myself a hobbit hole to live out the rest of my days.
So imagine my absolute delight in finding out that Hobbiton is a real place and what’s more is you can actually visit it. Meaning you can put your feet on the same ground Gandalf the Great once walked on, sit on the same bench (maybe) that Bilbo Baggins once sat his little tush on, and marvel at the same mostly natural beauty that the rest of the cast did.
The only problem was that as it turns out, Hobbiton is almost as far away from Wales as you can get.
For once I’m not even exaggerating – the five furthest cities on this earth from Cardiff, Wales are all in New Zealand.
Which is to say, if I can get to Hobbiton, anyone can! And this page is going to tell you exactly how to do that, and what to expect when you get there!
Where is Hobbiton?
Hobbiton is nestled among the greenest hills I have ever seen in my whole life just outside Matamata, a little agricultural town in the North Island region of Waikato. There’s not much around Hobbiton except for cows, sheep, farms and the occasional house or lodging, but it is the perfect area to stop your car every six seconds to wind down the window and shout “LOOK, COWS!”
Hobbiton is actually situated on private land, a sheep and cattle farm owned by the Alexander family. When the first of the Lord of the Rings films was in its initial stages of pre-production back in 1998 (coincidentally around the same time I was reading The Hobbit for the first time!) Peter Jackson and his location scouts took to the skies in a helicopter to find the perfect place to bring The Shire to life. According to my tour guide, they spotted the 560hectares Alexander farm from the air and instantly knew it was THE place.
Fun fact: Some of the Angus cows bred on the Alexander farm are actually contracted to become McDonald’s burgers, so I guess a visit to Hobbiton isn’t technically vegan-friendly!
How to get there
Matamata is located almost exactly halfway between the cities of Rotorua and Hamilton, and the Hobbiton Movie Set is about a 45-minute drive from either. It’s also around 45-minutes from Tauranga in a different direction – all times are obviously dependent on traffic and how often you get lost.
The Hobbiton Movie Set website has much more detailed information (including really fun maps) on how to get there from all the main cities, and if you don’t drive or don’t have a friend who drives and don’t fancy forking out a gazillion NZ dollars for a private taxi, there are transfers available.
Obviously, before any of the above, you need to find your way to New Zealand – for this, I’d definitely recommend flying. There’s too much water to drive, it’d take too long by boat and you’d probably die if you tried to swim. I always use Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights, and they’re the reason I ended up being able to fly to New Zealand and back for just £420GBP return!
The Hobbiton Film Set Tour
Once you’ve navigated your way through the winding Kiwi roads and rounded that final bend to Hobbiton, then keep a hold of your hat because this is where your adventure begins!
I’ll preface this by saying the Hobbiton Film Set was one of the best experiences I had in New Zealand. In fact, if it wasn’t for the mouth-watering 20 dumplings for $13 I ate in Auckland, I’d go so far as to say it was the best. From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the tour and the Hobbiton experience as a whole and would happily go back time and time again.
Before going I was told by New Zealanders and tourists alike that visiting Hobbiton is one of the most cliche things you can do in New Zealand, that it’s over-priced and gimmicky. Well, if they thought that was going to stop me they clearly haven’t met me, the girl who travelled all the way to Croatia with the sole purpose being to find Game of Thrones filming locations and dreams of one day visiting Australia just to tour Ramsay Street.
In short: tourist trap or not, gimmicky film sets and locations are my jam and I would quite probably travel to the ends of the Earth for a pretty one.
What to do on arrival in Hobbiton
The first thing you need to do when you get there is to park your car (obviously) and then make your way to the ticket office to collect your pre-booked tickets or try your luck at buying them on the spot if you didn’t plan ahead.
