Amongst the green, rolling hills of Waikato, New Zealand, is the incredible Hobbiton movie set for Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Here’s what to expect – and what we didn’t – in Hobbiton, New Zealand.
Little round doors, winding narrow roads and the grand homeliness of The Green Dragon Inn. But there’s more to the Hobbiton movie set in Waikato, New Zealand than bacon and mushrooms, pots of ale and friendly, furry-footed Halflings.
It’s full of fastidious detail, fascinating anecdotes and a famous history. It’s walking in the footsteps of legends – both the characters and the actors – and it’s seeing a well-crafted merchandising machine in action.
Visiting this filmset feels more like being part of the scenery than just glimpsing behind the scenes.
Here’s our short video of the Hobbiton Movie Set:
Hobbiton the Movie Set – why go?
On a recent trip to New Zealand’s North Island, I was so excited to be visiting Hobbiton to see part of my childhood – my imagination – come to life.
I was brought up on Tolkien’s tales. Stories like The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Farmer Giles of Ham played a role in my love of writing and stories from an early age. In fact, I’d read The Hobbit by the age of seven and was on my second reading of The Lord of the Rings before I was 12.
You get a much more polished perspective of an end product. Which isn’t a criticism. But instead of lifting the bonnet and seeing the inner workings of a film, you’re presented with an experience that’s supposed to take you on a journey to help you understand the making of the movie better.
Having said that, whilst on the tour, we discovered that around 40% of visitors have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies relating to this movie set.
Arriving at Hobbiton and getting to the filmset
The entrance to Hobbiton – known as The Shire’s Rest – isn’t the same as the movie set. In fact, it’s not even the start of the set.
The Shire’s Rest is the car park, ticket office and waiting area for the start of the tours to Hobbiton. There’s also a café and souvenir shop here.
One doesn’t simply walk into the Hobbiton Movie Set…
At The Shire’s Rest, you collect your tickets and wait for your tour number to be called. Like clockwork, you board your specially designed Hobbiton coach and head through the hills to the set.
That’s right, there’s a coach ride to Hobbiton. You can’t drive or walk there and there’s no self-guided option. It’s a tour or nothing.
This is actually a smart idea, as it restricts the numbers of people on the set so you’re not constantly battling queues or crowds.
On the coach, you get to learn about how Peter Jackson was flying over Waikato scouting locations for Hobbiton. He spotted this area – a sheep farm that’s still function now – and worked out a deal with the landowner to build what’s now the permanent structure of Hobbiton.
You also meet your tour guide, who will explain what happens next.
What happens at Hobbiton
There are a couple of different tours to choose from; either the straightforward Hobbiton tour, which takes two hours or a tour and meal combo, which takes about two and a half to three hours.
We had a meal-tour combo.
When you arrive at Hobbiton, it’s very tempting to run off and look at everything. It’s amazing. The level of detail is incredible. As you’d expect, it’s just like being in the movie!
However, instead of heading to the Green Dragon Inn, where the coach drops you, you go into the marquee. This is set up to look like the Party Tent in The Lord of the Rings where Bilbo makes his speech then disappears.
It’s quite magical and a lot of fun.
Sadly, the food was no match for the thrill of being in the Party Tent. The buffet was a bit empty and the food itself was either over-cooked or under-seasoned. A bit like a hotel breakfast, we ended up back at our seats with a strange collection of incongruous samples. The only thing to drink there was water.
We finished what we could and made for the door, double-checking with our guide what time we’d be meeting for the tour.
While we waited for the group to assemble, we explored the little mill on the bridge and the Green Dragon Inn. I geeked out a little bit when I realised this was accurate to the books – the inn is past the mill over the bridge to Bywater.
But more about the Green Dragon later.
The tour of Hobbiton
Our guide took us from the Party Tent and our group of around 30 walked up the hill towards the village and the main part of the film set.
As we walked, the guide explained lots of the different features and details we would have missed or not understood without her pointing them out. Little tables set for preparing food, a fishing spot complete with rod and line and orchards full of fruit. The orchards are fully operational, with some of the produce being used in the restaurant and inn.
However, our guide warned us not to try and eat any of the things on plates or tables as these would all be wooden props.
We climbed higher up the hill and walked amongst the hobbit holes, their colourful round doors iconic to the Tolkien stories.
Interestingly, some doors are big enough for regular humans to use, others are small enough to be the right size for hobbits. This was done to allow the hobbit characters in the films to look small and the human-size characters like Gandalf to look bigger.
Many of the hobbit holes have interactive elements we were allowed to explore, like this little stall of homemade cheeses!
How accessible is the Hobbiton Movie Set tour?
I suppose because this was originally built as a filmset, access for wheelchair users or those with limited mobility wasn’t a high priority when Hobbiton was built.
Add in the simple facts that it’s on a hill and supposed to be a rustic setting, and you get the idea that Hobbiton doesn’t have great access.
Having said that, there are plenty of areas at the Shire’s Rest and around the beginning of the tour that would cope with a wheelchair, and I’m certain the staff here will be able to advise and help.
But narrow, muddy, rocky paths and some steps may mean limited access to the whole set.
The tour culminates at Bag End – Bilbo and Frodo’s home at the top of the hill. Views out over Hobbiton from here are beautiful and you get a sense of how massive and detailed this set really is.
On top of Bag End is probably the most fascinating part of the filmset – a great oak tree.
The reason this tree is so impressive is because it’s not real. The trunk is made from metal wire, fibreglass and paint, and the tens of thousands of leaves – each made in Taiwan – are silk.
But when the leaves were attached to the tree, Peter Jackson decided they were the wrong colour, so they had to be removed, painted and reattached.
There are countless stories about the making of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that you learn about on the tour. It’s so interesting.
What about second breakfast?
When the tour finishes, you stroll along the little pathways back across the bridge towards the Green Dragon Inn.
This is a fully functioning pub with food on offer that is probably worth holding out for instead of paying the extra for the tour-meal combo.
Beef and ale pies, pork pies, ploughman’s sandwiches, cheese plates, scones – this was more like what we were expecting from the meal at the beginning.
The inn was definitely one of the highlights of the tour, with as much attention to detail inside as the rest of the set. Your tour includes a drink at the pub – either one of the two ales they have, a cider or a non-alcoholic ginger beer.
Then you just find a place to sit, enjoy the funny music and do what hobbits do best!
The Green Dragon Inn is said to be the busiest bar in New Zealand, which I can well believe. The good thing is – because of the structured way people visit Hobbiton – it never feels that busy. And there’s always the option of having another beer if you like.
The beer is all brewed specially for Hobbiton by Good George Brewery in nearby Hamilton. Good George is well worth visiting – here’s our full review of the brewery.
All too soon, our guide was rounding us up to step about the hobbit bus to take us back to the Shire’s Rest and our car. You don’t have to leave once you’re there.
You can enjoy the café and gift shop or explore the fields nearby. It is still a functioning sheep farm though, so don’t go too far!
Hobbiton is well worth a visit, whether you’re a LOTR or Hobbit fan or not. It’s part of what makes Waikato and New Zealand such a magical place to see.