Like Golem to the ring, it’s hard not to be drawn to the Hobbiton Movie set tour as a feature of any trip to New Zealand’s north island.
If you’re anything like me, when you hear New Zealand you think Froddo Baggins, Wizards, rings of power and the difficulties of simply walking into Mordor… and I was born there, so JRR Tolkien’s tale has essentially one-upped my Grandma for things to visit when I head home (I still visit Grandma though, it’s okay).
The trilogy is all about the awe-inspiring journey of an unlikely protagonist, and the journey from Auckland city to the Alexander farm where the tour takes place has a magical feel all of its own.
The countryside is made up of endless rolling hills, covered in an ocean of vibrant green grass that flows between large trees, towering above the farm life below.
As you take in the surroundings it becomes increasingly apparent why Sir Peter Jackson saw this as the ideal home for his Hobbits. The landscape beautifully mirrors JRR Tolkien’s description of the Shire, an idyllic and fruitful land including small pockets of forest, with extensive agricultural systems owned and operated by small fellows with hairy feet, otherwise known as Hobbits.
We elected to drive directly to The Shire’s Rest ourselves, however, if you’re staying in Rotorua or Matamata and don’t have a car, the available tours offer pickups and drop-offs from both locations (at an added cost).
The tour itself leaves from The Shire’s Rest (TSR) on Buckland Road, which has a large car park, café and gift shop to satisfy all your memorabilia needs. I splurged a little and bought myself an enormous beer mug, complete with decorative markings of the picturesque Hobbiton scenery.
I think we all need at least one decorative beer mug for special occasions, or to drink excessive amounts of coffee under the guise of being able to say you only had one cup.
What to expect
The tour started with our group of excited adventurers forming an impromptu line for the tour bus in the designated waiting area.
My travel buddy and I ended up being super early (predominantly due to my enthusiastic alarms that morning) and we had managed to shuffle our booking forward to the 9am tour. The clouds were flirting with potential rain that day and we were happy to avoid sitting around too long.
We were welcomed onto the bus by our friendly bus driver, who was quite the character. Moments later we were joined by our personal tour guide, who we picked up at the entrance of the farm itself.
Enjoy a narrated bus ride to The Shire
The bus driver and tour guide formed a comical duo during the ride over, with some back-and-forth banter between the two accompanied with a neat little video featuring Sir Peter Jackson himself.
The video provided a wonderfully produced overview of the location’s history, including how the famous movie set came to be, it’s construction, and some of it’s starring moments in the numerous Tolkien films.
After little more than a 5-minute drive, we disembarked the bus and arrived at The Shire’s quaint little archway where our tour guide gave us the official introduction, and the clouds gave us a much less welcoming drizzle.
Luckily though (or unluckily?), rain is a common occurrence in New Zealand and we were promptly directed to a conveniently placed shelter, jam packed with raincoats and umbrella’s, to prevent any further dampening of our excitement.
Explore Hobbiton on a guided tour of the set
With the standard tour leaving every half hour, and tours lasting approximately two hours, there can be as many as five tours moving through Hobbiton at any one time.
It was therefore important for our tour guide to move us through the beautifully arranged sets on a carefully judged schedule, ensuring optimal space for each individual experience. Unfortunately, this did mean I wasn’t able to run off on my own and re-enact Bilbo’s iconic “I’m going on an adventure!” moment down Hobbiton’s main drag.
Our guide, who had a strangely fitting English accent, was able to explain some of the movie magic seen in the films as we were escorted from Hobbit hole to Hobbit hole, enjoying each intricate detail along the way.
To give you an idea of just how detailed the sets really were, each fence had been covered in fake moss to give the appropriate ‘aged’ appearance, each Hobbit hole had been themed for a specific Hobbit profession (a Hobby?), some apple and pear trees were hand plucked and remade into plum trees all for the sake of scale.
There was even a fake tree, with thousands of hand made leaves, which had been carefully placed atop Bag End during filming of The Hobbit, depicting a much younger version of the tree seen there in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (that’s right, the tree atop bag end needed each individual leaf to be hand placed on it’s artificial branches… what a job!).
The tour included a frolic in the same field Bilbo celebrated his 111th birthday, which included some old fashioned games under the enormous pine tree, which also featured in the film.
Embrace your inner Hobbit with a photo-op at Bag End
However, the prime photo opportunity came near Bag End, where one Hobbit Hole had been left slightly ajar, and each member of the tour was invited to take a photo doing his or her best Hobbit impersonation.
Upon completing our tour of Hobbiton and its Hobbit holes, we were guided to a beautiful arched bridge made of “stone” (it wasn’t really made of stone, movie magic strikes again!) situated over The Shire’s featured lake.
Quench your thirst at the Green Dragon
Across the bridge sat the glorious Green Dragon Inn, arguably The Shire’s greatest gem. We were treated to a special Hobbit beverage as a free inclusion, with the choice of Amber ale, Cider, and Ginger Ale to name a few (many options of which were strongly alcoholic) at the Green Dragon’s bar.
The building was incredibly detailed both inside and out, meticulously decorated in authentic furnishing, including some readily available Hobbit attire for visitors who wish to fully embrace their inner Hobbit.
After some free time roaming around the Green Dragon and its nearby function area, our tour guide lead us on one final stroll around the lake and, following the perfect photo op, we had found our way back to the bus.
Greeted with a warm welcome from our friendly bus driver, we were briskly transported back to The Shire’s Rest, and with it, reintroduced to New Zealand’s version of the real world (which is idyllic all on its own).
Hobbiton was a beautiful collaboration between each intricate element that went into the set, from the Hobbit Holes to the plum trees, every detail contributing to a truly immersive journey.
If I had to pick one highlight, I think it would be the Green Dragon Inn. The entire inside of the Inn was meticulously themed to Sir Peter Jackson’s vision, like it had been pulled from the pages of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit book itself.
The experience includes a return bus ride to Hobbiton from The Shire’s Rest, a guided tour of the entire set, and a cold beverage at the Green Dragon Inn to conclude your journey.
Added extra’s include pick up and drop offs from Matamata or Rotorua.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and despite a dire shortage of Hobbits, this was truly a fulfilling experience for any die-hard fan of the films, Tolkien’s books, or just someone with a love of the New Zealand countryside.
The tour is suitable for all ages, particularly the young ones (or young at heart!), and makes for a great day trip from Auckland, Rotorua and other neighboring regions.
Book your own Hobbiton Movie Set experience online today, and begin your very own adventure into Middle-Earth!