Visiting the North Island of New Zealand? Any amount of research on what to do on the North Island will show that an official Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is a must do. As a world famous attraction, it may even be something you’re traveling to New Zealand just to see. But is the Hobbiton tour worth it? Read on to find out!
First, a little history on Peter Jackson’s Hobbitton
New Zealand’s popularity surged after the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, a joint New Zealand-American venture, was released in 2001-2003, highlighting the gorgeous landscape of the South Pacific islands. Based on the J.R.R. Tolkien classic, one of the most captivating locations in the films (with an extended appearance in The Hobbit trilogy over a decade later) is the Shire, home to the small-framed, big-footed, hairy bipeds known as Hobbits.
The Shire was originally described in minute detail by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Lord of the Rings filmmaker, Sir Peter Jackson, took great pains to bring the mythical neighborhood to life in his original movies. His team scoured New Zealand looking for the perfect location to set the Shire. Aerial scouts eventually settled on the Alexander Farm- a 1,250 acre sheep farm located in Waikato, near the center of New Zealand’s North Island. The farm stunned location scouts with it’s lush rolling hills, natural flora and fauna, and lack of surrounding infrastructure or power lines.
New Zealand’s Army even lent a hand in breaking ground for the movie set in March 1999, helping to create an access road for set designers and relocate earth as necessary. It took nine months for the Shire to emerge, which included 39 Hobbit homes peaking out from underground, handmade plum trees, and miniature accessories.
The Shire was initially deconstructed after filming on The Lord of the Rings wrapped, only to be renewed beyond it’s former glory for filming of The Hobbit trilogy in 2009. The new Shire included 44 Hobbit homes and extended grounds, which were then left on the Alexander and regularly maintained for access to movie set tours.
Today the official Hobbiton Movie Set Tour attracts more than just die-hard LOTR fans. Tour guides report that at least a few people on each of their daily tours have never even heard of the movies or book series, and that the remaining visitors are divided almost equally between those who have dreamed of immersing themselves in Middle Earth for years and those simply interested in seeing the breathtaking site in real life.
Personally, I was the latter. I’ve read (and quite enjoyed!) The Hobbit and seen the three Hobbit movies, but only vaguely remember the original LOTR trilogy from the bits I hadn’t been asleep for. I don’t mean to offend any of you proud Tolkienites out there, I’m just being honest- it seems like a great story, I’m just not a huge fan of fantasy.
Nevertheless, my curiosity in the miniature world and it’s hold on the greater public was strong enough to entice me to my own visit of the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, New Zealand.
Was the Hobbiton tour worth it?
If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings: YES.
If you’re not a fan of Lord of the Rings: YES
Here is a countdown of why we feel like the Hobbiton tour is worth it for anyone!
More of a visual person? See footage of Hobbiton here!
1. Hobbiton is incredibly beautiful
Peter Jackson hit a home run when locating The Shire. The Hobbiton tour takes you through the Alexander Farm before arriving at The Shire, and the area is absolutely gorgeous. We were so distracted by looking our our bus windows at the green hills, grazing sheep, and endless blue sky that we couldn’t pay attention to the facts our tour guide had started to share.
Arriving at The Shire was next level. The little village is just so cute, it’s like walking into a fairy world! Those unfamiliar with the books or movies will still appreciate the landscaping around each individual Hobbit Hole, the cascading arrangement of colorful homes up the hills, and surrounding pastoral views.
It truly feels like you’ve been transported to a new world. No power lines, buildings, or external noises reach this seemingly random place, and it’s easy to imagine a Hobbit carrying a loaf of bread and carton of eggs will be rounding the corner any minute.
2. Any movie buff will find the tour facts interesting
The official Hobbiton movie set tour includes a short bus ride from their public meeting point to The Shire, where your tour guide begins to explain the set’s history and impact on the movies. From there you take a 2-hour walking tour through The Shire before your ride back, which is packed full of interesting movie and book trivia.
