While we were planning our trip home to New Zealand, we made a list of places we wanted to take the girls. High up on the list was a visit to Hobbiton. The set is located in Matamata, which is where Scott was born, and we frequently tell people that he’s part hobbit. The last time we were in Matamata, the permanent set didn’t exist and there wasn’t much to draw attention to it. Now, the tourist trade from Hobbiton seems to have taken over and you can hardly escape it in town. We knew that it was going to be a touristy place, but we were surprised at how much Hobbiton retains its charm, even with the number of people going through it everyday. If you’re a fan of the movies, you need to have the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour on your travel list.
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There are three departure points for the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour–The Shire’s Rest, Matamata I-Site, and Rotorua. These tours are the only way you can visit the set. We left from the I-Site, which looks like part of the movie set on its own. There’s a small gift shop and someone to answer your questions.
The bus ride out to the set is fairly short. An introductory video plays and the bus driver will tell you some trivia about Matamata, how the Alexander farm was chosen for Hobbiton, and how locals got involved.
We visited Hobbiton in early January, which is high tourist season in New Zealand. Because of this, we made sure to book our tickets well in advance. I can’t speak for off season, but if you’re there during New Zealand summer, you will need to book your tour early or you’ll miss out. Because of this, we didn’t know what the weather was going to be like and because our luck is often like that, a big storm was sweeping New Zealand at the time. The tours go ahead regardless.
The Hobbiton Movie Set offers complimentary umbrellas to use on bad weather days, which is an absolutely lovely gesture. You will want to make sure that you’re wearing good walking shoes (not heels, like we actually saw a couple of women wearing!) that you don’t mind getting a bit muddy. It is a dirt path for most of the tour and it’s far from flat.
Scott and I are big fans of the movies and the books. Madeline has seen bits of the movies, but that’s it, and the other girls haven’t seen or read anything at all. Touring the set was thoroughly enjoyable for all of us. Scott and I loved pointing out set details to each other and got geekily excited each time we spotted something we recognized from the movies, especially the more major set pieces. The girls loved all of the 44 different sized and colored doors and picked out favorites to have their pictures taken with. They listened to what our guide told us and even asked some questions.
The doors are a wide variety of sizes and most of them don’t open. They are solid, though, unlike the first incarnation of the set (this is the second). This set was built for The Hobbit trilogy and was made a permanent fixture after there was so much interest in the site following The Lord of the Rings.
There’s so much detail around each Hobbit Hole. They’re nestled into the hills with gardens, mail boxes, fences, and things the hobbits need for everyday life.
Of course, there’s one particular door that we sought above all others.
There’s a constant stream of tour groups walking the set. The paths aren’t wide and you will need to be patient. When we were there, people were orderly and everyone got the chance to take the pictures they wanted.
Alice took in everything our guide said and was really upset over the story of Sean Astin’s daughter running out to greet him. The story was that Samwise returned home in the movie and they wanted a real reaction of his movie daughter welcoming him home. In real life, he had been filming for a few months and hadn’t seen his daughter during that time. She was brought out to New Zealand and the first time she had seen her dad in months was in that shot for real. They dressed her up and filmed what happened when he came home. Alice misunderstood and thought they had purposely kept her from her dad just to get that shot. She still wanted a photo in front of the door, though, even if “they were really mean to the little girl” (they weren’t).
There’s no shortage of picture opportunities, and the guides are more than willing to help you out.
The tours are also timed, so you’re not going to want to linger too long in any one place. The guide will give a little talk at certain points along the path and then lets you continue on on your own until you get to the next talking point. Once you’re at the final door in Hobbiton, the group heads down to The Green Dragon. You can choose to have your complimentary drink or wander the set some more until the designated meet up time.
At The Green Dragon, you’re able to choose a complimentary drink that was brewed just for the movie set. They have a cider and an ale, but non-alcoholic choices as well if you so choose.
I loved the mugs and was hoping that they were sold in the gift shop, but unfortunately they weren’t. This felt like a missed opportunity to me. There were mugs, but they weren’t the same.
The Green Dragon was cozy and perfect. There are options for meals there, but we didn’t book a tour with one.
Emerging from the tavern, you can imagine the celebrations that Hobbiton has known.
The final stop on the tour is the gift shop. I will admit that I went into it quite excited to buy those mugs (which didn’t happen), but didn’t find anything else that I thought was worthy. I got my hopes up when I saw a window display of yarn and soap (two things that I buy too much of!), but it was just that–a display. Another fantastic set piece, but one that I wish I could have purchased.
Some final thoughts on the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour–it’s pricey and it’s completely touristy. For the movie lovers, it is a ton of fun to see the places that are special to us, but it was hard at times to see past the crowds. I am glad we went and I geeked out more than once. The girls had a good time (we were a bit worried since they didn’t know much about it). If you go into the tour recognizing it for what it is, you’ll have a good time. If you’re wanting to get completely lost in the magic of the set, that’s going to be more difficult. All in all, though, we found it a worthy way to spend a morning and left happy with being able to spend some time in Hobbiton.