While New Zealand, naturally, is packed with film locations from the Lord of the Rings series, there is one that rules them all. Eh, I mean, there is one that might be of particular interest for fans of the series, namely Hobbiton outside of Matamata on the north island.
Let’s kick off with some trivia: This wee village has actually been built twice. After the initial filming of the LOTR films were completed, the Shire replica was dismantled as the land was to return to its original state of sheep farming business. But when it was announced that another three films were to be produced in the franchise, aka the Hobbit, everything needed to be built up once more. This time, it was decided to let all the hard work stand permanently and that is how Hobbiton is today one of the top tourist attractions in all of New Zealand.
However, it is not possible to visit Hobbiton without being booked in on one of the many tours that is offered daily. Meaning, there is no real ‘budget alternative’ for a visit. The $79 (NZD) is quite the torn in most backpacker budgets, especially as it is equivalent to about 3 nights worth of (mind you, budget) accommodation.
My concerns prior to booking
I was a bit hesitant before booking myself on a bus tour from Rotorua to Hobbiton… Sure, the money was one thing, but furthermore being hoarded around in a big group is an absolute pet peeve of mine. All the more so while being limited for time. I simply do not find it enjoyable. Yet this was a tour I really wanted to take, so with a bit of mental preparation for crowds I went along… and I was actually pleasantly surprised.
… is it really worthwhile?
I think that even if you are not a big fan of the films (there was in fact one person in my group that had never seen a single one of them. Like wow, what rock have you been living under since the new millennia?) you would still enjoy a visit to Hobbiton.
We had a very charismatic tour guide that kept dropping fascinating trivia about the building- as well as filming process. The tour as a whole takes about two hours, from that you get picked up at the i-Site in Matamata. From there it is about a 10 minute bus journey to Hobbiton itself, about an hour and a half of walking around the site (don’t step off the marked paths! Five gardeners work full-time to ensure the place looks as idyllic as it does) and finishes with an drink, included in the ticket price, of your choosing at the infamous Green Dragon… And then of course a mandatory “exit through the giftshop”, where the bus is to pick you up to return to the i-Site.
As for the crowds, the large (and undulating!) grounds easily seem to swallow a lot of people, and with an engaging group leader you soon forget about other tour groups. They will also make sure that everyone who fancies gets an opportunity to have their photo taken in front of the door of Bag End. If this is still a big concern of yours, I urge you to book the first, alternatively last, tour of the day if possible - as naturally there will be fewer people on the grounds.
An eye for details
Walking around the grounds really feels like being part of the film set; the attention to detail is really astonishing. From the hand written signs and painted letter boxes, down (literally!) to the manhole covers.
To give you an idea of just how much attention to detail Peter Jackson is about, let us do another round of trivia: So, you know the tree that is situated above Bag End (aka Bilbo’s house)? Well the tree itself is actually made out of fibreglass. And the leaves, that have all been individually sewn onto the branches, are made from silk and imported all the way from Taiwan.
I found the Hobbiton to be absolutely worthwhile. As I say, regardless if you are a fan of the LOTR franchise or not, I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in movie making in general. A really fascinating way to spend an afternoon!
Have you been to Hobbiton?
— What did you think?