Thanks to Hobbiton, New Zealand Is Home to the World’s Coolest Movie Set

Travel Features The Lord of the Rings
Thanks to Hobbiton, New Zealand Is Home to the World’s Coolest Movie Set

“You…shall not pass!” is something I just couldn’t help but say when standing by the sign marking the entry to Hobbiton, much to my wife’s dismay.

We had just arrived at The Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, New Zealand, and I was giddier than a Hobbit gorging on second breakfast. The two of us were nearing the end of a three week trip to Australia and New Zealand and while the entire journey had been filled with bucket list adventures, as a longtime Lord of the Rings nerd, this was a day I had been anxiously anticipating. I even prepared for it by rewatching the entire LOTR trilogy for around the 50th time on the flight from the U.S. to Auckland. It’s a long flight. 

While my Gandalf impersonation was met with a well deserved eye roll, we would both soon be blown away by Hobbiton and The Shire. It is the location of some of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies’ most important moments but it’s also stunning in its beauty and authenticity. 

Hobbiton History

A 1,250 acre fully operational sheep farm just outside the small town of Matamata is where you can find Hobbiton and the lush rolling hills of The Shire from The Lord of the Rings films. Construction began in 1999 and it took nine months to build 39 temporary Hobbit Holes across 12 acres, with the help of the New Zealand Army. Guided tours started in 2002 but the location was used again when Peter Jackson began filming The Hobbit trilogy in 2011. 

Today, there are more than 40 permanently reconstructed Hobbit Holes, a mill, the Party Tree, and The Green Dragon Inn where you can grab a beer or second breakfast, whichever you prefer. While Hobbiton offers several dining tours, private events, holiday activities, a beer festival, and hosts a yearly marathon (The Middle-Earth Halfling Marathon), my wife and I only had time for the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. 

Getting There

If you’re coming from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city and home to a third of the country’s population and its busiest international airport, you’re in for a two hour drive. The town of Matamata is on New Zealand’s North Island and is remote, so if you’re arriving from any major city from the South Island, such as Queenstown or Christchurch, you’ll be traveling by plane. 

The Mrs. and I flew from Christchurch into nearby Rotorua, a town well-known for its hot springs and celebration of Maori culture. For us, Hobbiton was a day trip. Our tickets included transportation from Rotorua to Hobbiton and back on a Lord of the Rings themed bus, which was about 45 minutes one-way. 

The Hobbiton Tour

After arriving at Hobbiton, our first stop was at The Shire’s Rest. This converted woolshed (sheep outnumber people in New Zealand six to one) serves as Hobbiton’s ticketing center and also houses a cafe, gift shop, and a garden bar. From The Shire’s Rest we grabbed our prepaid tickets and hopped aboard a different bus for a short ride to the movie set.  

A five minute bus ride later, we hopped off the bus and were greeted by a Hobbiton sign that offers a great photo op. We then walked the exact same narrow path that Gandalf takes into The Shire at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring and the 12-acre village quickly came into view. 

The two-hour guided tour is full of interesting LOTR facts (vegetables grown on site are real and get to be taken home by groundskeepers, Hobbit Holes are scaled to different sizes, the Party Tree is fabricated with the leaves wired on) but what makes Hobbiton so special is its amazing attention to detail. 

Nothing in The Shire seems fabricated and much of what you see has been perfectly preserved from the films. From Samwise’s home, to the Party Field where Bilbo held his farewell birthday party, to Bag End, every single place you look makes it feel like you really are in Hobbiton. Chess boards sit on tables outside of Hobbit Holes looking like a game has been paused. Gardening tools appear well used, while clothes are hung up and drying in the breeze. 

Being isolated helps with the authentic feel because all you’ll hear is the sound of birds, the wind, and other tourists when their mouths aren’t agape. You can’t really go into any of the Hobbit Holes, at least not yet, but the place still feels magical. The Shire seems so real, I half expected Everard Proudfoot to shoo me away with a broom for nosing around his garden. 

After a leisurely stroll that included tons of photos, we meandered by an appropriately sized mill before wrapping up our tour at The Green Dragon Inn. A favorite hangout for Hobbits, the interior appears just like it does in the films. Since a ticket comes with a complimentary beverage, it’s also a nice place to sit in a comfy armchair, kick up your feet, and have a drink in front of the fireplace. Apple cider and non-alcoholic ginger beer are available but my wife and I opted for the locally made Southfarthing Range ales instead. They were delicious. 

Is It Worth It?

As Lord of the Rings junkie, I knew Hobbiton would be right up my alley. However, I wasn’t so sure if my wife would be into it. She is NOT into fantasy adventure films. In fact, when I made her go see Return of the King in 2003 she fell asleep, then got annoyed when the sound of clashing swords woke her up. A visit to Hobbiton seemed like it might be only something I’d enjoy but thankfully I was wrong. We both fell in love with it. 

Hobbiton is a perfect blend of manmade beauty mixed with natural beauty. It’s literally a living movie set, and after visiting multiple movie lots and TV sets, I can tell you honestly I’ve never seen anything like it. Hobbiton is amazing and well worth a visit whether you’re an elf, wizard, or Middle-Earth tourist.

Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot, and aspiring hand model. When he’s not strolling through The Shire, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.

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