As soon as you’re in the car park it’s pretty obvious where the ticket office is – you just walk through the gate that says Hobbiton and voila, you’re in what looks like a really nice beer garden with tables and umbrellas and lots of wasps and spiders. There are 3 buildings there, but they’re all connected to each other: on the left is the ticket office, then it’s The Shire’s Rest Cafe where they serve a tad overpriced food and drink, and then the world’s most Tolkien-icious gift shop.
When you have your ticket, just hover around until about 15 minutes before your tour starts and then start queuing in the right line. The queuing system is self-explanatory – there’s a wooden hut thing with no walls, separated into four sections. A nice man wearing a checked shirt (all the tour guides wear checked shirts!) will come along every so often and put a new time up above the sections. Just wait for your time to show, and stand underneath it. Simple.
And so the story begins…
The most eager of all the beavers, we were the first ones in the queue for our tour, and so when our lovely guide Fiona showed up around 10 minutes before we were due to start, we were the first one to board the very appropriately decorated bus. In hindsight, I’m kicking myself for not having snapped a photo of the bus but if you’re curious just do a quick Google search for “Hobbiton movie set bus” and have a peek for yourself!
As soon as everyone boarded the bus, our very chirpy driver took off and drove us the few minutes to the actual set.
The views from the bus on the way to the movie set were even more breath-taking than those on the way in; so much so that I found I couldn’t fully concentrate on the short introduction film they were playing, as I was too busy gawping out the window! The film features a little welcome message from the man himself, Sir Peter Jackson, and also the owner of the farm, and you get to learn a little bit about the history of how that particular area was chosen for the film.
After a short 10 minutes or so, we arrived at our destination: The Shire.
This is where our tour guide began by asking for a raise of hands firstly from those who had seen the films or read the books, and secondly from those who hadn’t done either. In my group, every single person had either read at least one of the books or watched at least one of the films, but Fiona the guide revealed that around 40%(!!!!) of people who visit the Hobbiton Movie Set haven’t read or watched either.
Normally I’d question why someone would go through all the effort of a visit to somewhere like this if they weren’t a fan, but then again I went to Popeye Village in Malta without ever having watched a Popeye film (in fact, I didn’t even know there was a live action Popeye film!) so if I asked that, I’d be a hypocrite.
Hobbiton is made up of not one, not two, but forty-four holes! That’s almost four each for every one of Jesus’s disciples.
One of the most incredible things about the Hobbit holes is that each one has its own little personality to match that of the Hobbit who is supposed to reside there. You can tell the hobbies of each of the Hobbits by the items lying around outside their houses. Some like to bake, some like to fish, some enjoyed woodwork and some like to collect beeswax or honey?!
The Hobbit holes around the set are all different sizes, and this was purposely made so they could shoot scenes with the different characters and make it look as realistic as possible – they made tiny Hobbit holes so Gandalf would look huge, and normal-sized Hobbit holes so the Hobbits would look…well, Hobbit-sized.
Interested in filming locations around the world? Check out this article: Trsteno Arboretum: The Palace Gardens of the Red Keep
The amount of thought and detail that went into the construction and ongoing conservation of the set is absolutely incredible! One little tidbit of information that Fiona the guide gave us that I absolutely love is that when the set was being rebuilt for The Hobbit films, Sir Peter Jackson remembered reading a line in The Hobbit about children sitting under a plum tree. It’s such an obscure line and quite irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but he wanted to make the movies as true to the book as possible, so he wanted plum trees! The only problem with this is that plum trees would have been too big and would dwarf the Hobbits even more than they should be, so instead, they planted apple and pear trees and wired fake plums onto them.
Apparently those plum trees never actually made it onto the regular film, but only the extended edition, which makes that story even more fantastic!
Hobbiton actually has a real, working garden which grows all sorts of fruit and vegetables, and a whole team of gardeners works upwards of 10 hours a day to preserve the garden and keep everything crisp and green (or orange, in the case of the pumpkins).
