Hobbiton (aka Matamata, New Zealand)

Hobbiton is a real place. You can actually visit the Shire, have a drink at the Green Dragon, and run around like a wee Hobbit lass (or lad) under the Party Tree. Just hop a bus to Matamata, New Zealand, a cozy little town on the North Island about three hours south of Auckland.

Backstory: When the Lord of the Rings trilogy began filming, they searched high and low for the perfect place to build Hobbiton, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. They found it in the middle of a sheep farm, and set out to build an elaborate and realistic set, complete with dozens of round wooden doors set into the hillsides. After the filming ended, they destroyed the set. However, when they began to rebuild Hobbiton for The Hobbit trilogy, an agreement was made to leave the set up, and a tour company was established to bring fans and non-fans alike to the beautiful region. (In case you weren’t aware, I’m one of the former.)

I was lucky enough to visit a Lord of the Rings set on the South Island back in 2011; my friends and I did a tour to Mount Sunday, where the Rohan and Helms Deep scenes were filmed. The Edoras set there was destroyed, but it was still beautiful country, and we had a blast re-enacting some battle scenes:

Me and my friend Pete; October 2011.

Compared to that, Hobbiton is Nerdvana.

First, there’s the iSite in Matamata, where all tours depart from. That’s your first clue that you’re not in your average New Zealand town:

And then you hop a bus, putter your way down backroads, change to another bus (named, of course, Gimli), and into the Shire you go.

The tour takes about an hour and a half, and winds around pathways, up hills and over Hobbit holes. There’s laundry hanging out to dry, gardens full of actual ripe vegetables just waiting to be harvested, and every hole has it’s own unique mailbox, informing you of the profession of the Hobbit residing within. If you ignore the cameras and the blue jeans, you might just believe that you’ve stepped into Middle Earth.

In the distance, you spot a familiar door. A green door, round, at the top of the highest hill, with a large tree perched overhead. You can just make out a bench, sitting in the front garden. Your heart starts to race.

Bag End is fiction come to life.

(It’s also closed to visitors at the moment; with filming still being completed for the third Hobbit movie, there’s a chance that they’ll need to return to this set one last time; therefore, No Admittance!)

The path meanders back down, passing Sam and Rosie’s yellow-doored hole from the end of The Return of the King. There’s the Party Tree, with tents set up, ready for a birthday celebration.

Our tour guide leads us down a path, over a bridge, and past the water mill, where we end our walk with a cold brew from the Green Dragon. They have specialty drinks on tap, made just for this tour. Try the cider, it’s delicious!

Our tour guide poses with a couple of drinks behind the bar.

There’s time to wander around and take in the detail of the pub. It’s amazing to realize how much work went into this building; this Green Dragon is not the same one that appeared in The Lord of the Rings, and won’t (as far as I’m aware) appear in The Hobbit, so it’s existence is solely for tourism use. And yet it’s as detailed as a real pub straight out of Peter Jackson’s imagination.

(Trivia tidbit: the original Green Dragon was actually burned down for a scene in the LotR movies.)

And then the tour had to come to an end. There was reluctance on everyone’s faces; no one wanted to leave this magical place! Our guide told us a funny story about a tourist she had recently: a European gentleman, over six feet tall, arrived dressed as a Hobbit. He was such a diehard fan that he refused to leave the set when the tour had concluded, proclaiming that he had found his home. They were finally able to coax him onto the last departing bus of the day! Funny as the story was, I think we could all relate a bit; none of us would mind spending a few more hours.

We passed a few signs as we headed back to our trusty tour bus, Gimli.

And that was my journey to Hobbiton. A stunning place, and highly recommended for anyone who’s a fan of the books or the movies (or both!). In fact, there was a woman in our group who had never seen the movies (she was with her father, who was a fan), and even she agreed that it was an incredible tour. And because the company is so fantastic, and their guides are so friendly, I have to promote the company that runs these tours: Hobbiton Movie Set Tours. (If you’re on the South Island, check out the Edoras tour through Hassle Free Tours!)

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