The Road Goes Ever On: Planning a Visit to Hobbiton in New Zealand

Get Your Hobbit-on in New Zealand

The rolling green hills and round, colorful doors of the Shire are an indelible part of “The Lord of the Rings” films. The Shire is where we first meet Frodo Baggins, and it’s the place he longs for in his darkest hour.

And who could blame him? The Shire is a peaceful, picturesque paradise. But does the real-life location live up to the on-screen utopia?

The Real Shire in Matamata, New Zealand

The filming for all the outdoor Shire scenes in both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogies took place on what used to be farmland, just outside of a town called Matamata in New Zealand. It’s about a two hours’ drive from Auckland, and under an hour from Rotorua.

Though filming has long since finished, the movie set has been left intact and is open to visitors. A visit to Hobbiton means a guided tour — you can’t see any part of the movie set without doing a tour.

It definitely pays to book your tour a week or more in advance, especially if you’re traveling in peak holiday season (December through March). If you choose to show up without a booking and hope for the best, you could end up waiting in line for a long time, even on a weekday.

There are several tour options to choose from, and none of them are cheap. The standard tour is the most popular and includes an informative guided tour of Hobbiton’s 44 hobbit holes, a brief stop and complimentary beverage at the Green Dragon Inn, and photo opportunities galore. At the moment it’ll set you back $84 NZD per person.

If you’re tempted by the tour option that includes lunch, keep in mind this lunch won’t get you more time at the Green Dragon Inn. Lunch is served in the Party Marquee, and you’ll be shown there after your drink at the Green Dragon.

It’s super easy to book online via the Hobbiton website, though my confirmation email went to my spam folder so if yours doesn’t show up, check there. If you’d prefer to talk to someone on the phone (something this millennial will never understand) you can also book your tour by calling (07) 888-1505.

The Experience

There’s a lot to be said for arriving early. When you buy your Hobbiton tour ticket the fine print instructs you to arrive at least 15 minutes before your tour start time, adding that your spot on the tour may be given away if you arrive later than five minutes before the start time.

They are not kidding about this, regardless of how good your “a wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to” Gandalf impression is. Hobbiton is a well-oiled machine and if your tour time is 10:30 the bus will be loaded and pulling away at 10:30 on the dot.

On the 10-minute bus ride from the Hobbiton cafe and parking lot to the movie set, your guide will tell you about the Alexander family farm, how Sir Peter Jackson chose it to be the set of the Shire for his films, and you will enjoy some lovely views.

Despite all the filming over the years and the tourist destination it’s become, the surrounding land is still operating as a farm, and countless sheep greet you as you as the bus winds its way to your destination.

On the way you’ll also watch recorded messages from Peter Jackson and Russell Alexander as well as some short clips from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” played on a TV screen at the front of the bus — try to sit near the front if you want to be able to see this (another reason to arrive early!).

At the end of this bus ride, the magic begins.

Brick chimneys poke up out of the green hilltops, hobbit-sized laundry hangs on washing lines and baskets full of fruit sit under trees in the orchard. In one hobbit front yard, a half-played game of chess sits on a table; in another, a picnic table is laid out for lunch.

As your tour group makes its way through the Shire you’ll see Sam’s house with the big yellow door, party bunting strung up in the field as though no one’s taken it down after Bilbo’s birthday party, and Bag End, complete with sign on the gate: “No admittance except on party business.”

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, it truly is magical.

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All that said, it is 100% a tourist attraction designed to pump as many paying visitors through as possible. You’ll have to wait patiently to get your photos in front of each hobbit hole and there will be times there are strangers in your personal space.

But the atmosphere is jovial. Almost everyone is there because of a love for the world J.R.R. Tolkien imagined and Sir Peter Jackson brought to life, and your fellow tourists will probably be happy to take photos for you and trade quotes. And nobody will judge you if want to run down a path shouting, “I’m going on an adventure!”

One thing to note is that you can step inside only one of the hobbit holes, and none of them are furnished. The facade is all there is — the filming of everything that took place inside the hobbit holes happened elsewhere.

You can, however, spend time inside the Green Dragon Inn. The pub is cozy and welcoming, complete with a roaring fire and peacefully sleeping cat. On arrival you receive your complimentary drink, and there are several hearty snack choices available for purchase.

But don’t get too comfortable, and be sure to take your photos as soon as you arrive, as you will have only about 15 minutes here before your tour group is moved on.

It’s not often that you can completely immerse yourself in the idyllic setting of a favorite movie. For Lord of the Rings fans, Hobbiton is an essential stop on your New Zealand trip.

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