Although the tour doesn’t take you up close and personal with every single one of the 44 Hobbit holes on offer, you definitely get your fair share, and there is plenty of opportunities for photos! My lovely guide Fiona actively encouraged the whole group to get certain photos and even acted as photographer at times to make sure couples and families were able to get photos together too.
As you make your way around the set, aside from the many picturesque little Hobbit holes that’ll end up filling your camera roll, you’re also blessed with some absolutely beautiful views of Hobbiton and its surroundings.
I feel like I should make a point that this tour isn’t just a case of you getting walked around and the guide points things out to you. It’s fun, it’s interactive, and you really feel like you’re in one of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films! I kept expecting to bump into Frodo or Bilbo at every corner.
Throughout the entire tour the guide will give you fun little facts about certain scenes, props or behind-the-scenes goings-on. If you’re a die-hard, “I watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy at least once a week and know all the cast members’ middle names by heart” kind of fan, most of the facts probably won’t be new to you. But if you’re just a regular ole lover of hobbits but not to any extreme level, some will be new and you’ll love it!
One of my favourite facts was about the very last scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, when Sam returns home to The Shire after his epic journey. It’s kind of adorable and I love it: the little girl who runs out to greet him is the actor who played Sam, Sean Astin’s daughter in real life. According to the guide she hadn’t seen her father for months due to his filming schedule, and they brought her in for that scene, so the pure joy you see on that little girl’s face as she’s being held by her father is real. Also, the baby in Rosie’s arms is the daughter of Sarah McLeod, the actress who played Rosie, so it’s a real family affair!
There are so many more fun facts revealed on the tour, but I won’t go into them here so as not to spoil it for those of you who do eventually visit Hobbiton for yourselves.
I will provide one more spoiler about the tour, and that’s the burning question on the tip of everyone’s tongue…where is Bag End?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know that Bag End is in Hobbiton and you do visit there as part of the tour, but nobody can enter as there’s no official party business going on these days. For some reason I didn’t take a photo of Bag End on its own, so here is a picture of my red and sweaty self in front of la casa de Bilbo.
One thing worth noting is that unfortunately you can’t go inside any of the hobbit holes, bar one.
And the one you can enter is really kind of boring – there’s nothing inside but a glass of water, an umbrella and a shovel. The reason you can’t enter the Hobbit holes is that a lot of them are just constructed on the outside, with nothing inside them. They’re not living, working Hobbit holes. Remember, it’s a movie set and not an actual village for Hobbits.
When you’re done having a photoshoot with the Hobbit holes, the tour takes you on to the final stop, which just so happens to be the only fully functional building in the whole of The Shire…
The Green Dragon Inn!
The Green Dragon Inn is more than just a part of the movie set, but it actually functions as an *almost* fully-fledged pub. Everybody on the tour gets a free drink at the Green Dragon, all of which are unique to Hobbiton – you can choose from ginger beer (which I can confirm tasted gross), stout (whatever that is, but I can confirm it also tasted gross), apple cider and another type of ale.
You can also buy some cold and hot snacks at the Green Dragon Inn, which are very English… almost too English, I’d say. Some of the wares on offer are beef and ale pie, cold pork pie, ploughman sandwich, scones and muffins.
I bought my Indian friend a cold pork pie, thinking he’d like it, but having not eaten a pork pie for more than a decade I’d forgotten about how much of that gross piggy jelly it contains, and it’s safe to say he’s scarred for life.
The Green Dragon Inn is also where you eat the breakfast or the banquet supper, if you opt for one of those add-ons with your tours. They’re only available at certain times and on certain days, and definitely need to be booked as far in advance as possible!
If your tour is on schedule, you should get at least a good 20-30 minutes to relax at the Green Dragon Inn, enjoy the views outside, have a little photoshoot and even try on some traditional Hobbit attire!
And this is where the tour sadly ends! This is where you all head back to the beginning, board your bus and get ferried back to The Shire’s Rest.
