Every fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films dreams of going to New Zealand. In fact, the movie trilogies directed by Peter Jackson based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels have spurred a rise in Tolkien tourism. Many fans of the LOTR fictional universe travel to significant filming locations based on the books.
The best place you can experience Middle-Earth magic is the Hobbiton Movie Set, a sprawling farm complete with hobbit holes, gardens, bridge, mill and souvenir shops. My favorite part of Hobbiton is The Green Dragon Inn, a real pub where you can sample beers traditionally brewed in the Shire, the home of the hobbits!
Last year, I found myself here during a family trip to New Zealand with my parents. My family, particularly my sister (a Literature professor), are big fans of the books and films. My sister traveled to New Zealand two years ago before all of us and just raved about Hobbiton and the other LOTR movie tours. She even threw my nephew a Hobbit-themed party on his fourth birthday.
After spending a few days in Auckland on the way down to Wellington, I got to see Hobbiton for myself. It was a short and sweet visit, but it really felt like stepping foot in Middle-Earth itself.
Hobbiton is located in Buckland Road, Hinuera in Matamata, a small agricultural town in the Waikato region in New Zealand. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Auckland or 45 minutes away from Rotorua. Daily tours start from The Shire’s Rest, from the Matamata i-SITE and from Rotorua. We had just come from Thames, where Art’s friend James, who works in a dairy farm, was based. We got to stay the night with his family and in true Pinoy hospitality, he offered to drive us to Hobbiton and to our bus stop to Rotorua the next day.
The only way to get into Hobbiton is to take the fully guided tour, which takes approximately 2 hours. After picking up our tickets which we had pre-booked at The Shire’s Rest (reservations are needed because these can get sold out quick!), we were assigned a bus which would take us to the farm. The tour starts with a drive through a picturesque 1,250 acre sheep farm. According to our guide, when Peter Jackson and his team were doing an aerial search for locations, they came across this 1,250 acre sheep farm and found it just perfect for The Shire.
The walking portion of the tour is a very leisurely trek. I really wish we had longer time and could go around on our own, but if they allowed everyone to do that, I guess no one would ever leave! The place is just so beautiful and overwhelming. You just want to run in the hills with the sheep in the lush countryside and enter every hobbit hole you encounter along the winding path.
Originally, there were 37 hobbit holes created for the set with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. After the 2011 rebuild, there are now 44 unique hobbit holes including the Green Dragon Pub, Mill, double arched bridge and the famous Party Tree.
The hobbit holes come in varying sizes and scales. You can’t enter most of these, as they’re just dummy doors and windows built into the hillside and not actual houses. You can only take photos from outside. There’s one hobbit hole with a red door that’s slightly ajar, where guides let you enter for photo ops.
I just love the attention to detail in the whole village. At the entrance to the walking tour, there’s a sign of “Welcome to Hobbiton” with a map. Along the path, you encounter wooden road signs and little posters with trivia and details scrawled in calligraphy from the movie. It kind of felt like walking around in Skyrim.
All the Hobbit Houses are just so picturesque with their little gates, rocking chairs and benches outside the doors amidst the natural landscape and gardens. There are tiny tables set out with food, farming equipment and tools, pastry shops, clotheslines with tiny clothes laid out to dry and lots of little touches that really give the place a sense of being inhabited by Hobbits.
A lot of the props in the gardens are perfectly sized for kids! I just wish they had a few real hobbit hole houses that we could actually enter and explore.
Bag-End is the Hobbit-hole with the iconic green door situated at the end of Bagshot Row in Hobbiton where Frodo and Bilbo’s adventures begin. Bag-End is the home of Bilbo Baggins, afterwards of Frodo Baggins, and later of Samwise Gamgee and his wife Rosie Cotton. You can’t enter this one, but you can take photos right outside the gate.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.“― Opening lines of The Hobbit
THE GREEN DRAGON INN
My favorite spot in Hobbiton is The Green Dragon Inn based on the popular inn frequented by Hobbits from Bywater and the neighboring settlement of Hobbiton. It’s a full-scale pub, where visitors are given their choice of different brews. You have a choice of traditional ales, an apple cider or non-alcoholic ginger beer, all handcrafted by Southfarthing and exclusive to the Hobbiton Movie Set.
The Girdley Fine Grain (ABV: 3.7%) is an Amber Ale with brewed with a classic English bitter in mind. This beer is about rich caramel malts and is the perfect ale to relax with after a long journey. It’s very light, malty and sweet, making it the default choice for afternoon tours.
