An empty road winds through bucolic farmland in the green Waikato region of New Zealand. I don’t pass another soul for twenty minutes and then, suddenly I drive around a bend and there’s a hive of activity!
By which I mean 20 people (New Zealand is never very crowded) enjoying breakfast at The Shire’s Rest Café. I have arrived at Hobbiton New Zealand, ready for some escapist fantasy, Tolkien style.
Where is Hobbiton?
The film set built for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then repaired and expanded for the filming of The Hobbit movies, is near the tiny township of Matamata, New Zealand, and is owned by New Line Cinemas. It is on private land – New Zealand doesn’t have the sort of public right of access you find in places like England. The drive from Auckland to Hobbiton takes around three hours.
But a partnership between LOTR/Hobbit director Peter Jackson and the family who own the farm have turned the Hobbiton movie set into a tourism magnet for this little visited part of New Zealand.
The Alexander family farm is approximately 500 hectares, with 14,000 Romney sheep and 600 black Angus cattle in residence. The Hobbiton film set is away over the back of the farm so there’s little chance to seeing it without going on a guided tour.
Hobbiton movie set
Hobbiton Tours run from either the Shire’s Rest Café (and farm experience) at the roadside or from Matamata. It’s a ten minute bus ride from the cafe to the Hobbiton movie set itself and the guides are friendly local folk.
The Hobbiton entrance fee is NZ$84 for an adult ticket (making attraction out of reach for many New Zealanders and travellers) but the Matamata Hobbiton is proving very popular, including with Tolkien fans who come dressed as Elves and Hobbits ready to dance in the party field.
They can even have a drink at the Green Dragon Pub and there are various meal add-ons. The Hobbiton village film set façade – part of the Mill, marketplace, stone bridge ensemble – has been expanded into a proper pub and venue.
According to the tour guide a 6’5” German fellow threatened to stay in his “home” and it took most of the day to persuade him to leave. Two couples have already got married here at Hobbiton New Zealand.
So what drew Peter Jackson and his LOTR film set scouts to the countryside of the Waikato back in 1997? Vistas of the Kaimai Ranges are blue in the distance and in the foreground is rolling green farmland with scattered treelines. It also has … the Party tree … a huge old pine that is slowly dying and which the Alexander family apparently were about to have cut down! It proved the perfect place to recreate The Shire New Zealand-style.
Hobbiton is really charming, with 44 hobbit houses (five new ones were built for The Hobbit filming) and immaculately kept gardens. Jackson insisted on real gardens with edible vegetables and the scent of honeysuckle was heavy on the air.
It is easy to lose yourself in a Tolkienesque fantasy and difficult to imagine there being 200 or so vehicles parked here and many hundreds of people working on the LOTR and Hobbit films. There was a food tent that catered for four to six hundred people every day.
Gandalf’s cutting, the party field, the Gaffer’s cottage and of course Bag End with its fake tree atop the Hill and the bench on which Bilbo and Gandalf blow their smoke rings. It’s all here in glorious detail.
Of course Hobbiton tours are only the start of exploring the many filming locations for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies in New Zealand.
By Natasha von Geldern
Are you a Tolkien fan? Would you visit the Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand?
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