Review: The North Island’s Hobbiton Movie Set tour brings the magic of Middle-earth to life
Follow in the footsteps of Bilbo Baggins on the famous Hobbiton Movie Set tour in Waikato on New Zealand's North Island. It's a nod to the magic of film, and a whimsical wander through one of the country's most idyllic rural locations.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies can travel to the lands of Middle-earth and The Shire on this fascinating guided tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. See the working sheep farm that director Peter Jackson turned into the village of Hobbiton for his epic films. You’ll have the chance to grab a photo in front of the hobbit holes and hear insider information about how the movies were made. Duration: 2 hours
Among the rolling green hills in the heart of the North Island’s Waikato region, you will find the ‘real’ Middle-earth.
The Hobbiton Movie Set, which featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies, is located just a short drive from the town of Matamata. Also referred to as The Shire, it’s currently one of New Zealand’s most visited tourist attractions. Its rise to worldwide fame began with an aerial search for that perfect filming location, and this working sheep farm, owned by the Alexander family, was chosen.
Construction started in 1999 in preparation for the filming of The Lord of the Rings, and ten years later many of the structures were made permanent in a rebuild for the production of The Hobbit. The enchanting Hobbiton Movie Set is now visited by some 600,000 people a year.
I am not a fan of the books or movies, and truth be told I haven’t seen any of The Hobbit films. Even living in the Waikato region for several years didn’t entice me to visit Hobbiton. But more recently, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided it was time I found out what all the hype was about.
My visit to Hobbiton is in early May — just when the renowned Waikato fog becomes a common occurrence. The weather and time of day can definitely impact on your experience. Any time of the year is fine if the sun is shining, but there’s more chance of getting a sunny day over the summer months. If you want the best light for photos, a morning tour is recommended as The Shire largely faces the morning sun.
As I make my way to The Shire’s Rest cafe and shop, the fog is thick and low, and I’m a little worried it won’t lift before my 12.40pm tour. The Shire’s Rest is where Hobbiton tours begin. I arrive early to give myself time to collect my ticket, browse in the store and buy some lunch. The store offers a fantastic range of merchandise, and the cafe is reasonably priced. I enjoy my lunch out on the balcony overlooking the picturesque farmland. And what do you know, the fog begins to clear! There is a touch of magic here!
Pre-booking your ticket is essential, especially during the busy summer months. You can book online on the Hobbiton Movie Set website and make your own way to The Shire’s Rest. Alernatively, there are tours available from Matamata, Rotorua and even Auckland, which include your transfer and ticket.
I board a tour bus with the rest of my group for the short trip out to The Shire. We’re greeted by our lovely guide and a video introduces us to the history of the Hobbiton Movie Set. We’re also given strict instructions about sticking together. Our guide has a great sense of humour and some funny stories about what might happen if we lose her (no one wants to end up with the wrong group and on a bus back to Rotorua instead of The Shire’s Rest!).
The two-hour tour is conducted on foot and we’re all pretty excited to get going. And it’s not long before we reach our first hobbit hole. The novelty of it means we spend quite some time taking photos. Patience is key as everyone wants to get that perfect shot!
There are around twelve acres of hobbit holes, gardens, water features, and cute corners, nooks and crannies to see. We move at a good pace, but with ample time to stop for photos and to listen to interesting facts about the set from our guide. The distance covered is not that great; neither is the physical ability needed to enjoy the tour. There is an incline up to Bag End, but it would be manageable for most people.
Our guide points out the most famous locations from the films and some of the less obvious details. Her knowledge is really impressive. We stop at one particular hobbit hole where we’re able to pop inside the door for a photo (and in case you are wondering, the majority of the hobbit hole doors have nothing behind them; they’re just doors in the side of a hill). Our guide is happy to take the photos, which is great for solo travellers, or groups who always have one person missing from their holiday snaps.
From Bag End, the tour descends to the Party Tree, and then around the lake past the Mill, across the double arch bridge, and finally to the charming Green Dragon Inn. Upon entering, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been transported to another world. Here we’re treated to a complimentary beverage — a choice of two ales, a cider, or a non-alcoholic ginger beer. There’s also a cafe where snacks and other beverages can be purchased. From here it’s a short walk back to a bus, which returns us to The Shire’s Rest.
My verdict on the Hobbiton hype? At NZD $84 for adults, it’s pricey, but worth the money if you are a fan of the books and movies, or you just want to see a real film set. Our guide did a superb job on the tour and managed the group very effectively. However, you do need to be prepared for the crowds.
All in all, I’m glad I finally spent some time in magical Middle-earth.
Cover image: Tourism New Zealand/Ian Brodie. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. At the end of 2015, Karllie left her teaching profession, sold her home and became a nomad for the next few years. It sparked a real passion for budget solo travel, which she now loves to inspire others to do. In the last few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors — especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.