Pumpkins that are about as large as a 5ft tall human being and seem too big to be true; snowball-like sheep that stand suspiciously still on lush rolling hills, making you wonder if they’re props stationed for effect; larger than life trees and the occasional vegetable patch filled with unrealistically perfect produce—the first glimpses of the 1,250 acre Alexander sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato (the filming location for Hobbiton) can be flummoxing. You wonder what is real and what is not— but the magic? That’s a 100 per cent real.
I’m talking about Middle-earth at the Hobbiton Movie Set, the setting for The Shire that featured in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies. I had the good fortune of visiting Auckland, New Zealand and while the piercing blue skies, striking turquoise waters and crisp air of the city are pretty much idyllic, it’s also located super close to actual fairytale destinations.
The kind of Tolkien legend. The kind where hobbits lived, and Gandalf visited. The bucolic and bonkers world of JRR Tolkien’s imagination—where two breakfasts were eaten, and fireworks dazzled at eleventy-first birthdays. Where magic was real, and the ale even more so. So one fine sunny morning we undertook the 2-hour long drive to Hobbiton, from Auckland to Matamata, and set off on our journey to there, and back again.
Step onto the road… there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to
Now, you may argue that you’re not a Tolkien fan, (books or movies), or just not that ‘into movie’ sets, but what if you’re reading this – you’re most definitely a traveller, an explorer. And there’s no better way to make the most of the country’s glorious geography than to spend the day exploring the lush farm in Matamata. Even the most cynical will agree, that once you sit in the tour bus and the haunting Lord of The Rings music starts to play – you can feel the goosebumps, as you give in to the magic of the Hobbiton movie set.
I picked the Hobbiton Movie Set tour (guided) which included stops at Bagshot Row, the Party Tree, peering at Bilbo’s Bag End home (No admittance, except on party business), going past all the Hobbit Holes, from Bilbo’s to the baker’s, through the Mill, and of course making a stop at the renowned Green Dragon™ Inn where you will be presented with the ale of your tasting in a traditional cup, best enjoyed on the grass under the sparkling sun. As I retraced Frodo’s illustrious footsteps, I had to practice great self restraint at not pocketing Gandalf’s smoking pipe as it lay surreptitiously on the bench outside Bilbo’s home.
The site features a mix of reality and make-believe, some of the most natural looking trees are props, while some of the largest pumpkins are in-fact real. The 44 hobbit holes? Unfortunately they’re not quite habitable, and you can only enter a few, which have small, unfinished, empty interiors—some are built at the size to fit hobbits, some are built larger to make the actors appear smaller, and some are constructed at dwarf scales for those featuring the illustrious creatures. From guessing what plants, pastries and people (jk) are real, to squeezing yourself into hobbit-size holes, to letting yourself be drawn in by the guide’s graphic storytelling ability – a day spent in lush pastures of The Shire takes you to a truly magical place, and time. Let your imagination go wild as you meander through the set, and stop over for a bite at The Shire, an aptly-themed restaurant, where both breakfast and second breakfast are served.
Travel to me is about magic, wonder, discovery and being literally and figuratively transported to a happy place – and when you let your inner child shine, and marvel in all the natural and man-made details of this beautifully preserved site, you will discover more about yourself than you’d think. Needless to say this a perfect destination for families with kids, but adults, remember that we may all be grown-ups, but this happy land is a subtle reminder that magic is real, and that you’re never too old to believe in the beauty and magic of world.
Location: Matamata, New Zealand
Getting there: A 2-hour drive from Auckland (160 kms approx)
Tours available: Hobbiton Movie Set tour, Evening Banquet Tour, Hobbiton Movie Set Tour + Meal Combo
Best time to visit: Open all year round, except Christmas Day
Ticket cost: $84.00 (NZ dollar) onwards for adults (disclaimer: all the tours are pricey)
You can make bookings for the guided tour in advance via the official website, and pick up themed-memorabilia from the souvenir store on site