Big Day in Middle Earth

About 16 kilometres from the largish New Zealand town of Matamata is the Hobbiton Movie Set, which was used for the filming of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

Anyone who has seen the movies will instantly recognise the location, with houses set into the sides of hills, the peculiar Hobbit round doors, the rustic feel, chimneys popping up from the ground, the huge tree, lake and Green Dragon Tavern in the distance.

The location is part of an actual working farm, and the views of the green, rolling hills are remarkably similar to those described by Tolkien in his books.

If you approach the set from the cities of Auckland or Hamilton, there is a large sign pointing out the turnoff to the set. However, if you approach from another direction, in our case from Rotorua, and you follow the signs to the town of Matamata, then you can easily get lost. For some reason town officials have not erected one sign in the town pointing the way to Hobbiton.

This is despite the fact that some of the town buildings are being converted to resemble those seen in Hobbiton. The movie set tour is quite obviously the main attraction near the town, but town officials, apparently, feel no need to advise visitors how to find their way to the attraction. Perhaps because the town organises their own coach tours to the set is the reason why they make it hard for visitors to make their own way to the set.

Even if you have no particular interest in the movies, just making the drive to the set is a great experience as the scenery on the way is magnificent.

Because the set is located on a private, working farm, you cannot drive straight to the set, but must drive to a visitor’s centre where you purchase tickets and then board a bus which takes you on the short drive to the set.

Upon arrival you are greeted by a guide, who shows you around the set, explains aspects about some of the scenes and shots which appear in the films, and related interesting information about the making of the movies and other factors relating to the buildings on the set.

Interestingly, the many gardens which accompany the Hobbit houses on the set are real, and a large team of gardeners is responsible for the upkeep and plantings.

The houses and props are remarkably detailed, and it is obvious that a great deal of care and skill has been used in order to accurately recreate Tolkien’s vision of Hobbiton.

The hill upon which Hobbiton is built is quite steep, although there is a good gravel path to follow, it may prove difficult for people who have issues with movement to get around the set. I have a daughter who does have problems with balance, and with a helping hand she was fine and thoroughly enjoyed her experience, as did I.

You don’t have to be a fan of the movies to enjoy the tour. In fact, if you are an aficionado you probably know all the information you are told anyway. I had seen the movies and found the tour to be both worthwhile and captivating simply because it gave me a great appreciation for the effort and attention to detail which went into building Hobbiton.

That, and its magnificent location, were reasons why I would recommend doing the town if you are down Matamata way – providing you can find your way to the site, that is.

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