July 7, 2018
Confession time: We knew nothing about New Zealand before coming here. I knew that the accent was adorable from Flight of the Conchords, and we knew that Lord of the Rings was filmed here, so supposedly it’s a rather pretty place. But exactly what that meant we had no clue. As a result, the only thing that we knew we wanted to do was visit “the Lord of the Rings place in New Zealand”.
The LOTR place in NZ is the set used for filming the Shire. Other parts of the country were also used in the filming, and for good reason. I never imagined that the landscapes of Middle Earth described in the books could be real, but New Zealand fits the bill. Hobbiton is the LOTR movie set that you can tour. For the filming of the Lord of the Rings, Hobbiton was a temporary set, but people were still visiting the ruins. So when it was time to film The Hobbit, they decided to build the set using permanent materials and make it into a proper tourist destination.
To get there we hopped on a bus from Rotorua to the small town of Matamata. The sheep farm that houses Hobbiton is just outside of Matamata, and it’s a pleasant sleepy little town which is famous mostly because of the movies, but secondarily for its race horses.
We stayed at Matamata Backpackers. It’s a lively hostel with lots of folks that seem to be working at Hobbiton or passing through for 1 or 2 nights to visit like us. The housing is just a bunch of trailers. It’s very basic by most standards and about three times more expensive than what we would expect for a hostel dorm (but it had a nice kitchen and the staff was very friendly). Your money doesn’t get you much in NZ. Case in point: our tickets to see Hobbiton cost about as much as the most expensive entry ticket to Machu Picchu or the three day pass at Angkor Wat. But it did come with a complimentary beer, so I guess that makes it much cheaper 🙂
The day we visited was very cold and rainy, but we had bought in advance so we were stuck. We’ve been so lucky so far with the weather at major tourist sites that we basically had this coming and it didn’t bother us too much. We were picked up by the Hobbiton tours bus at the Matamata i-site, which is set up in the style of a hobbit hole. Except it wasn’t a hobbit hole, it was a free standing building. So it is essentially like Buckland, just outside of the Shire.
The tour was quite adorable. The bus driver told us all about the farms and horse raising in the area and how eight locals got cast as extras in the LOTR movies. It had a very small town feeling and felt like the sort of thing you would find in Iowa. After about thirty minutes we arrived in the Shire and were introduced to our tour guide Theresa, or just Tee.
Luckily we were provided huge umbrellas to protect us from the rain, and it allowed us to take photos without getting the camera wet. But it was annoying to be herded around in a group full of these huge umbrellas. Luckily it didn’t rain the whole time.
I personally prefer exploring things at my own pace, so I wasn’t a fan of being required to join a tour group, but that’s the only way to see the set. However, Tee was delightful; she seemed to derive a great deal of glee from telling corny jokes and had fun facts to share, so I can’t complain too loudly.
We wound our way through the set, past a variety of hobbit holes, and up the hill to Bag End, with lots of photo ops along the way.
However, we didn’t find anyone home at Bag End. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised since Mr. Frodo headed across the sea to the Undying Lands with the elves.
My biggest take away was how detailed and expansive everything was. I was honestly expecting a row of hobbit hole facades that were used with some movie magic to make the place look like a village in the film. But really they did build a whole hobbit town in the side of the hill. They’ve got the party tree, the Green Dragon Inn, two neighborhoods of hobbit holes, and real gardens where they still grow actual crops as ‘props.’ It’s really impressive.
Then end of the tour terminated at the Green Dragon Inn. This was the one building on the lot that has a proper interior. It’s freaking amazing. It feels right out of the Hobbit (minus all the tall folk wearing strange garb). And you got to select a complementary drink!
There was a stout, a golden ale, a cider, a low/non alcoholic beer, and maybe something else. Visiting as a pair we got to try the ale and stout. The ale was a clear winner. I vowed that I wasn’t going to skimp on this experience, because I know I will never do it again so I ordered the cider as well. Through some wizardry I got the drink for free, which was awesome. Perhaps because most visitors don’t order two drinks within a thirty minute time span at 11:30 in the morning. Christina really liked the cider too, but I’m sticking with the golden ale as the best draught at the Green Dragon.
Back at the hostel we met a young backpacker couple that had attended a wedding at the Green Dragon the night before! I was super jealous. But that’s a thing that can happen! So consider having a destination wedding in Hobbiton, and inviting us, okay?
We finished up our time in Matamata cozied up to the fire chatting with other travelers and working on computers. It was an overall very nice experience. After that we were off to do something very New Zealand: rent a camper van!