Learning how professionals found the location and created the set, how it’s currently maintained, and the attention to detail were fascinating to me. I didn’t care as much about the fact that it was associated with this particular franchise, but instead loved the inside scoop into how the movie industry, in general, operates and the lengths filmmakers will go for authenticity.
But yes, I did leave with a higher opinion of LOTR and The Hobbit based on what I saw and learned.
If, like me, you’re someone who simultaneously watches TV and checks IMDb facts, you’ll love this tour!
3. It ends with a drink at The Green Dragon pub
Who wouldn’t love that?
Not being beer drinkers, our party opted for mugs of non-alcoholic ginger beer. Three bartenders are constantly filling new mugs of the different drinks, so it took no time to approach the bar and be given our brews. We settled in at a table in the pub and enjoyed a nice chat. The ginger beer was strong and authentic, which we love, and was served in hearty mugs from an old-fashioned wine barrel. As opposed to the brightly-colored Shire, The Green Dragon is minimally decorated with rustic furnishings and warm, low lighting. We were immediately relaxed and talked about our day, the grounds, and our impressions of the tour. It was one of those unimportant, in-between moments I’ll cherish forever.
4. Everyone in your group will enjoy it
Planning a vacation that suits various ages and physical abilities can be downright exhausting. As a constant travel family who has to account for a (sometimes) whiny 6-year-old, believe me- I know! Our son generally enjoyed our 2-week motor home trip through the South Island, but there were days when he just didn’t want to go no another hike. Or see another beach. Or climb another rock. I don’t blame him, he’s developing his own interests just like the rest of us! That’s why finding an activity we can all enjoy is so… ahem…. precious.
When we visited Hobbiton we not only had our son in tow, my mom was also with us. She recently had a hip replacement and has difficulty walking while waiting for a knee replacement, so she, too, is only interested in certain activities. Hobbiton turned out to be a place that satisfied my mom, my son, and us two adventurous parents.
My mom appreciated seeing a world she’d read about in real life. My son loved all of the tiny details and small houses. My husband and I aren’t too familiar with the Lord of the Rings, but both felt like the landscape and overall image was incredible.
There is a bit of walking, but there are frequent breaks. There’s some standing around, but it’s easy to move to the back of the group for more space to jump or play. There are enough LOTR facts shared to keep any fan interested, which are presented in a way to keep those less familiar with the series entertained.
It’s just such a wonderful place. Honestly, everyone will love it. And having experiences you can build on as a family is so important on vacation!
Children get into Hobbiton for free with these tickets
5. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll regret missing
There are very few places in this world which are truly one-of-a-kind. Similar landscape, architecture, food, language, clothing, and traditions can be found in numerous places. Even some of New Zealand’s most impressive and popular features- hot springs, glaciers, mountains, fjords, and beaches- while beautiful, aren’t unique to this set of islands. So when presented with the opportunity to see a truly distinct place, why not take it? Especially when you’ve traveled as far as the Pacific Ocean!
Going on the official Hobbiton Movie Set Tour combines seeing an incredible location with interesting behind-the-scenes information in the perfect way. It’s a special experience you simply won’t find anywhere else.
And, let’s be honest, you know people back home will have expected you to visit this world-famous place and are going to ask you questions about it. There are so many Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans around the world that you can be sure you’ll come across someone who loves the franchise. Having a built-in conversation topic can not be overrated!
You’ll not only be able to connect with new people over the franchise, you’ll also be able to describe the miniature paradise to others.
Showing someone that a place they’ve dreamed of is just as beautiful in reality as they imagined is a sacred gift given to travelers, and this is no exception.
Getting to New Zealand is not fast or cheap, so once you’ve committed to the trip it’s really in your own best interest to not leave any stone unturned. Simply put, you’ll kick yourself once you get home when you realize how unusual the Hobbiton tour experience is and how close you were to going.
Don’t live life with regrets.
Now that you’re convinced…
What you should know before going to Hobbiton:
Buy tickets online first.
