Welcome to Hobbiton! The famous movie set from Lord of the Rings, one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, and also what many Daily Mail readers think England used to look like before all the brown people arrived.
Located on some rather picturesque farmland just outside of Matamata on New Zealand's north island, Hobbiton is the real life home of the Shire. The site was originally used to film scenes for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, then rebuilt for the newer Hobbit movies and opened to the public.
For those of you who haven't seen the LOTR/Hobbit trilogies or read the original books, I'll summarise:
The Shire is an idyllic pastoral setting inhabited by the vertically-challenged, hirsute-footed Hobbits. They're simple farm folk who sit around all day drinking, smoking and being wary of outsiders.
So a little bit like the people I grew up with in rural Essex.
The basic plot of LOTR is that two young Hobbits - Frodo and Samwise - have their evening at a birthday party ruined because they find a magic ring and then a wizard tells them to go throw it in a volcano.
They set off on an adventure, much to their chagrin - presumably because it interrupted their otherwise busy schedule of eating root vegetables and inbreeding. In the end they save the world, mostly due to friendship and other fantasy novel concepts.
Yeah, give me Game of Thrones any day.
Nonetheless, visiting Hobbiton was one of the best things I did in New Zealand. Even if you're just a casual Tolkien fan, I think you'd like it too.
That's me looking rather fine in front of a Hobbit Hole
The tour is two hours and starts at the Shire's Rest cafe, where you can stop for a Samwise-style second breakfast, or just an expensive sandwich. After that you board a coach which takes you through the surrounding countryside while the driver - who in our case actually looked a little bit like a Hobbit himself - narrates factoids and movie trivia.
When you arrive, a guide walks you among the Hobbit holes and explains how and where certain scenes were shot. You'll see Bag End, some special tree, the party ground, and the Green Dragon Inn. Everything is immaculately maintained and the groups are staggered well so every now and then you can look around and see nothing but rolling hills and Hobbit houses, rather than hordes of fat middle-aged tourists and squalling infants like you would on less well-organised excursions.
The tour ends at the Green Dragon where you get a complementary mug of specially brewed Hobbit ale. I was driving so I drank the non-alcoholic alternative - probably the best ginger beer I've ever had. Those Hobbits know their beverages.
The only downside to the tour is that you can't actually go inside the Hobbit holes. One of the doors was slightly ajar so I poked my head in to find nothing but umbrellas. Presumably because the tour guides are prepared for all weather, rather than because that particular Hobbit was some type of weird hoarder.
Just before you get back on the bus you can pass through the gift shop and pick up a few souvenirs to take home. They're authentic because just like the One Ring, you'll carry them for thousands of miles and then probably chuck them away.
Here's what you need to know:
You can take tours from the Matamata I-Site, The Shire's Rest (501 Buckland Road, Hinuera), or all the way from Rotorua.
Tours from the Shire's Rest cost (NZD):
Adult (17+) $79.00
Youth (9-16yrs) $39.50
Child (0-8yrs) Free with full paying adult
All the other info is here:
Photo credit: me