I’m not going to lie. In fact, I’m going to come straight out with it.
Hobbiton was #1 on our list of things to do in New Zealand.
We are both HUGE Lord Of The Rings fans, and although we won’t have time to scout out too many filming locations on this trip, two places were certain: Hobbiton in Matamata and Weta Workshop in Wellington!
And so, arriving in Rotorua, we immediately headed to the Hobbiton Movie Set store and booked our half-day tour for first thing the next morning – and we could not have been more excited! We even met Gandalf, and I tried to steal his staff. Sorry, Gandalf.
We were picked up in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, for an hour’s drive through the countryside and some great commentary from our driver about our surroundings, the farm the set is on and how it was discovered as the perfect location, and his experiences working on the tours for the past eleven years. He was the sort of guy I imagined going for a drink with but not actually managing to drink anything because I’d be too busy laughing. He was great, and that wasn’t even really part of the tour.
The first thing we noticed during the drive, and in fact our drive to Rotorua from Auckland too, was just how green the whole area is. With all the rolling hills, you might as well be driving through the Shire. Of course, given the location, you pretty much are.
The tour itself began with a walk through the narrow brick walls where Gandalf drives the horse through and Frodo greets him with, ‘you’re late’. Our tour group is asked what Gandalf’s line is and Ash and I immediately reel off the whole thing.
We didn’t exactly luck out with the weather – but it could have been a lot worse. It rained for a total of about two minutes of our tour, and the sun even started to come out towards the end.
Our guide, Rachel, was brilliant and knowledgeable, and we learned a lot of secrets about how the hobbit holes were made, things that weren’t meant to be in the movies (Gandalf banging his head on the ceiling? That wasn’t supposed to happen and apparently if you listen VERY closely, you can hear one of the crew laughing), things they had to hide in the movies (for example there’s a shed in the distance that got disguised as a tree) and the best part? That tree on top of Bag End is fake – put together for The Hobbit with meticulous detail to replicate a younger version of the one in Lord Of The Rings (they burned that one after filming LOTR as it wasn’t a healthy tree and had to build a whole new one – for it to only appear in the movie for six seconds!!), every leaf was hand-sewn to the “tree” and they’ve started falling off. Our guide snuck in through the fence and grabbed a pile of “leaves” to give each of us!
But most of all, let’s face it, we got to bask in the fact we were in Hobbiton. Real life Hobbiton!
We were also encouraged to guess the occupations of all the hobbits based on the props outside their homes.
I took many, many pictures with hobbit holes. There are 44 of them, and I took pictures with at least six.
Bag End is, of course, the star attraction but you can only stand at the gate. Also remember that they are all external sets, so there’s no going inside any of them.
Well, except this one.
But my favourite house? Definitely Sam’s!!
Bilbo’s house might be iconic, but Sam’s house is just brighter and better. And ever so photogenic, too!
And then it was off for a walk down to the Green Dragon Inn, Hobbiton’s famous pub!
The place could not have been more perfect.
We even got a free drink included with our tour – I had a delicious apple cider and Ash had one of the English ales!
They also do food, including pies for a very reasonable $6, and scones, soup, stew etc. Exactly what you’d expect in a hobbit pub!
I also noticed Richard Taylor and Elijah Wood had signed the guest book, which made me geek out a little bit!
Plus I met a cat called Pickles. “Whose cat is this?” I asked. Turns out she came onto the set years ago while filming, and has been around ever since.
“She actually owns the pub,” our guide laughed.
The only downside to visiting post-Hobbit movies is that there is a lot of Hobbit memorabilia in the gift shop. I can’t help feeling they’ve probably discontinued a lot of LOTR items to make way for them, and it was the same at Weta Workshop (post on that coming soon!) where they had Hobbit postcards but not LOTR. Sorry, but The Hobbit just isn’t as good or as iconic! (bear in mind we are talking movie memorabilia here, not books)
That said, they have some pretty awesome things in there! Like a collectible Evenstar necklace that will set you back $300. And some pretty cool posters like vintage Middle Earth maps and even New Zealand maps with all the Middle Earth locations on them. Or you can buy huge bottles of the Sackville beer sold in the Green Dragon.
Or if you don’t want to spend a lot, there’s always the fridge magnet with Gandalf’s hat that says ‘a wizard is never late’ or a ‘no admittance except on party business’ sign.
As could be said for a lot of this trip, if we had more money we could have spent a lot in that shop!
My only issue with the tour is that you only have twenty minutes in the Green Dragon, which makes it pretty tight if you want a pie, which we totally did. But we decided against it because there was so much to walk around and look at! In fact, my tour group almost left me behind because I got distracted by a display cabinet I hadn’t seen. Oops!
But other than that, it is SO worth doing! We even had people on our tour who have never seen the movies… which I don’t understand, but it’s a magical experience regardless. It’s just a shame you can’t spend all day there.
Tours are $114 from Rotorua ($79 direct from Matamata) and includes transport to and from the set with commentary, plus a drink of your choice at the Green Dragon Inn. They leave at 8.15am or 1.15pm and are half day tours – our morning tour was fairly quiet (about 10 of us) and when we returned at 1pm, the shop was almost full of people waiting for the afternoon one. So if you are leaving from Rotorua, I definitely recommend doing the morning one!