Our New Zealand Visit to Middle Earth

Nestled in rolling green hills on New Zealand’s North Island is the Hobbiton Movie Set, used to film the “Shire” scenes in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (“LOTR”) movies.  I’m a fan, so a visit to the real Middle Earth was a must-do on our first trip to New Zealand.

In Search of the Shire

Our view flying into Auckland.
Even before our flight landed in Auckland, we thought New Zealand looked perfect for the Shire.

The Shire is a charming country village in Tolkien’s fictional Middle Earth that is home to the hobbits. Although Tolkien was inspired by locations in Switzerland and England, Peter Jackson would be filming LOTR in his native New Zealand. Finding the right location for the Shire was vital, as it represented the good in the world worth fighting for.

In 1998, LOTR location scouts were doing an aerial search when they came upon the Alexander family’s 1250 acre sheep and cattle farm just outside Matamata, which looked perfect for the Shire.

The Alexander farm and location of the Shire at the Hobbiton Movie Set.
The idyllic setting of the Alexander farm, and location of the Shire at the Hobbiton Movie Set.

Matamata is a rural farming town about 2.5 hours southeast of Auckland, near the base of the scenic Kaimai Mountain Ranges. Peter Jackson himself went to the farm to seek permission from the owner, but was told to come back after the rugby game he was watching ended. Mr. Alexander had never heard of LOTR, but apparently his sons had and they persuaded him to allow the filming on his farm.

Homes for Hobbits

“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.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

For LOTR, 39 hobbit holes were created from untreated wood and polystyrene. The oak tree that overlooks Bag End was transported in and artificial leaves were wired onto the tree. Filming began December 1999 and continued for three months, and that was going to be the end of the set. The Shire set was not built to last but fans of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings flocked to the New Zealand movie locations.

In 2009 a rebuild of Hobbiton began for the filming of The Hobbit, this time using permanent materials. The process took two years to complete and Hobbiton is now a permanent attraction with 44 hobbit holes, gardens, a bridge, mill and The Green Dragon Inn. The Shire scenes for The Hobbit were filmed in only 12 days, but today it’s one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, with more than one million visitors. Each hobbit hole is unique, with details like picnics laid out on a table and hobbit clothes hanging on the line.

Our New Zealand Visit to Middle Earth

The Hobbiton Movie Set tour begins with a short narrated bus ride through the farm down into the valley where the hobbit holes are found. In the photo below is the most famous hobbit hole, Bag End, which was the home of Bilbo Baggins, then of Frodo Baggins, and eventually of Samwise Gamgee and his wife Rosie Cotton. The Lord of the Rings opens with Bilbo preparing for his 111th birthday party, and as the sign indicates, he was busy with preparations.

Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins.
Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins, who was busy preparing for his 111th birthday.

Bilbo’s birthday took place in a field dominated by a large “party tree”, so a magnificent tree was needed for the movie’s party scene. As you can see the Alexander farm also had the perfect “party tree”.

the party tree
The party tree.
The hobbit holes have unique details in the windows and gardens.
No filming took place inside these hobbit holes, but there are still unique details in the windows and gardens.

This is the cozy home of my favourite hobbit, Samwise “Sam” Gamgee and his wife Rosie. Sam was Frodo’s companion and one of the most courageous and honourable hobbits.

The home of Samwise and Rosie.
The home of Sam and Rosie is especially lovely as Sam was a gardener.
Details of each hobbit hole give clues to the relative wealth and occupation of each resident.
Details of each hobbit hole give clues to the relative wealth and occupation of the resident.

In LOTR The Green Dragon Inn was the local meeting place for hobbits, and stopping for a pint is part of the Hobbiton tour experience. Interior scenes of the Inn were filmed in Wellington studios, but the interior has been recreated. As part of the Hobbiton tour, guests receive a complimentary ale, cider or non-alcoholic ginger beer, brewed locally for the Hobbiton Movie Set. Food such as scones and meat pies are also available for purchase.

The Green Dragon Inn
Stopping for a pint of ale at the Green Dragon Inn.
Inside the Green Dragon Inn
Feeling like a part of Middle Earth, inside the Green Dragon Inn with a cider and a scone.
Our New Zealand visit to Middle Earth
The property is still farmed today by the Alexander family, with approximately 13,000 sheep and 300 Angus beef cattle.

For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings this Middle Earth tour is a New Zealand must-do. Even if you aren’t familiar with the books or movies, the Hobbiton Movie Set is still enjoyable both for the behind-the-scenes stories, and its idyllic setting.

“Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”

Recited by Bilbo upon his return to the Shire.

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

How to Visit Hobbiton Movie Set

  • Book your Hobbiton Movie set tour in advance.
  • The only way to visit is via a two-hour guided bus/walking tour. Your guide will escort you through the twelve acre site, with stories of how the movie set was created and used.
  • Address: 501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata, New Zealand
  • Hobbiton Movie Set Tour Prices – Adult (17+): $79.00, Youth (9-16yrs): $39.50, Child (0-8yrs): Free with adult.
  • The walking portion of the tour is easy, but sensible footwear is recommended.
  • Check online for discounted pricing, especially if you need transport to the Hobbiton location. (I found discounted pricing on Expedia.)
  • There is a cafe and a souvenier shop onsite at the Shires Rest entrance.
  • Hobbiton is about 2.5 hours by car from Auckland, or about 45 minutes from where we were staying in Tauranga.
  • Visit the Hobbiton Movie Set website for more information.

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Have you been to Middle Earth?