Firstly a couple of confessions. I have read the books multiple times and seen all of the movies, so I am a little biased. Sarah however, has no interest in this genre of books or movies so has neither seen nor read either. But it was a beautiful winters day with the sun shining after a couple of miserable days, and we found ourselves in Matamata. Having talked about the visit the previous evening, it was the sunny day that swung it for us.
Logging onto the website, I found that there was a tour departing at 10.45 which would allow us time to visit the dump station, grab photos of the visitor centre etc. Although quite why we needed the photo when we were visiting the genuine article is a bit of a mystery. Anyway, with those tasks done, we headed out to Shire’s Rest the starting point of the Hobbiton Tour. At $89 per adult, it’s not a cheap tour, but Sarah said it could be an early birthday present for me. We collected our tickets and waited in the sunshine for the tour to depart.
The movie set that is Hobbiton is located a short bus ride from the starting point at Shire’s Rest. You cannot access the site without taking the tour. Our driver, who introduced himself as Sonny, provided an excellent commentary as to how the location was chosen by Peter Jackson. He also played a couple of introductory videos, so the 10-minute bus ride just flew past.
Upon arrival at the location, our group of 40 exited the bus for a quick health and safety briefing by Sonny, before the tour proper started. Aside from displaying a great sense of humour, he also made it plain that he was there to assist. If you wanted help with a photo or had any questions just ask he would be more than willing to help, and he was. With the briefing over, it was time to start the tour proper.
Walking into the set, you are immediately taken by how realistic the Hobbit homes look. Sadly it only takes a minute before that bubble is burst by Sonny telling us all that most of the houses are only a facade in the hill with nothing behind them. He goes on to say to us all that all of the interior shots in the movie are in fact, filmed in the studio. Still, the magic of seeing the hillside covered in Hobbit homes is very strong.
As you look at the Hobbit homes, you realise that some of the doors are much larger than others. Sonny explains that this is about perspective, by standing Gandalf next to one of the smaller doors, like the one behind Sarah. He looks taller than he actually is.
Then by using an actor that is only 5′ 4″ tall or shorter (neither me nor Sarah) standing with a larger door, you can create the illusion of size. This door is the only one on the whole set that you can actually step inside. Behind it, there is no burrow or hallway just a concrete wall a couple of metres behind the door. I think that if they added a burrow to the set, it would really add to the whole experience.
Throughout the tour, our guide would gather everyone together to explain where we were standing on the set and what had been filmed there. He was very informative, telling each story in a humorous, relaxed style. One of our group asked how the current absence of tourists was affecting them? Sonny explained that during peak summer, they would have around 1500 people a day from all around the world. Currently, they were experiencing much lower volumes, which was good for us as we weren’t falling over other tour groups trying to take photos. So instead of 37 bus tours a day they were only running 6 to 10.
There are little touches everywhere to remind you that you are in a little peoples village. The chimneys and attic windows in the hills were a charming touch. Some of the chimneys even have smoke rising from them, displaying another piece of movie magic.
Back at the Shire’s Rest, I had noticed a couple one of whom was in a wheelchair, after negotiating a few steps on an uphill part of the tour, I asked Sonny about access. He explained that they do special tours for people with limited mobility using golf carts and some accessways that aren’t on the usual tour to ensure the client sees all that we did.
Of course, no tour to Hobbiton would be complete without a visit to Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
But it, what was, above Mr Baggins house that held the most interest for me and some others in the group. Sonny reminded those of us who had read the books that situated above Bag End is a large oak tree. While some other important features of the story we’re here already there was no oak tree on the farm. The story of how the tree got where it is now and what makes it so unique is just about worth the price of the tour on its own. I am not going to tell this part of the story you need to go and experience it yourself, prepare to be amazed.
From Bag End the path winds towards Sam Gamgee’s house, past the spot where Bilbo famously “Good Morning’s” Gandalf. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, it’s worth reading or watching to see clever use of language. Who would have known Good Morning could mean so many things.
One thing that you might notice from all the photos are the gardens. We visited in the middle of winter, but I would imagine that come spring and summer it would be just spectacular with all that is planted around the area.
Leaving the Hobbit homes behind the tour made its way towards the Green Dragon. First, there was the obligatory photo stop next to the Brandywine Bridge, beer barrel and the waterwheel.
The Green Dragon is the final stop on tour. It’s here that you have your complimentary ale, ginger beer, coffee or tea. It’s the chance to sit down relax and try to process all that you have seen during your 90-minute tour. I was worried that because it was not Sarah’s thing that she might have been a bit bored with it, but no, I have to say that both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In fact, I think that it exceeded both of our expectations.
If you are travelling around in a motorhome, then we noticed you can stay at a couple of places on Buckland Road (the same road as Hobbiton) coming from Matamata there is Brocks Place. Booking here must be made by phone on 0224526405, there are some restrictions on your stay here, so booking is essential. Further on towards Karapiro is Da Barn located at 686 Buckland Rd (07) 8881950. You must be self-contained to stay here. We didn’t stay at either of these places so can make no recommendation as to how good they might be. We just thought they were handy to the attraction.
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