My family have always made fun of my height, being the shortest of everyone even my grandma! However one place I knew I wouldn’t feel short or here any short jokes was a little friendly place in New Zealand, full of drama, magic and thrills. I love reading, and had read the Lord of the Rings books years before the films came out. The films then followed and were incredible, after the first 15 minutes of the fellowship I was hooked.
The imagination of a young girl had finally come to life within these films. The Shire especially, such a colourful, happy, and safe place had been brought to life in such a clever way, with beautiful houses, flowers, clothes, ponds and friendships it made you want to be invited to Bilboas 200th birthday every time you watched it!
The history of how it all came to be was when Peter Jackson back in 1998 was trying to find the perfect location for The Shire, and was using aerial views to see New Zealand quickly, suddenly he saw the rolling green hills and then the pine tree towered over a nearby lake, adjacent to a rising hill. This was Alexander farm, in 1999 the film crew under 24 hour security and surveillance to keep it all top secret, started the 3 months of building this enchanting village, and when they finally left 10 years later after the final The hobbit film. Jackson kept the entire village intact for it to be shared by the millions of fans that now love the films as much as me!
Getting there is literally like trying to find middle earth, its very rural even now, with no electricity wires, no lamposts and no buildings located in the middle of the family farm who owns the 1250 acre land, with over 13,000 sheep which also roam around. There are official signs posts off the main roads, follow the signs for Matamata. From Rotorua it takes around 1 hour to the shire, from Waitomo 1 1/2 hours, and from Auckland around 2 hours. You start to get into the moment when the signs start saying the shire or middle earth, like some of them actually do!
Once you go over the boundaries into the very secure farm land, there are fields for miles with the start of curving hills and green fields, with just one road heading towards the visitors centre. This is the carpark, ticket counter and gift shop, with a restaurant for people to relax before or after the tour. What then happens is you are moved into a Hobbiton guided coach which will take you to the main built up set, its so private with another 15 minute drive until you reach this destination.
On the way, you will be introduced to a passionate guide who will be with you for the next 2 hours, they have organised it in a way you don’t go round the Shire on your own but with a guide to make sure you get the most out of the visit, but also so the set is respected by everyone as you walk round. Its 2 hours full of facts, questions you’ve always wanted to ask, and their knowledge is crazy thorough.
The first few steps you will come to the sign you’ve wanted to see for the entire day. Hobbiton sign.One of the things they keep saying is don’t walk on the grass to make sure it is in pristine condition for every visitor. The path guides you through the trees until you come to the spot where you know your going on an adventure. The first site of the little houses and colourful doors, with the picketed fences.
Then you are in the thick of it, feeling like a giant due to the smaller houses around you, taking in the gardens, and each individual house, forgetting you have to keep up with the guide, to make sure you hear everything they say, one of the things I found out is the smaller pond with a lot of the hobbit houses around it, ask about the request from Jackson about the frogs in the pond!
The famous houses have so much more too them than the first impression, there are 39 unique houses, some used only once in one scene in one movie, some regular (you know the ones), some are built at a scale of 90 percent to the original size, and some at 60 percent depending on who was filming Gandalf or the Hobbits to create the optical illusion of sizing. Each house on the 12 acre set is unique and has a different story which you can guess by the post boxes, with each one being relevant to the hobbits occupation. The baker with a bread painted onto it, the fisherman with fish on his, the flourist with flowers all over it, I wanted to go and watch the films to notice these details after I have seen them.
There is a one way system to the tour, and one thing I have to say is try go early in the morning or maybe one of the last tours in the evening. It was very busy with people and kindof ruined the relaxed, quiet and peaceful village I had imagined. The top picture spots are also organised so everyone gets the pictures they would like in front of Frodo and Bilbos houses.
You will make your way gradually up the hill to where Bilbos house and the views over looking the entire village of Hobbiton. Also looking onto the other houses and the lake with the first look at the Green Dragon. Its hard to take in just how much love, detail and effort has gone into creating this place, and the maintenance to keep it this way for everyone.
The Fellowship of the Ring opened with a celebration of Bilbo’s birthday. It was a large party with food, fireworks, dancing and much merriment. Some Tolkien fans even celebrate by having parties and feasts in memory of this. We came to the end of the tour in the field where the party was filmed, with the beautiful lake behind the Party tree which was the one selling point for Jackson to have chosen this location. The 200 strong cast were told about the filming going on for 5 days so had to bring in non alcoholic beer so there was no more drunk hobbits.
The last scene, Rosie and Sams family house was one of the houses I desperately wanted to see, Sam being one of my favourite characters, but also the beautiful rose cottage was a beautiful house I always remember. It didn’t disappoint and was a perfect walk to say farewell to this magical place.
The Green Dragon is at the epicentre of the whole Village with an enchanting bridge and lake in front of it, its the biggest building within the whole place, with food and cozy little corners just like a fully running pub. It even gives a free complimentary beer at the end included in the price, for you to get the full Hobbiton experience. We sat out on the lake bank, taking in everything we had seen and could still see from our spot, still taking in every detail of the buildings and landscape this enchanting real life Shire set has to offer.
The last stop was the Souvenir shop, I was good and only got a few magnets and a postcard, but as always I wanted everything! Some of the special addition souvenirs, and also some beautiful artworks. DVD’s the books and the tshirts, also the elvish capes but a little out there for my usual wardrobe.
I was skipping out of the park, I still couldn’t believe I had been to The Shire, basically visited THE Middle Earth. With some amazing information, facts and behind the scenes secrets I was living a dream to visit this set. Its so unique in the way it has been preserved, and is a must for any Lord of the Ring fans coming to New Zealand. For those who haven’t watched the films, I believe the sheer details and stunning scenery you walk and drive through will accommodate to everyones taste.
To book here’s the website – https://www.hobbitontours.com/en/