For me, Hobbiton is one of those places that you see sporadically pop up in photos on Facebook but never really fully believe is a real place. It’s too beautiful, too green, a pure beacon of geekdom in a word full of, well, also pretty cool stuff. And then I went to New Zealand’s North Island on my first solo trip, spending a glorious seven days adventuring around Auckland and Rotorua, and decided that Hobbiton had to be my number one priority of sights to see. Boy, am I glad that I did. Guys, it’s awesome!
Located on private farmland outside the tiny town of Matamata, about an hour’s drive from Rotorua, the Hobbiton Movie Set (as it’s formally known) is built in the exact same spot that filming for the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy took place. The set itself is built into the side of some pretty amazingly-vertical rolling hills and is only accessible by tour from the Shire’s Rest. I opted to base myself in Rotorua, and booked an afternoon tour through Great Sights NZ, which I would thoroughly recommend. I contracted gastro during my trip to New Zealand and Great Sights very kindly allowed me to reschedule my tour three times. Once I finally got on the bus (yay, go me!) both my bus driver and my Hobbiton tour guide were the friendliest, most enthusiastic people whose passion for the set was heart-warming.
Once you arrive, an old-timey sign brightly reads “Welcome to Hobbiton” as you enter a world of lush green grass, brightly-painted round doors and tiny washing lines. Yep, you read that right, in order to recreate the illusion that Hobbiton is a fully functioning Hobbit community the groundskeepers hang out vintage children’s clothing randomly around the set. It’s totally as adorable as it sounds. Honestly, the amount of detail that went into recreating the world of the Lord of the Rings made my poor nerd heart leap for joy – everything from real vegetable patches to flourishing flower gardens to Hobbit-sized tables and chairs set outside the Hobbit holes dot the NZ countryside. Oh my god, I feel like I’m describing a fantasy fairyland even as I write this. It’s that good, friends.
The area surrounding Hobbiton is pure New Zealand beauty, completely untouched by the modern world, so you can really immerse yourself in feeling like you’ve been transported to Middle Earth. There are no power lines, no cars (except for where the buses drop guests off), no houses and no internet, making the set the perfect place to switch off for an afternoon and indulge in some good old fashioned nerdy goodness.
The Hobbiton Movie Set is the very clever brain child of Sir Peter Jackson – legendary director and Tolkien super-fan – and the owner of the Alexander farm, where the set is located, and all the money from merchandising and ticket sales goes into improvement and upkeep of the set. Pretty neat, right?
Honestly, I could talk about how truly stunning Hobbiton is until Peter Jackson decides to adapt the Silmarillion as well (don’t worry, I’ll wait), so instead I’ll condense my excitement into some rapid fire facts for your reading pleasure. Are you ready, guys, here they come:
- The Hobbiton Movie Set is actually the second iteration of the set. The original was built out of Styrofoam and was pulled down after filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy finished. This new set was built for the filming of The Hobbit trilogy with permanence in mind and is made from wood from the surrounding area. Thatching experts from the U.K. were brought to New Zealand to create the thatched roofs and they are expected to last for the next thirty years without needing renovation.
- The Hobbit holes that Hobbiton is famous for (it’s in the name, after all) are actually only facades. The insides are just compacted dirt, held in place by a retaining wall. Interior filming for both LOTR and The Hobbit Trilogy took place at Stone Street Studios in Wellington.
- You could theoretically live inside a Hobbit hole, as the surrounding hills and compacted dirt provide natural insulation in winter and cooling in summer. Sign me the heck up!
- The Green Dragon Inn – which serves as a fully functional tavern serving specially-brewed ale and lunch to hungry guests – was burnt down three times during the filming of the movies for a particular scene. Can you guess which scene it was?
- You had to be 5 ft. 4 to be cast as a Hobbit (so basically it’s my dream job) and most of the extras were sourced from Matamata and the surrounding area.
It probably doesn’t need to be said (did I mention I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan?) but the Hobbiton Movie Set really is a must see if you’re heading anywhere near New Zealand’s North Island. By making camp in Rotorua, you can combine a half-day Hobbiton tour with a journey through the surrounding stunning geothermal valleys that have sustained Rotorua’s tourist economy since the 1980s. Te Puia – located only three kilometres south of the Rotorua CBD and home to the famous Pohutu Geyser – was a personal favourite of mine (keep your eyes peeled for a post on that soon) and can easily be combined with a trip to Hobbiton.
If there’s anything you take away from this post, please go see it. Just trust me on this one. Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan, the sheer natural beauty of Hobbiton is sure to put a smile on any wanderer’s face. You can thank me later!