Hobbiton was a location high on our “must-see-whilst-in-New-Zealand” list. We were on the Oceania leg of our 3-month epic round the world trip and would be spending two weeks exploring the North Island. The Hobbiton Evening Banquet Tour sounded like a lot of fun, so we worked it into our New Zealand itinerary.
Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story. J.R.R.Tolkien
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Is Hobbiton a real place?
“Does everyone know where they are?” called out our Hobbiton guide as my son and I stood around eagerly awaiting for our tour to begin. We all looked at one another with a puzzled expression and nodded our heads in unison. Why was she asking such an obvious question?
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies are not as popular in some countries as in others. The result of this is that visitors book onto tours without realising that Hobbiton is a film set. Our guide continued to inform us that certain visitors arrive thinking Hobbiton is an authentic New Zealand village. Thankfully, my tour group were all avid Lord Of The Ring fans, and so we all knew where we were!
I’m going on an adventure, J.R.R.Tolkien.
Hobbiton is close to the town of Matamata in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. This area was originally a working farm owned by the Alexander family, but all that changed in 1998. Film director Peter Jackson flew across in his helicopter and chose its green rolling pastures as the site of The Shire, the village in which the hobbits lived in their unique hobbit holes.
Construction began in March 1999. By the end of the year filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy had commenced. In 2002 demolition of the site was all but completed as the filming had finished, but Peter Jackson decided to return in 2009 to film the Hobbit trilogies and rebuild the set as you can see it today. The rest is history, and the 12-acre site became the focal point for not only the blockbusters derived from JRR Tolkein’s books but for the 650,000 die-hard fans that visit every year.
In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort! J.R.R.Tolkien
What can you expect on the Hobbiton Tour?
The tour starts with a guided walk around The Shire at dusk. Small groups of visitors, each with a personal guide are led along the lanes and told interesting behind the scenes stories and funny things that had happened on set. We found out that in one shot Sir Ian McKellan, who played Gandalf the Wizard, hit his head quite badly on the rafters of the Green Dragon Inn. In true thespian style, he continued acting, and it stayed in the film. Now, whenever I see that scene, it reminds me of my fabulous experience at Hobbiton.
Regular photo stops are incorporated as you wander around the 12-acre site passing orchards, veggie patches, and of course, the 44 colourful hobbit holes. The tour guides are happy to suggest good places to take photographs for optimum effect. After all, not many people get to visit the hobbit holes of Sam, Bilbo, and Frodo Baggins, do they?
Separating fact from fiction in Hobbiton
Only a few of the hobbit holes have doors that open, but even so, it is exciting to go inside these empty shells. You have to remind yourself that filming inside the hobbit holes took place in the Weta Workshop in Wellington and not here! It took us by surprise to learn that the vegetables growing in the plots were real and that they have a group of full-time gardeners looking after the vegetables and the flowers.
Another surprising insight was that the giant oak tree above Bilbo’s house has artificial leaves and that every one of them had been hand-painted. The tree only featured in the film for seconds which goes to show the level of realism required.
Hobbiton is so realistic that it is hard to differentiate between real and fake!
Not all that glitters is gold and not all those who wander are lost.
As you cross the bridge over the lake as the night starts to creep in the warm glow of the Green Dragon is a welcoming sight.
We were enchanted by the setting and the minute details that were noticeable all around The Shire. Notice boards, quirky signs, and props that made you think a hobbit may be hiding somewhere. I’m sure I saw a pair of hairy hobbit feet sticking out from under a bush.
What can you expect at the Hobbiton Evening Banquet?
Once inside the Green Dragon, you will be seated at one of the banqueting tables. Traditional Hobbit fayre of chicken drumsticks, roast potatoes, and salmon is served to you on thick wooden platters. Alcoholic beverages are an extra cost, but no respectful Hobbit fan would leave the Green Dragon without a flagon of beer, would they?
The concept is for guests to share the banquet between them, serving one another from the same selections. Dessert is laid out in the centre of the table in the same manner as the main course so that everyone can share it. Pavlova, fresh fruit salad, chocolate puddings, trifle, cake, and biscuits are all in plentiful supply.
It may be hard to decide which one to choose, so if you are like us (and the hobbit folk), and have a sweet tooth, why not try a little of everything! Food is plentiful, the selections are varied, and it is all delicious.
During dinner is a great time to interact with your fellow travellers and learn a little more about their journey.
And now leave me in peace for a bit! I don’t want to answer a string of questions while I am eating. I want to think! J.R.R.Tolkien
Sadly your evening banquet will eventually come to an end, and you must say your farewells.
A lantern is given to you to guide you back through a moonlit Hobbiton. The Shire glows from lanterns and fairy lights, and smoking hobbit hole chimneys make you question whether this is just a film set or whether there may be a hobbit or even a wizard lurking inside them.
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. J.R.R.Tolkien
Information to help you plan your trip to Hobbiton
How to Get to Hobbiton
Hobbiton is about a 2-hour drive from Auckland and a 1-hour drive from Rotorua. It is the perfect destination to come on a day trip from Auckland and you can either drive yourself or book onto one of the many tours that include Hobbiton in their itinerary.
If you are only coming for the evening banquet and making your way back home, then you need to factor in the driving distances to get back to Auckland or the surrounding areas. The Evening Banquet Tour will end at 10 pm, and so you should be prepared for a long drive back at night.
Where to Stay near Hobbiton
Matamata was where we chose to stay as we didn’t want the long drive back to Auckland; however, it was reasonably tricky finding a B and B for just one night. We eventually booked with Eldonwood Bed & Breakfast, which was comfortable, spotlessly clean, and offered a fantastic selection of breakfast essentials. The hosts allowed us a key so that we could let ourselves in after our late return in the evening. The distance from the property to Hobbiton was just under 6 miles with on-site parking.
How to Get Tickets
Book your tickets online. The Evening Banquet Tour is extremely popular, and I booked mine three months in advance to get the exact dates I wanted.
The Evening Banquet Tour lasts for 4 hours.
Pricing and timings for the Evening Banquet Tour are here.