What nerd girl doesn’t dream of journeying to Middle Earth? Well, on our recent trip to New Zealand’s North Island, we made sure a stop at Hobbiton was at the top of our to-do list!
We opted for the guided tour and the banquet lunch, which set us back about $120 each. This entailed a 90-minute tour of the famous movie set, as well as approximately an hour for lunch in a party tent.
We arrived in Matamata with plenty of time to spare for our 10.10am tour, so we had a nice leisurely breakfast in town.
Just a heads up, there is an incredible cafe that makes the most delicious mango smoothies and brioche french toast with maple bacon and caramelised banana, and is right across the road from the Hobbiton visitor centre.
However, little did we know that our relaxing breakfast almost caused us to miss our tour…
On the vouchers, it clearly states that all visitors must arrive at the shire at least 15-minutes before their designated tour time to check in, as each tour departs on the dot. If you don’t arrive on time, their terms and conditions state that you forfeit your spot on the tour – eek!
We – really stupidly if I must say so myself – rocked up 15-minutes before our tour at the Hobbiton building in town. The Hobbiton building in town, however, was not the Shire’s Rest, which makes perfect sense because where the hell would they have put all the Hobbit holes in the middle of the town?
They very quickly told us we were in the wrong place and gave us directions to get to the actual Shire’s Rest, which was about a 15-minute drive out of town. Some serious road rage and the most stressful 15-minute drive of my life later, we arrived to be told we missed our tour!!
As a nauseous feeling threatened to overtake me, the young girl behind the counter kindly smiled at us and said she’d see what she could do. Luckily, they had a spot open on a later tour. I’m just going to point out right here, right now, that I’ve never been so grateful to good customer service in my life!! If we had gone on a busier day, we might not have been so lucky, but alas, two-hours later we were finally setting out on our tour!
The staff were super organised with getting everyone on the tour bus, and both the guide and the bus driver were absolutely lovely! On the way out to the Shire, the bus driver spoke about the 1,250-acre sheep and cattle farm that was home to film crews for both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit sets and how Peter Jackson just randomly showed up on the owner’s front door after scouting the property from the air.
Originally, Jackson had intended to use multiple farms, but when he discovered a farm big enough to do everything he needed, he was instantly convinced it was the place he needed to film. Funnily enough, the owner of the farm nearly didn’t answer his door because he was too busy watching the rugby, or so we were told.
When we arrived, our tour guide – who was probably the biggest LOTR fan I’ve ever met – took us enthusiastically around the set, talking about Jackson’s insanely good attention to detail, and how they used a variety of different sized Hobbit holes to make the Hobbits appear shorter, and the people appear bigger – pretty clever right?
Although, what I found the most fascinating, was that the original Hobbiton for the LOTR movies was only a temporary exterior set that was dismantled after filming. It wasn’t until Jackson decided to return to make the three Hobbit films that they decided to make the set permanent, which is no doubt making the property owner and everyone involved very, very wealthy.
The permanent set took two years to construct and had to be built to local construction standards, even though they only filmed there for 11 days.
Most of the Hobbit holes don’t have an interior, and those that do aren’t exactly the homely interiors we know and love from the books and films. However, what they lack on the inside, they more than make up for on the outside. This is especially the case with the gardens. Most of the garden is seasonal and has all been grown from scratch, with a team of dedicated gardeners keeping it looking amazing all year-round. And apart from some dead sunflowers, I can say first-hand that they’re doing an amazing job – especially with the pumpkins that look like they’re on steroids!
Although one of the most shocking details our guide shared was that roughly 40% of visitors to the Shire have never read the books or seen the films, they go simply because it’s a tourist attraction… Not going to lie, this annoys me, especially when you end up with people talking over the guide and making it difficult to hear what’s going on. But unfortunately, this happens at most major tourist attractions, but the guides do their best to ensure everyone gets the most out of the experience.
At the end of the tour, everyone is taken down to the Green Dragon Inn for a free cup of beer, cider or soft drink. Just a heads up, the cider is to die for!
After this, if you’ve booked the banquet lunch, you’ll be taken into the party tent to dine from the buffet selection. From our group of about 30 people, only six of us stayed for the lunch, and I think it was pretty unanimous that we were a little disappointed by the food. Most of it was cold, and there wasn’t as much hearty fare as we were expecting – especially not to the famous standards of second breakfast!
However, they had some form of apple and cinnamon slice that was like a slice of heaven. The drinks supplied was just water, tea and coffee, and most of us felt rushed to eat our food and pressured to stay in the tent even though we were given a designated meeting point for our ride back to the carpark.
But, grumbles aside, Hobbiton was fricken AMAZING! If you love The Hobbit and LOTR, get your ass there ASAP!