It’s been over a year since I got back from my road trip in New Zealand on the North Island, and I thought I should write this article. I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the Hobbiton site as I was expecting a big tourist spot with crazy The Lord of the Rings fans. The Hobbiton site, otherwise known as the Hobbiton Movie Set, is the filming location of Tolkien’s famous trilogy that everyone has at least heard of: The Lord of the Rings. This site is therefore the Hobbit Village that was used for the filming locations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.
For fans of Peter Jackson’s cinematic work, I can already reckon the names, Frodo, Gollum, Gandalf, Bilbo, Sauron, Legolas, Aragorn rushing to their minds and walking through Middle-earth, Mordor, Gondor, and all the spectacular landscapes in the film.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy per se, although I think it’s pretty cool movie to watch. Knowing that my wife is a big fan and that we had planned to visit the North Island of New Zealand for 3 weeks, a stop at the filming location was mandatory.
I will not give you the whole history of the filming set, how it was bought, destroyed, then rebuilt, used for tourism, etc. If I tell you everything, it wouldn’t be any fun… I will just tell you about the visit and how I felt about it. At the end of the article, you will find all the information you need to visit Hobbiton.
I have to say that we arrived in the late afternoon, around 5:00 pm in the area where the film was shot. We were on our way back from Rotorua and had the idea to visit the Hobbit village in the late afternoon to have a nice light for pictures. Because, as all photographers already know, visiting the site between 11am and 3pm is fine because the weather is warmer, but in terms of photography, it’s catastrophic.
Our arrival on the Hobbiton site
Just the arrival at the reception a few kilometers before the actual site in this almost deserted countryside is worth the detour. Those who know The Lord of the Rings will immediately feel the atmosphere of the film, the land of the Shire, the region where the village of Hobbit in the film is located. You can feel something even before you arrive at the famous site. There are green hills as far as the eye can see, sheep everywhere and a few isolated trees. The scenery is set and the low golden light of the late afternoon gives a magical glow to the place.
When we arrived, we were lucky enough to find a place for the second-last session of the day although we hadn’t booked anything. We’ll talk about it below in the logistic details. It wasn’t even in the middle of the tourist season (October), and there were a lot of people … the bus arrives, we all pile up and it’s a 10-minute drive to the entrance of the filming location, filled with the music of the film and the presentation (in English) of the site and what we will see.
The visit is accompanied by a guide (in English) and lasts about 1h30 (excluding transfers) along a path surrounded with all the landscapes and backgrounds from the movies. I have to admit that the work is remarkably well done and the level of precision and detail of the sets is amazing.
Of course, everyone stops to take a picture (and get their picture taken) in front of the famous Hobbit houses, dug into the hill for the shooting.
The details on the Hobbiton place are mind-boggling…
What is also very impressive is the number of people locally employed to maintain and upkeep the site. A little aside between us, at the price of the site entrance (75$/person), I think they can afford to pay employees. I spoke with some of them (in Working Holiday Visa = WHV) and they all thought it was great to work in such a beautiful setting.
The visit takes place along small, well-kept, colorful and flowery paths. Frankly, it was a gift for the eyes.
The guide stopped us several times to give anecdotes from the film relevant to where we were standing. A few photo shoots here and there for everyone. However, we couldn’t hang around too long on each spot since other groups were coming, which was a shame.
However, the visit allowed us to enjoy the wonderful views of the location and its surroundings. Photographers can enjoy themselves (trying to avoid tourists on the pictures…). The visit ends with a beer with or without alcohol offered at the hostel “The Green Dragon”. They let us visit the auberge for about 30 minutes and then take us back to the entrance of the site.
Then, you can visit the souvenir shop where fans of The Lord of the Rings will have a great time!
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’m not a big fan of the movie and the idea of paying so much to see this didn’t please me very much. In the end (only fools don’t change their mind), I don’t regret it at all. And yet, believe me when I tell you that, normally, I hate this kind of hyper-touristic place.
