OK so my Dad isn’t a hobbit as such (although he is short and hairy) but he is technically from Hobbiton.
Matamata, New Zealand that is, or the home of the set of Hobbiton.
Matamata was just a small Waikato farming town with nothing really special about it when my Dad was growing up here, and it stayed that way right up until 1998. That was the year that Peter Jackson chose it as the perfect site to base Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ home village of Hobbiton in the Lord of the Rings movies, then again for The Hobbit movies a few years later.
I was excited to be finally visiting the Hobbiton film set after first hearing about it years ago. Driving through Matamata these days, there is no mistaking that this is the town where Hobbiton is filmed, there is even a sign saying ‘Welcome to Hobbiton’ on arrival and the Visitor Centre was revamped with a Hobbiton Old English design.
When scouting sites by plane around New Zealand in 1998, Peter Jackson had an idea in mind of what he wanted Hobbiton to look like and what the chosen site would need to have, including a large tree (the party tree) in front of a lake. It would also need to be in an area with no modern structures in sight.
He found exactly what he was looking for when he came across the Alexander family’s beef and sheep farm in the verdant hills of the Waikato Region, located in the Central North Island of New Zealand.
For the Lord of the Rings movies, the site was first landscaped with heavy earth-moving machinery brought in by the New Zealand Army to form the contours that Peter Jackson was looking for, before creating the hobbit hole shells out of temporary materials such as plywood and Styrofoam. Once filming was completed on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy in 2000, the site was dismantled, leaving only the empty hobbit holes and the party tree.
Tours began at the end of 2002, with tourists having to use their imagination as to what the set looked like before being stripped to its bare bones.
Before the Hobbit trilogy began filming in 2011, the set was painstakingly rebuilt, but this time in permanent materials. It took two years to build, with plants and trees sourced from around the area, bricks made on site and the wooden beams for the Green Dragon Inn crafted by hand.
Hobbiton is now operated by the Alexander family in partnership with Peter Jackson, and is open daily for tours as well as special events. You can even get married here now.
We were picked up from Visitor Centre on Matamata’s main street and taken by bus to the farm where we were dropped at the small parking lot where the tour begins.
On the way in we saw no sign that we were about to enter a hallowed place for LOTR fans. It looked like a regular, non-descript farm. At the carpark there was a sign welcoming us to Hobbiton, but we still couldn’t see the village.
That is until we took the short path into the site.
And then we were transported to the Shire.
We emerged in front of a large garden with a flourishing vegetable patch and brightly coloured blooms. A scarecrow was perched to watch the faces of awe and excitement: visitors seeing this beautiful place for the first time.
It didn’t feel like we were on a movie set. Even up close it looked like a real village. A seventeenth century English Village.
The most beautiful village I have ever seen.
Colourful round doors were set into the hillside. Rustic picket fences and barberry hedgerows hem in the well-tended gardens. Tiny red brick chimneys emerge from the earth above each hobbit hole. Lanterns hang on hooks above each door. Uniquely shaped wooden letterboxes sit at the front of each property. Well-trodden dirt paths connect the small dwellings in a land of impossibly lush green meadows.
They did a fantastic job of making it look like hobbits actually live here, like they would come out of their holes and welcome us at any moment. There is actually nothing behind the doors of the hobbit holes but you wouldn’t know that from looking at them. The amount of detail is staggering.
Freshly cut flowers, carefully placed gardening gloves and shears sit on a small wooden table outside one of the Hobbit holes. Piles of fire wood piled haphazardly by a door, ready for winter. Tiny, hobbit sized clothing hung on a washing line, flapping in the breeze. A small wooden wheelbarrow parked in a garden, waiting to be used. A crooked ladder resting against a wall.
Our Guide led us through the Shire and told us about the filming of the movie, pointing out places of interest along the way.
Peter Jackson was very meticulous with his specifications for the movie set, everything needed to be perfect. One example of this was that he thought that the regular sheep on the farm looked too modern so instead of using them, he bought in some black-headed sheep.
We followed the dirt paths surrounded by tall fluoro green grass. Colourful flowers grew everywhere. It was a beautiful sunny day and I quickly overheated in my long pants. Hay fever struck me hard amongst the flowering plants. I was a bit of a mess with my nose dripping and my eyes itching.
We passed an orchard of apple and pear trees with a basket of freshly picked apples resting in the shade of a tree. Sign posts written in Middle Earth cursive style writing pointed directions to places in the Shire.
There were many wooden fences with moss and lichen growing on them. We were told how they were made to look old by painting yoghurt and vinegar onto the wood to encourage the moss growth.
Climbing a hill, we made our way to Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. A spectacular view unfolded below us as we rose above the rolling pastures, and the party tree and lake came into sight. This was the view that Frodo and Gandalf admired during the party in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. I couldn’t believe I was here, seeing it for myself.
The tree on top of Bag End is not as it seems. It is a real tree, although dead. After being sourced from a nearby farm, it was cut down with each branch numbered before being chopped off. Once transported to the site, it was bolted back together. Artificial leaves were imported from Taiwan and individually wired to the branches. Now that is dedication to perfection.
Walking down to the field where the party was held, we crossed over a small bridge and by a pine forest.
We briefly escaped the heat of the day under the impressive party tree, a massive pine tree with low hanging boughs. A large carnival tent and maypole were erected in the middle of the field. They lent to the air that this is a small village preparing for a party.
I swooned a little when we came across Samwise’s house with its sunny yellow door. For some reason I remember this hobbit hole the most from the films, it is one of the last scenes in the LOTR trilogy when Sam comes back from saying goodbye to Frodo and his family greets him at the gate.
Continuing on, we passed the stone mill with working water wheel. There was a noticeboard outside the Mill with community messages and notes pinned on it advertising a local fair and a wheelbarrow for sale. We crossed the small stone bridge over a river to the Green Dragon Inn.
This is the pub and meeting place for the village. In the movies, filming from inside the Inn was done in a studio, but the interior has been painstakingly recreated so visitors to the site can experience its rustic charm when visiting the movie set.
It was like all the best bits of my favourite pubs in England were put together into one dream version of the perfect Old English Pub. Exposed wooden beams. A roaring fire. Handcrafted wooden tables and chairs. A hand-carved green dragon above the bar. Dried herbs hanging from the kitchen ceiling.
I loved it all.
A drink at the Green Dragon Inn was included as part of the tour and I enjoyed a spicy ginger beer while Trav had an amber ale. They were both delicious and served in glazed ceramic mugs. The beers and a cider are specially brewed for Hobbiton and you can only get them here. You can even buy traditional food such as Beef and Ale Pie, Stew and Ploughman’s Sandwiches at the Inn if you are feeling peckish.
After reluctantly leaving the Green Dragon, we were only minutes away from the end of the tour and despite my desperate need for some more tissues and a change of clothing, I really, really wanted to stay.
The whole experience was incredible. There may have been a large number of tourists that are on site at any one time but I still felt like I had been transported to Hobbiton, and my inner geek was jumping for joy. I was completely blown away by the amount of detail that was put in to recreating the Hobbitse’s homeland. My expectations had been cautiously high but Hobbiton well and truly delivered, and then some.
Our Guide told us about a German guy that was visiting the site that refused to leave, as he said he was home.
I can certainly understand why