This Official Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is rated 5-stars for a reason. Tickets are required for anyone age 9 and over, but children 8 and younger can accompany a paying adult free of charge. They still need a ticket, though, so be sure to count children as part of your party when you checkout!
There are a lot of people.
Hobbiton tours run every 5 minutes and accommodate up to 40 adults per tour. This means the tours are kept orderly, with each group having five minutes per stop to themselves. Five minutes is usually enough time for your tour guide to explain a stop before moving on, but you’ll still see lots of other visitors around The Shire and run into the incoming tour group if you lag behind for pictures.
It includes a lot of walking.
The Hobbiton tour around The Shire covers 2.2 km. You’ll be walking on well-maintained natural trails (ie: no pavement) up gradual inclines (The Shire is built into a hill, after all) and around bends. The tour weaves in a way that allows visitors to see the extended grounds of the movie set and experience moments of solitude, eventually leading to a long, narrow section through woods which ends near The Green Dragon pub.
The trails do allow for use of a stroller and are easy to navigate for children, but those suffering from physical disabilities may consider sitting out the tour.
It can be hot.
The movie set was specifically designed for use by Hobbits, so nearly all landscaping consists of small trees and bushes. It’s beautiful to look at, but provides no shade on sunny days. Sun screen is provided when you check in for the tour, though, as everyone in the tourism industry tries to protect visitors from the harmful rays which bare down on ozone-less New Zealand.
We recommend bringing your own sun screen for additional applications and a hat or umbrella for sun cover.
The set items are both real and fake
Believe it or not, the trees and foods used in the set design are a combination of real and fake. The attention to detail is unmatched, and you’ll have a great time trying to discern which apples or potatoes are actually edible!
The entire visit lasts 2.5-3 hours
You must arrive to the main office 10-15 before your tour leaves. You’ll want to pick up your tickets and get in line for your designated time slot early, because tickets are scanned in advance and buses are prompt. The walking tour takes around 2 hours to complete, after which you’re bussed back to the main office to peruse the gift shop before leaving.
Keep in mind, too, that Matamata is not nearby other significant tourist stops. You’ll most likely be coming to Hobbiton as a day trip (or half day) from Auckland or Rotorua, which adds another 1-2 hours at either end of your trip. Plan the rest of your day accordingly!
Tour guides will catch you breaking the rules
Our tour guide had to tell one particularly enthusiastic family not to open the same Hobbit Hole door three or four times before leaving the 5-minute stop. And then had to keep them in line several more times during the tour. Seriously.
The movie set is there to be enjoyed, so feel free to take pictures and videos to your heart’s content. Just follow two simple rules:
- Listen to your guide as to where you are or are not allowed to enter. The Shire is painstakingly maintained so that it can be enjoyed by as many people as possible for as long as possible. One way the grounds are preserved is by insisting people don’t walk around, touch, or open things they shouldn’t. The Hobbit Holes just can’t handle a lot of wear and tear, and that’s exactly what will happen when 150 people see you open the Hobbit fence and sit on the wee rocking chair. So just don’t go where you aren’t supposed to go. And don’t ignore the tour guide when she points out that you are doing something you shouldn’t be. They are smart and on to the ways guests try to sneak around the rules, and you will get caught. And embarrassed in front of a large group of people. There is plenty to see and feel immersed in on the tour, there is no need to go beyond boundaries.
- Don’t disturb the incoming tour. Heading to the back of a tour group to snap pictures after people start to walk away is the best way to get those gorgeous shots, but don’t do it at the expense of the incoming tour. The next tour group is just as excited to see this spot as you are, but can’t begin until the tour guide is in close proximity to the stop. If you are in the way that means their stop explanation begins late, and the guests who are just as excited as you are have less time for their own pictures. That’s just rude.
Planning your own visit to Hobbiton and think it’s worth it? Pin this article for later!
Entrance on the official Hobbiton Movie Set Tour were provided in exchange for promotional consideration. We loved the tour so much that all opinions shared in Hobbiton: Worth It were come by naturally!