So yes, there are people, but I find that the general atmosphere, the beauty of the place, make us forget it a bit. A few drawbacks though, the visiting time is too short. There is a general feeling that there are a lot of people and that it is necessary to make the visit super beneficial. There are groups every 5 minutes that arrive behind yours and the guide is not allowed to take too long. At the same time, I also understand the king of traffic jam if everyone took all the time they wanted.
Photographers will be delighted with the places and the possibilities it offers, both in terms of landscape and in terms of setting details. The objective will simply be to avoid tourists on the pictures in order to keep the mystical side of the place.
Also, there is no guide in French, not even an audio guide. If you don’t speak English or very little, well, you just get to look at the landscapes 😉
I summarize below all the information you need to know to visit Hobbiton. For more information about the place, you can refer to the official website.
Prices are set at NZL 84 per adult, NZL 42 between 9 and 17 years old, and free up to 9 years old. According to the information I found on the net, prices have increased in recent years ($79 in 2016).
Everybody will tell you to book in advance, especially during tourist periods which is between November and February, when it’s the best weather (climates are reversed in the southern hemisphere). There can be more than 2000 people a day during these periods apparently.
In terms of schedule, you will have to choose a time for the reservation and I strongly advise, to avoid crowds and have better light, to book either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It remains a significant budget in terms of a trip especially if you are travelling with your family. I have written a complete guide on the travel budget in New Zealand.
However, you can find much cheaper prices by booking through this site. Several excursions are available from different cities in the region. You can find discounts that are at less than 50€ so it’s worth it.
To get there, you will already have to find a flight from where you live to New Zealand for the best price. From Europe, you can find flights from 550/600€ if you are flexible on departure dates. For Americans, you can find flights from 700$ return. For Canadians, the cheapest flights are often to Auckland, starting at C900$. I advise you to look at the prices on this great comparator that I have been using for a long time.
For those who are already there, you have several possibilities:
- You go alone with your car or camper and in this case, nothing complicated. You can park in one of the free car parks at the sites: either I-matamata or The Shires Rest (501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata). If you’re planning your road trip to New Zealand, I especially use two websites to find cheap rentals. This one for car rentals and this one for van and camper van rentals.
- For people who don’t have a car or who want to do it on an organized day, you can buy the tickets online and take the free shuttle from Matamata. There is a package including a transfer of 35$NZL in addition for those who wish to make the return trip from Rotorua.
The tours are approximately 2 hours (from The Shire Rest), 3 hours from Matamata and 4.5 hours from Rotorua.
Note that there is the possibility (if you don’t like crowds and you have money) to choose a private tour for the modest sum of 750$ for 4 people. It does sting a little bit in my opinion, doesn’t it?
For those who want to sleep nearby, there are several possibilities: from local guesthouses to small hotels. Here is the list of accommodations located near the filming location, perfect for sleeping after your visit in the late afternoon. Count a minimum of 50/60€ for the night.
You will find something to refresh yourself at the small restaurant at the entrance of the site. There is even something to snack on at the snack bar at the Green Dragon Inn on the film set.
A little advice from my perspective, if you can avoid the big tourist seasons, it will always be more enjoyable. You’ll have fewer people and you’ll appreciate the place more. Also try to avoid school holidays (local and European). From a photographic point of view, spring is not too bad of a good time with beautiful green grass and beautiful days (October-November for example).
If you are in the area, and you wish to combine the day with another activity, generally it is recommended to go to the Waitomo caves, that are famous for their glowworms. Everyone will have their own opinion on the matter, but there is a rumor that some of the glowworms are actually small lights for the tourists. I haven’t been there, but I have heard it several times. You’ve been warned!
I’ve come to the end of this little walk around the Hobbiton site in New Zealand. I think it’s a very interesting place even if you’re not a big fan of the film itself. The landscape here is grandiose and the glimpses of the New Zealand countryside are really worth the detour. If you’re motivated to watch the saga before coming to see the location, I think it’s a good thing. The déjà vu impressions will be even stronger and you’ll recognize once you get there where some of the scenes in the film were shot.
If you’re on a trip to New Zealand on the North Island, why not take an interest in other beautiful parts of the island, like Cape Reinga. I spent several days there and have very good memories of it!
Have a nice walk in Hobbiton.