Touring the Hobbiton Movie Set, New Zealand: Worth It or Overrated?
Would you pay $80 for a tour of an old film set? What if they threw in a free glass of beer and a guide whose main role was to politely hurry people past hobbit holes and rolling hills?
Not being a massive Lord of the Rings fan (and a critic of the stretched out, two movies too long Hobbit series), I have always been reluctant to throw down $80 on a tour of the Hobbiton film set. A recent visit by Gia’s family seemed like the time to finally take the plunge, and so off we headed to Matamata, a small town two hours’ drive from Auckland. Is Hobbiton overrated? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!
Starting the tour
Assuming you aren’t taking a tour from Auckland, you can get picked up by the Hobbiton bus in Matamata, Shire’s Rest (which is basically just an overpriced gift store close to the set) or Rotorua. Our driver told us numerous facts about the area, particularly focusing on the owners of the farm where the Hobbiton film set was created. She kept calling the film series “Lord of the Ring”, but apart from forgetting the “s” she was interesting enough. The scenery is typical New Zealand countryside — emerald green hills with the occasional sheep finding its way onto the winding road.
After the half hour bus ride we entered The Shire, home of the rich and showy Baggins family. They are the Kardashians of the hobbit world — proven by the fact they own the biggest and most elevated house in town (which is apparently an accurate gauge of hobbit wealth).
We passed by plenty of peasant hobbit houses too. All up there are 39 of these small dwellings. Of course, this being a film set, most of them are just facades. The attention to detail is impressive and the immersion into this fantasy world of tiny creatures and magical rings is spot on. From tiny laundry hanging on lines to immaculate gardens and grassy paths, Hobbiton feels like a living, breathing village. The only thing lacking was any actual hobbits.
Green Dragon Inn
After being herded along the narrow paths of the “suburbs”, we made our way to the town centre and its gathering point, the Green Dragon Inn. We had the choice of beer, cider or ginger beer and had 20 minutes or so to relax. This part of town, including the lake, bridge and little mill thing, is one of the most photogenic, and it’s nice not having a tour guide rushing you along.
And that’s pretty much it. We were dropped off at Shire’s Rest for 20 minutes worth of shopping (or in my case, waiting around) and then driven back to Matamata.
This is surely the most obvious statement posted on the internet today, but if you’re a big Lord of the Rings fan you won’t want to miss Hobbiton. What about the rest of us though? It depends on how much time and money you have. If you’re well off in both of those departments then you’d be crazy to skip it. If not, you have a decision to make. Despite enjoying it more than I thought I would, there are more interesting places nearby, including Rotorua, the Coromandel Peninsula and the Tongariro Crossing (the filming location for Mount Doom).
You can only visit Hobbiton as part of a guided tour, and this turns out to be kind of annoying. We took lots of photos and always felt we were holding up the group, which is never a nice feeling. So, in some ways it is overrated, but it is also worth it. I apologise for the fence sitting nature of my verdict — I guess you’ll have to visit and make up your own mind.
Getting to Hobbiton
It’s a good idea to book your tickets ahead — you’ll have to choose a time so try not to be late. We arrived in Matamata an hour early and were able to change to an earlier tour. You can join the tour in Matamata or Shire’s Rest, which is much closer to the site (you’ll pay the same from either pick up point). You’ll save a bit on petrol if you take the tour from Matamata but then you’ll have to wait around at the gift shop for 20 minutes. If you’re in a rush it’s best to drive to Shire’s Rest.
You can also get picked up in Rotorua (which costs more) or take a bus tour from Auckland. Whatever way you do it you’ll be stuck with a guide at the actual film set.
Are you a Lord of the Rings fan? Is Hobbiton high on your New Zealand must-see list? Let me know in the comments below!