Has a fictional book or movie ever made such a deep impression in your psyche that you believed there must be some shred of truth behind it? Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series did exactly that for me. It created an entire world in my mind of tiny Hobbits with big feet, blockhead ogres, ghastly Servants of Sauron, and agile elves with light steps. Without a doubt, Tolkien’s imagination captured the minds and hearts of so many people. The existence of Hobbiton in Matamata, New Zealand is a reminder of that. Follow along to get a closer peek at the location where scenes of the shire were filmed for Lord of the Rings.
How to Get to Hobbiton
One way to get to Hobbiton in Matamata is to rent a car and drive it from Auckland. The total trip takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes over 170 kilometers through a landscape of crayon green hills and colonies of grazing sheep. One of the favorite (but true) jokes in New Zealand is that there are many more sheep than people, with the current count at “fewer than six sheep per person” according to Newshub.co.nz. Although this is still an impressive fact, it’s remarkable to note that in the 1980’s the ratio of sheep to people was at an all-time high of 22 sheep for every person!
For Americans like me, it takes a certain level of coordination to adjust to a complete opposite set-up. Not only do you drive on the opposite of the road, the driver’s seat is also on the right side of the car. Luckily, the roads in New Zealand are generally clear and traffic-free, so not too many people will notice if you continually veer off into the sides of the road (like we were doing). For those that prefer not to drive, there are plenty of tour groups that will shuttle you to and from Auckland with their information listed on the Hobbiton website.
Consider Staying in Cambridge
Although taking a day trip would have been doable, I also wanted to take the opportunity to explore other parts of New Zealand outside the larger cities of Auckland and Queenstown. I’ve always found that a trip feels much more colorful when you change up lodging situations and stay at a range of hotels, hostels, Airbnb rentals, and bed and breakfasts. One of the places that stood out within my research was Earthstead Villas for its charming atmosphere and homemade breakfast. I also later found out that Ian McKellen (Gandalf in Lord of the Rings) had also taken to staying here during filming…bonus!!
Walking on the farm felt like looking into a distant life in a daydream. The bed and breakfast was run by Alastair and his family with great attention to detail. We were just coming out of a heavy shower of rain but his two grandchildren were out in their boots shrieking happily and playing in front of the house. We had a great chat with Alastair, learning about his life of travel and love for his home in New Zealand. I couldn’t help but let my imagination run wild just for a bit; fantasizing about what it might be like to move to the countryside and run a bed and breakfast from my own farm.
Plan Your Trip to Hobbiton
Not all nights in Hobbiton are created equal. On certain nights of the week, you can purchase the Evening Banquet Tour which includes the daytime tour, special dinner feast in the Green Dragon Inn, and ends with a lantern-led evening tour. This is the ultimate experience for any person because it is a true Hobbit dinner spread, unlike anything you have ever seen. As of 2017, Evening Banquet Tours are going for $190 NZD for adults and daily tours are $79 NZD for adults.
Now, I don’t want to give too much away for any of you that are planning on seeing Hobbiton for yourselves (you’ll find out much more on the tour), but it is extraordinary to note that it has been built in the middle of an existing farm. This piece of land had been spotted from an airplane and the production crew worked hard at transforming the landscape into the shire. After the movie and come and gone (with the set torn down), this family had received an overwhelming amount of inquiries from fans to see this area of movie history. Light bulbs went off and the area was then restored and improved to create the Hobbiton we can now visit today.
There is one fixture at Hobbiton that didn’t make it into any of the Lord of the Rings movies. Her name is Pickles and she is a calico cat. She belongs to the family and loves to hang out on the set and follow guests as they move through their tours. I had the honor of meeting Pickles right by the entrance of Hobbiton and stayed with her as she explored her favorite hobbit holes. I’ve also been told she can also be found sleeping by the fireplace at the Green Dragon Inn.
A Word on Hobbit Holes
The amount of detail poured into every hobbit home shows just how much care the owners of Hobbiton have devoted to inspiring the minds (and living up to the expectations) of Lord of the Rings fans from all around the world. While some of the knick knacks and vegetables are faux props, there are also just as many genuine articles of fresh fruit and vegetables. Each home has its own garden with vibrant wildflowers and shrubberies in front. It makes complete sense why Pickles the cat chooses to spend her days here.
All of the hobbit homes are facades, except for one hole where the door swings open just enough to go inside and snap a picture. The Green Dragon Inn does a great job of capturing the interior of a proper hobbit establishment, so you’ll have to make sure you visit if you want to soak in the full experience. There are so many exquisite details to catch, you’ll be tempted to take photos like a mad person. Be sure to give yourself a few quiet moments to break away from the group and let your imagination run wild.
A Hobbit Feast Indeed
Without a doubt, my favorite part of my visit to Hobbiton (with Pickles the cat close behind in second place) was the evening banquet. Before entering the dining area every guest was treated to an ale of their choosing. It had been raining off and on an entire day and the weather had a few chilly spells. Nothing could compare to the feeling of sliding into a worn leather armchair by the fire with a cup of beer in my hand. There was an undeniable energy building in the air as we waited for the grand unveiling of our feast, almost as if we were at a hit Broadway show.
A pair of thick curtains parted ways to reveal a scene of food piled high on each table with whole roasted chickens, dinner rolls, casseroles, fruit, baked vegetables, and slabs of meat. Like Augustus Gloop at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, all of the tour guests poured into the room with huge eyes, admiring the bounty of endless dinner options. This was like Thanksgiving on steroids. Despite breaking bread and sharing the table with other tour goers, nobody seemed shy at all about digging in.
Hobbiton Is A Special Place That You Won’t Soon Forget
After the feast, there was still another part of the tour. By this time, night had fallen and it was as dark as coals outside. Every person was given a lantern and encouraged to line up single file to follow the person in front of them. We took a final tour of the shire in this manner, enjoying the cheery lights each hobbit hole had to offer. To top it all off, our tour guide led us to the infamous party tree where we did a group jig in true hobbit party style.
It’s hard to describe exactly what Hobbiton is. It’s more than a movie set, it’s more than a farm, and it’s much more than just a fan park. This place is clearly a place for fans made by fans of Lord of the Rings. It’s a completely immersive experience that made me feel like I could have very well been a good friend of Sam Wise living in the hobbit home next to his.
Visit The Shire: Hobbiton, Matamata New Zealand
Rest Easy in an Eco-Friendly Accommodation: Earthstead Villas
Tolkien Travel Reading: Official Bookshop