Matamata, New Zealand – February 5, 2018
We departed from Ohope Beach at nearly 07:00. Our destination was the iSite (tourist information) at Matamata to take the 10:00 tour of the Hobbiton movie set. The weather forecast called for showers. However; during our drive, it was clear.
Arriving at the iSite shortly after 09:00, the sales associate asked if we wanted to join the 09:30 tour instead. I jumped at the chance, anxious to beat any impending rain. The iSite had more Hobbit souvenirs than one could imagine. Since there was a gift shop at the movie set, we opted not to buy anything.
We walked outside and boarded the bus. Our driver, Bea, told us we should expect about a 25-minute drive to the Hobbiton movie set. During the ride, she played several video snippets detailing what was at the movie set and the history behind the scenes.
Sir Peter Jackson’s (the film’s director) team found the Alexander family-run farm in 1998 while scouting for locations for the filming of The Lord of the Rings movies. It seemed the perfect site for The Shire, the home of the Hobbits of Middle-earth. It matched J.R.R. Tolkien’s description from the books almost to a tee.
The set covers some 12 acres and originally contained 39 Hobbit Holes. Filming began in December 1999. When filming finished, crews returned the land to its pre-filming condition, as happens with most movie sets. The crews dismantled or removed the Hobbit Holes used for the movie, with few exceptions. The few exceptions were enough to draw the films’ enthusiasts to the area to “tour” the set. Guided tours of the site commenced in 2002.
In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson and his team returned for additional filming. This time, they constructed the Hobbit Holes of actual wood, slate, bricks, and mortar. The re-done set claimed a total of 44 Hobbit Holes. That is what is seen today when one takes a tour of the movie set.
The bus stopped at The Shire’s Rest. At that site, additional tourists boarded the bus. Once full, approximately 41 tourists, the bus crossed Buckland Road and entered the Alexander family sheep farm.
Our tour guide, Charlotte, told us one could determine the occupation of each of the Hobbit Hole occupants by the clues left out front. That is how we deciphered the farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, etc. We had just begun our walking tour when Charlotte pointed out a small cut in the trail. That is where Bilbo Baggins, the main character in The Hobbit, ran; shouting, “I’m going on an adventure!” One of our fellow tourists recreated the scene while Charlotte filmed the “episode” on the tourist’s phone.
A walk of 1.17 kilometers (three-quarters of one mile) was ahead of us. We frequently stopped to listen to Charlotte’s stories and to take photographs. Like so many parts of New Zealand, the Hobbiton Movie Set was visually stunning. The colors were amazing, and the overall landscaping was perfect. Throughout the set, there are several active garden plots. After Leslie’s question, we discovered gardeners split the produce amongst the gardeners that work at the site. I am sure that is a nice extra benefit from their employment.
At the artist’s Hobbit Hole, Charlotte allowed each of us to enter while she made our photograph. It was very kind of her to do that, especially for all 41 tourists.
Charlotte shared that there was one tree on the property that was fake. She asked if we could spot the tree. One of the tourists piped up that it was the tree at the top of the hill. That was correct. The tree happened to be directly above Bilbo Baggins home, Bag End. Just before filming, when Sir Peter Jackson arrived on set, he said the leaves were not the correct color. That set a team into action, re-painting each leaf by hand. I do not know what it looked like initially, but it is very nice now.
Just after the artist’s Hobbit Hole, we came to an overlook. From there, we could see most of the set; all the way to the mill and the Green Dragon Inn. It was a beautiful view.
Next was the pinnacle of the tour; Bag End. It was surreal to stand in front of Bilbo’s “home.” The exterior featured in the films; however, the interior shots were made at Weta Studios in Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand. In front of the house is a bench on which Bilbo’s pipe is sitting. The sign on the gate to Bag End stated: “no admittance; except on party business.” The party in question, of course, was Bilbo’s 111th birthday party.
We stopped to sit down on the party grounds. There were a few benches under a shade cover. We sat there while Charlotte talked about the party grounds, the party tree, and the overall celebration of Bilbo’s eleventy-first (Hobbit-speak) birthday party.
Leaving the comfort of the shade and bench behind, we walked to Samwise “Sam” Gangee’s Hobbit Hole. The flowers in front were beautiful. Sam is the close friend of Bilbo, joining him on his big adventure.
From Sam’s Hobbit Hole, it was mostly downhill. We walked past a beer cart left alongside the road, just before the stone, two-arched bridge. The bridge crosses the lake near the mill. That made for some very scenic photo opportunities.
On the other side of the bridge is the Green Dragon Inn. Included in the tour is a cold drink in a ceramic mug. One can choose between three types of beer (unique brews, each with 1.0% alcohol), a non-alcoholic beer, tea, or coffee.
We relaxed with our drinks for a while. Then Charlotte gathered the group and moved us to the gift shop. Other than our refrigerator magnets, we left empty-handed.
Back on the bus, I discovered the tours run daily, except for Christmas day, rain or shine (update – our trip ended up being entirely in the shine!). There are 70, yes, seventy; tours each day! That means around 1,000,000 visitors each year!
The bus dropped us off at the iSite in Matamata, and we walked across the street for lunch at the Dew Drop Inn. I had a Troll sandwich, essentially a ham and cheese panini. It tasted terrific, but what amazed me most was that the sandwich stayed very hot to the last bite.
From the restaurant, it was back to the car to head to our next stop.
I cannot recommend this tour highly enough. For those that are interested, one can plan a visit at Hobbiton Movie Set.