The Sackville Cider (ABV: 4.5%) is an Apple Cider, with a balance of fruity succulence and subtle tartness and a nice crisp finish.
Oatbarton Brew (ABV: 5%) is a Traditional English Ale with roasty chocolate, coffee and vanilla notes. Intended to emulate the beer styles of Old England, this dark ale has strong malty tones. If you like your beers dark, this one’s for you.
For kids and non-beer drinkers, there’s Frogmorton Ginger Beer, a zesty non-alcoholic brew. The spicy ginger perfectly balanced with sweetness and tartness. Since there were 4 of us, we got one glass of each and got to taste a bit of each other’s drinks.
The Green Dragon Inn also serves a range of traditional fare like meat pies, soup, scones and muffins, which you can enjoy in comfy armchairs by the fire, or in the Beer Garden, overlooking the village. Outside you get a view of the mill, lake and bridge. There are even a few hobbit costumes and props you can borrow for photos!
I read that The Green Dragon Inn serves Evening Banquet Tours of “traditional Hobbit fayre” where second helpings are encouraged and can be booked for private functions, events and even weddings! How cool is that?
As a beer collector, getting to drink these unique ciders and ales in The Green Dragon Inn pub was a nice touch and the perfect ending to our Middle-Earth adventure. I just wish I could have stayed longer to have more. I wouldn’t mind staying for second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper either.
THE SHIRE STORE
Good thing you can buy bottles of the beers and Middle-Earth wine to take home at the Shire Store right next to the ticket center after your tour. The store features a selection of Middle-Earth souvenirs that will quickly burn a hole in your pocket if you’re not too careful. They have an extensive range of Weta Collectibles, Tolkien books, Location Guidebooks, exclusive branded clothing and much more are all available for purchase. The Shire Store is open from 8.30 am until 5.30 pm with extended hours in the summer.
RATES / ENTRANCE FEES:
- Adults: NZD $79
- Youth (9-16 years): NZD $39.50
- Children (0-8 years): FREE*
- *Children under the age of nine need to be accompanied by a paying adult
- Private and exclusive tours are also available upon request; $500.00 for four people
A note on prices: The cost of living in New Zealand is really high and everything is generally expensive. The entrance fee may seem overpriced for a 2-hour tour, especially when you convert it to pesos (TIP: don’t convert to pesos or you’re never going to want to spend when you travel!), but you’re paying for movie magic here! For fantasy geeks, a visit to Hobbiton will really be the highlight of your trip to New Zealand’s North Island. Queenstown in the South Island is a different matter altogether, but let’s save that for another article.
DEPARTURE TIMES DAILY:
- Tours depart daily from the Shire’s Rest Cafe, 501 Buckland Road, Hinuera every 30 minutes from 9:30 am – 3:30 pm. Additional departures at 4pm, 4:30pm, 5pm, and 5:30pm
- Tours depart from the Matamata i-SITE every 45 minutes from 9:30 am – 2:45 pm. Additional departures at 3:30 pm, 4:15 pm and 5:00 pm
- Tours depart from Tourism Rotorua twice daily at 8:15 am and 1:15 pm
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- You can only get into Hobbiton through guided tours and have to report to The Shire’s Rest ticketing center at least 15 minutes before your tour is due to depart. Take note that trespassers will be prosecuted.
- This is a fully guided walking tour. Since you will be hiking, sensible footwear is recommended.
- Some of the more hardcore fans make it a point to wear or bring LOTR costumes and props which make it look much cooler in photos.
- Tours can sell-out well in advance, so it’s best to pre-book or make reservations to avoid disappointment. You can make a reservation online by clicking here. Alternatively you can make a phone reservation by ringing (07) 888-1505.
- If you would like to be picked up from Rotorua you need to book at least 12 hours in advance.
- InterCity Hobbiton day tours are also available from Auckland, Rotorua and Hamilton. InterCity offers hassle-free trips from your point of origin to main tourist sights on a bus with free onboard WiFi.
Shire Tours, Shire’s Rest, Green Dragon and Hobbiton are registered trademarks of Saul Zaentz Company and are used under license by Ring Scenic Tours Limited and Wingnut Films Productions Limited, which are independently owned and operated.
For more details and online booking, visit: http://www.hobbitontours.com