The tour was quoted online as being 2-3 hours in total, which seems like a long time as Hobbiton Movie Set is quite small, but you have so much fun that the time absolutely whizzes by and before you know it your adventure in Middle Earth is over!
Have you been to Hobbiton? And if not, is it on your bucket list?!
The boring stuff aka FAQ
How much does the tour cost?
An adult ticket for the standard guided tour, meaning not including any transport or food, is $85NZD per person which converts to about £44 at the current exchange rate. A lot of money for a 2-hour tour? Maybe. Worth it? Abso-freaking-lutely!
You just can’t put a price on living out your lifelong dream of being an actual hobbit!
There are also other, more expensive options which include added bonuses like banquet feasts and private tours and the likes, but I didn’t do any of those and am actually starting to bore myself writing all these facts and figures so just check out the website for more information on the other tours available.
Ugh, I hate guided tours. Can’t I go by myself?
The short answer is no. The long answer is you could try, but would probably be arrested for trespassing and have to live out the rest of your days pruning the Shire garden as punishment so my recommendation would be not to even try it, and just stick with the guided tour.
Basically, as my lovely tour guide Fiona explained, it’s private property and still a working farm so no, of course, the family are not going to be happy about having random strangers running riot at all hours. They only offer guided tours at Hobbiton to limit disruption to the owners and also to preserve the film set for future. I mean, just imagine the absolute carnage if you were to let a bunch of hardcore Instagrammers loose in Hobbiton! Pumpkins would fly, Hobbit holes would be squished and if he wasn’t already the greyest of the grey, Gandalf would be fifty shades of Christian Grey.
Do I need to book my tickets in advance?
So the general consensus on the Internet is yes, you should book your tickets in advance to ensure you get the timeslot you want – however, when I was there I did see some people who purchased their tickets on arrival. The tours run every 10-20 minutes, so I suppose as long as your flexible it doesn’t really matter although in peak tourist season you should 100% book in advance!
I actually booked on to the 11:20 am slot and ended up leaving the accommodation way too late to arrive on time! You actually have to be at The Shire’s Rest (the entrance to the Hobbiton Film Set) at least 15 minutes before your tour leaves, and I knew we wouldn’t be able to make it on time so called them up and they happily moved us to a slot an hour later.
Can I take my camera to Hobbiton?
Um, yes. There was a Kuwaiti couple on my tour who vlogged the whole thing and a Chinese couple on a different tour who had their wedding photos taken there… so 100% cameras area permitted and, in fact, encouraged. In case you didn’t guess from my thousands of photos!
Is Hobbiton wheelchair accessible?
As it’s built on actual farmland, the ground is quite uneven, the path is often quite narrow and there are a lot of little inclines, meaning Hobbiton is not fully wheelchair friendly.
However, if you book your tour 2 weeks in advance they can offer you a complimentary golf buggy to help those with limited mobility get around.
When is the best time to visit Hobbiton?
The Internet says to try and book early in the day to avoid crowds.
That advice is all well and good but if you’re hoping to have the whole place to yourself you should probably prepare yourself for disappointment! Last season Hobbiton Movie Set are estimated to have welcomed around 640,000 guests!! Still, it’s said that the early morning slots are best if you want to share the set with less people.
My time slot was just after lunch, there were about 30 people in total on my tour, and a few other tours going around at the same time. It didn’t feel over-crowded and the guides made sure that everyone got the photos they want. However, the sun was pretty strong at that time, and we visited in Autumn so I can’t imagine what it would have felt like at that time of day in Summer!
Personally, I’d recommend keeping an eye on the weather conditions before you book your ticket. New Zealand can be temperamental, and Hobbiton is a farm so it would get hella muddy and slippery in the rain. I postponed my visit twice as I wanted blue skies and sunshine for the photos – and hey, the wait paid off!
Will I meet Bilbo Baggins?
There are no more Bagginses in Hobbiton. They have all moved on. There are some sheep, though, so you might meet them if you’re lucky!