Departing from Rotorua I was on the road for an hour long drive to Matamata to visit The Hobbiton Movie Set. I am an enormous Lord of the Rings nerd and love all the films so this was going to be a real highlight of my New Zealand adventure for me and the one thing most of my friends asked me if I was going to do whilst in there. I arrived early (of course) and took my booking confirmation to the ticket office and was given my ticket for the 10:40am tour. I waited for my time and then headed over to the meeting point to meet our tour bus.
It is a ten minute bus ride to the movie set and we were kept entertained by our bus driver “Pip” (she swears that’s her real name) who told us the history of the site and how the original Lord of the Rings Hobbiton set had been temporary and removed, but when making The Hobbit they realised the potential of keeping it as a permanent visitor attraction and the set was built more solidly to be left in place. It is maintained by a team of grounds staff and gardeners who keep it looking beautiful and just like in the films. We drove down the road which Pip told us the government had got the NZ army build to as, at that time, neither they or Peter Jackson had the funds to build it themselves. The army were used to transport gear all over New Zealand and also doubled as the orc armies in the films.
We arrived at the set and got off the bus and after walking through a little cutting we were suddenly walking into Hobbiton. Bag End was on the hill top high above us, the Green Dragon was across the lake and before us laid a landscape of vegetable patches and hobbit holes, to our left was the famous cutting which Gandalf and Frodo had ridden through on Gandalf cart in the first Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and Bilbo had run through shouting “I’m going on an adventure!” in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey…. a meme I had posted on my own Facebook page before leaving for New Zealand a week previously.
We were led through the various areas of Hobbiton by our English tour guide, Brock, who told us interesting stories about the set and movies. He seemed like a huge fan himself. I am always a bit skeptical as I have a friend who was a Sound of Music tour guide in Salzburg for three years without anyone ever finding out he’d never seen the film, but Brock definitely seemed to know exactly what he was talking about and knew the films every detail. He explained to us why some Hobbit holes were bigger than others, this was because some were built at 60% scale and some at 90% so it could be filmed so Gandalf seemed much larger and the hobbits seemed much smaller.
We were also shown how everything was real, the vegetables weren’t props, they were grown on set by gardeners and all the plants and shrubs were real except for one tree, which is the one which stands atop Bag End. Brock explained how this was a fake tree created to be an exact replica of the real one which was used in the first film. He told us how 200,000 individual fake leaves had been hand wired onto it, but by the time filming started the sun had bleached them the wrong shade of green and they had to all be resprayed by hand.
As we ascended through the village we all stopped to have our photo taken by one of the hobbit holes with a working door and finally we arrived outside Bag End with the no admittance sign still hanging on the gate. Brock told us about one famous scene where Gandalf and Bilbo sit outside Bag End and watch the sun set. The problem here was in the real world Bag End faces east, so they had to film it at sunrise instead and then reverse the filming to make it look right.
We paused here for more photos, before descending down towards the party tree and the site where Bilbo’s one hundred and eleventh birthday celebrations were held. Again another story from Brock about Bilbos birthday cake, which was made of polystyrene and under the heat of 111 candles caught fire and can be seen causing an awful lot of smoke in the scene where Bilbo makes his birthday farewell speech.
We followed the winding footpath through the village, over the bridge and past the beautiful watermill as we neared the end of our tour. Our last stop was at the Green Dragon where there was a complimentary drink of stout, cider, lager or a non-alcoholic ginger beer. I enjoyed a mug of ginger beer, took some more photos across the lake and then it was time to head back to the bus for the end of our tour.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hobbiton, (being the massive nerd that I am) and would highly recommend it. Indeed there was one couple who had never watched the movies, read the books and seemed quite confused as to what a hobbit even was, but they still enjoyed the tour too.
Back at the Shire’s Rest we disembarked the bus and I stopped to buy souvenirs from the shop, then it was once again back to the car and hit the road to Coromandel.
Book your tour space online to avoid disappointment. These tours get very busy and you could face a long wait, or be turned away completely if there are no spaces available. Book online at http://www.hobbitontours.com/ with options for pick up from Rotorua or Matamata if you don’t have your own transport. My ticket cost me NZ$79.00 which is about £45.00.