In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Comfort. Good food. A laid-back lifestyle. The option to not wear footwear (ever). Who wouldn't want to be a hobbit?
Ever since I became a Tolkien fan more than a decade ago, I found myself identifying with the “little folk” the most. The ones with chubby cheeks and broad smiles who would rather tell jokes and smoke pipe weed than worry about world politics or corporate jobs.
I could totally picture myself living happily ever after in a place like Hobbiton. IF a place like Hobbiton could ever exist.
Well guess what? It DOES exist — at least, the movie set does in New Zealand.
In the tiny farming community of Matamata, a booming tourism business has sprung up around what was (and still is) a large sheep farm stretching across rolling green hills in New Zealand's Waikato district. Years ago, a “Lord of the Rings” location scout flew over the Alexander family farm in search of a large tree beside a lake. What he found was the ideal location for filming the whole of the Shire.
The story goes that the scout landed his helicopter and went up to the farm house in order to inquire about possibly using the land in a movie. Mr. Alexander informed the scout that the rugby was on, and asked him to come back later.
Luckily, he did.
When the set was built for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it was mostly made of polystyrene and other non-permanent materials — meaning, once filming was done, the set was (for the most part) completely torn down.
But the tourists still trickled in, eager to set eyes upon Hobbiton even if there was nothing left.
So, when Peter Jackson decided to use the Alexander farm again for the “Hobbit” trilogy, the family agreed on one condition — that they build the set out of permanent materials this time so that the tourists could REALLY come to visit Hobbiton after filming was over.
Long story short: everyone agreed that it would be an awesome idea. Which is why today you can really visit Hobbiton.
The site has become a must-do for many travelers to New Zealand, so here are a few tips for your visit to Hobbiton:
1. Prepare for any kind of weather.
The Alexander farm almost has its own micro-climate. Weather can blow in and out faster than you ever thought possible — what looks like a calm, sunny day at first can quickly turn into a gale with sideways rain.
When I arrived at Hobbiton this time around, the sun was shining. As soon as we got onto the set, however, it started pouring. But by the time we made it up to Bag End, the sun was out and the sky was blue again.
My tip? Wear layers, and grab an umbrella at the start of the tour if there's ANY chance of rain at all!
2. Expect it to be crowded.
Hobbiton is the only full movie set left in-tact in New Zealand, and it draws all sorts of people — even people who aren't fans of the films. You cannot roam around Hobbiton on your own; you have to book a tour and follow a Hobbiton guide through the set. During high season, it CAN get crowded, so don't automatically assume that it will be easy to snap photos without any people in them!
In the future, I can see this becoming a problem (maybe they'll have to limit how many people visit the set each day?). For now, though, being in Hobbiton was so magical that I was able to overlook all the other tourists!
3. Keep an eye out for all the little details.
Even though the hobbit holes here are just facades (the interior sets were all shot on a sound stage in Wellington), the details here are INCREDIBLE. Laundry lines with washing hung out to dry. A picnic set up on the dock. Moss and lichen growing on the fences. Brooms and gardening tools near hobbit doors.
Spend some time looking and you'll catch lots of adorable details. If you go in the spring/summer, the gardens crew has the place looking beautiful, with all sorts of colorful plants and flowers growing.
My favorite, though? All the signs on notice boards and inside the Green Dragon!
4. Have a pint at the Green Dragon.
Speaking of the Green Dragon, you can actually go inside and have a pint at the hobbits' favorite pub at the end of your tour. There are specially-brewed beers here (and a non-alcoholic ginger beer) — and yes, it comes in pints!
5. Have a full camera battery.
If you're even a little bit like me and have ever envisioned yourself as a hobbit in Middle Earth, then a visit to Hobbiton is a MUST. Just be sure to fully charge your camera battery — I've heard of people taking hundreds of photos here in one day! (My count, in case you were curious, was close to 200…)
Who's ready to go to Hobbiton now??
*Note: I visited Hobbiton as part of a 14-day Lord of the Rings tour with partner Red Carpet Tours. As always, though, all opinions are my own — I would never recommend something to you that I haven't tried and loved myself!