Hobbiton. It’s a real place. You want to know why? Because I totally went there. Hobbits are real, end of discussion. And they’re beautiful.
OK – well, sort of real. Alexander Farm is a 1250 acre property in Matamata, New Zealand, and is home to the set of Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. But it’s not just a movie set – this is an active farm. In addition to hosting hundreds of guests every day, the Farm sees approximately 13,000 sheep and 300 Angus beef cattle call the land home, with mutton, wool and beef being their primary exports.
The Hobbiton Movie Set as we know it today came about after the owners of the property, as well as the studio behind the film, saw the success of the early tours of the site following the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. When it came time to bring The Hobbit back to Matamata – an area of the North Island of New Zealand, about three hours from Auckland – the owners of the property had just one condition: they wanted to make this Hobbiton a permanent fixture. And so it was. Built to look great on screen; engineered to last.
To get there from Auckland, you either rent a car and drive, or you jump on a 3 hour, 15 minute bus with InterCity at 8 in the morning. It’s a long journey to see what is essentially a movie set, but for any fan of the film (or as you’ll discover, non-fans alike), it’s a journey well spent. Just make sure you use the restroom before you take off – there no toilet on the bus, and you don’t get a stop for two hours (Hamilton). The buses have wi-fi on board, but don’t expect comfort or recline. Thankfully, things are much more comfortable when you arrive in Matamata, the home of Hobbiton, and you’re dropped off at the information centre which has been given a Hobbiton facelift.
At the information centre you can redeem your pre-purchased ticket for the tour, or buy one. Tickets at the time of printing were $79 for adults and under $40 for guests 9-16 years. The experience starts with a half an hour drive to the place where you start the tour. From there you enjoy a 1 hour and 10 minute tour through the green hillsides of Hobbiton, before you wrap things up at The Green Dragon Inn for a Beer or a Cider (inclusive in admission) and then your exit through the gift shop The Shires Rest (naturally).
Both the driver that takes you to the walking site, as well as your tour guide once you get there, are naturally quite knowledgeable about the site, the films and the surrounding area. From our time together, we’re bringing you seven things we learned from our guides, surrounded by a group of tourists from all over the world.
1. There is literally nothing else to do in Matamata
Both before and after the tour, we had a bit of time to kill in Matamata – and there was literally nothing else to do there. It’s quite an industrial area, and some 14,000 people call Matamata and the surrounding suburbs home. So there are a few places to shop and eat on the main stretch – but this isn’t a city which has much else going for it from a tourist’s point of view. Do keep this in mind.
2. The site is now bigger and better than the original
The site was rebuilt to every painstaking details of the original film – except for one important difference: they added 3 acres onto the original 1999 set (making it 15 acres), adding 5 new hobbit holes, which you can see in the distance of shots. This brings the total number of Hobbit holes in Hobbiton to 44!
3. Only one tree is fake, and it’s pretty easy to spot…
The site is covered with Radiata Pine Trees, with one exception: a fake Oak Tree that sits with meticulously groomed fake plastic leaves above bag end. You can see it below, top left. Yep, that’s it – the smaller one!
4. Do you even movie bro?
We were told by our tour guide that one third of visitors haven’t seen any of the movies or read the books. Have they been living under a rock? We’re guessing they’re the members of the family who lost the vote in terms of what to do on their holiday.
5. This remains an “active set”
Though they’re not filming any more, this set requires a team from Weta Digital – who built the site in the first place – to visit every six months and give it a touch up. Everything you see here that isn’t “real” has been made by the props department. Things like the hanging clothes have been made to hang there for up to two years – so they only change them every fourth visit. Other aspects of the site that are real – the trees, the flowers, the grass and the dirt – this is all maintained daily by the local team to make it look just as picturesque as it did in the movies.
6. Hobbiton has its own beer. And it’s pretty great.
At the end of the tour you end up at The Green Dragon Inn, the exterior of which was seen in the first Hobbit film, with the interiors built exclusively for the Movie Set, re-creating the Inn down to every wood chip on the wall from the original sound stage set. Good George Brewing are behind the drinks they offer exclusively here. There’s two beers, a ginger beer and a sider. The Girdley Fine Grain Amber Ale was my favourite, though cider lovers shouldn’t go past the Sackville Cider. There’s also a Traditional English Ale in the Oatbarton Brew and the Frogmorton Ginger Beer, which is non-alcoholic for the kids and designated drivers!
7. Sorry, you can’t live here. But you can get married!
Sadly, none of the Hobbit holes have true interiors, so you won’t have the opportunity to live here anytime soon. But The Party Marquee which sits behind The Green Dragon does offer function packages – be it for a wedding or your eleventy-first birthday, which will surely excite the most fervent Lord of the Rings fans out there. And yes, they will permit you to dress up as a Hobbit or as an Elf, if that’s your thing.
For more details on the Hobbiton Movie Tour experience, visit their official website.
The writer travelled to New Zealand at his own expense with Virgin Australia and InterCity Buses. Hobbiton Movie Tours kindly hosted the writer for the afternoon. All photos by the author.