Stepping onto the tour bus in Rotorua, I was somewhat skeptical as to what I would discover at Hobbiton. With a ticket costing more than $100, and as a huge Lord Of The Rings fan (my cats are christened Merry and Pippin), my expectations were high.
Now before I begin, I want to be very clear about what you cannot expect from Hobbiton:
- You cannot step into Bag End and walk around Bilbo Baggins’ home. The inside of Bag End was created and filmed inside a movie studio in Wellington. This is because building a full-sized hobbit hole in the side of a hill, complete with room for filming and production crew, would have been a bit difficult.
- There are no hobbits roaming around Hobbiton as they are fictional.
I say all of this because you will be amazed at how many people are astonished that Ian McCellan cannot fit into a hobbit hole and that there aren’t real-life actors walking around The Shire in full costume 24/7.
Now, all jokes aside, let’s get into things:
Hobbiton is located on the north island of New Zealand just outside the town of Matamata, not far from Rotorua.
You can take the tour either from Rotorua or Matamata. (Tours leaving from Rotorua are more expensive at is further away.)
Is it worth it?
I’m going to make this easy for you: if you are a huge LOTR/Hobbit fan, GO!
I was concerned that I would regret the money or feel cheated (travelling on a backpacker’s budget made me even more concerned about these points), but I have never regretted spending the money.
Much of the LOTR/Hobbit films were filmed in studios and/or with the aid of special effects. As such, Hobbiton is the closest fans can get to truly feeling like they are in Middle Earth. Bring your elf ears and hobbit cloak, and take all the pictures you can get – this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (I wore my elf ears and it was amazing.)
However, if you aren’t a particularly big fan and are being dragged along by a friend, you may want to give it a miss – especially if you have limited budget. Beyond being able to say “I’ve been there” to acquaintances back home, I’m not convinced that the tour will be enough to justify the high price tag.
The drive into Hobbiton is nothing short of idyllic. I felt a thrill of excitement as we moved further and further into Middle Earth. With the sun-filled blue skies and rolling green fields flanking us on either side, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.
The tour begins at the gift shop which is actually very pleasant to window shop in. (Be mindful of not spending all of your money there as much of the merchandise can be bought online!)
Our guide was enthusiastic and charismatic. We were offered plenty of stories about Hobbiton ranging from how the site was chosen by Peter Jackson, to the elaborate creation of an overly expensive plum tree that was only shown for a single second on film, to the almost anal attention to detail in the design of the set. It was refreshing to hear facts and stories I had never heard of before, and to get additional information beyond standard articles and the DVDs’ behind the scenes footage. I won’t elaborate more than this in case you decide to take the tour as I don’t want to ruin it for you!
As for the set itself: words cannot describe just how incredible it is. It is exactly as it appears in the film, right down to the quaint vegetable patch, and to the party tree that honestly looks like a fictional piece of green screen in the first movie (you know, when you see it in the distance behind Gandalf’s head and for some reason it looks fake?) You even walk down the path where, in the opening shots of The Fellowship of The Ring, you see the hobbit children running and laughing. I got particularly excited by Bag End with its “no admittance except on party business” sign placed on Bilbo’s front gate.
It’s also a lovely touch that the tour finishes in the inn, The Green Dragon, where tour-goers can enjoy a leisurely pot of specially-brewed ale (the beer is delicious, by the way.)
The attention to detail in Hobbiton is astounding to see. If you are remotely interested in movie production, set design or art, you will find Hobbiton incredible – even if you’re not a big LOTR fan. Even the moss that you see on the wooden posts and fences is man-made. Subtle props and carefully maintained gardens all create a set that feels so real it’s almost painful to remind yourself that it’s fake.
My only real frustration with the tour was that it was very rushed. Many of the reviews I read online before taking my tour were written by travel bloggers who had received complimentary tickets to visit the set with only a select few people. Well-styled, careful photos were taken and posted, and the bloggers had amazing images of themselves standing on the steps right outside the front door of Bag End. Some of them even had images of themselves standing inside the open door of Bag End.
However, on my tour there was a whole coach load of people and we were hearded through the set as quickly as possible, as the guide fretted about the time. This meant that photo-taking time was limited and it felt very crowded – it was incredibly difficult to get decent shot. Additionally, we were not allowed up the steps to Bag End as we were informed that tour-goers were not permitted to go beyond the gate, let alone take a picture from inside Bag End’s open door.
Value for money – the tour is very expensive as it is short relative to the cost: the majority of the time taken is the bus ride to and from the set. However, if you are a big LOTR/Hobbit fan, the chance to visit Hobbiton is priceless as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will regret not taking.
For reference, the costs as of 2016 are as follows:
- From Matamata: $79 for adults, $39.50 for youths (9 to 16 years old), and free for children aged 8 and under.
- From Rototura: $114 for adults, $74.50 for youths, $35 for children (this cost is for the bus transfer only as entry is free.)
For up to date prices, please visit the Hobbiton Tours website.
Time – the tour takes approximately 4.5 hours from Rotorua and only two hours from Matamata. These estimates include the time spent on transport to and from Hobbiton.
Scenery – the set is fantastic and exactly as seen in the movie.
Weather – for the most authentic feeling, Hobbiton is best seen on a clear sunny day as this is how it is depicted in the movies. However, as it’s a relatively short tour, it could still be enjoyed in poor weather (be sure to bring a raincoat if it’s wet as almost all of the tour is outside.)
How busy is it? – tours are frequently sold out so expect it to be busy for most of the year. Naturally, it is possible that it will be less busy during off-peak season in the autumn/winter months.
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