“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
Our visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set was one of my absolute favorite parts of our trip to New Zealand. I took enough pictures that you can join us on a virtual tour, but don’t be surprised if you’re hungry at the end of it.
I didn’t realize when we were planning our trip that they had started offering an evening Banquet Tour in addition to the regular tours of the set during the day. The Banquet Tour departs just before dusk, so you get to experience the Shire during the golden hour when the soft light of the fading sun creates the perfect magical ambiance. The walking tour of Hobbiton ends up at the Green Dragon, where guests enjoy some locally brewed ale before going through to a banquet dinner. After dinner, lanterns are handed out, and the tour winds its way back through the Shire, this time in full dark, to enjoy the romantic glowing lights of the hobbit holes under the stars.
It sounds amazing, right? That’s why I was so disappointed to discover it was sold out when I started trying to get tickets a few weeks before we were planning to be in Matamata! It was off season in New Zealand, and as our photos from other posts can attest, everywhere else was absolutely empty. The possibility of anything being sold out was absurd. But it was on every single night that they offered it until after we were scheduled to fly back to LA. I wanted to do it badly enough that we were willing to rearrange the rest of our itinerary to make it work, but there were simply no spaces available no matter how obsessively I called and checked the website.
We accepted that we would need to just go during the day and do the regular tour. We arrived at the Shire’s Rest Cafe in Matamata, and I was a little less grumpy when it turned out to be an absolutely stunning, blue bird day. We were unbelievably lucky to be there and going on the tour at all. Xander was napping in the camper in the parking lot, so I snuck out to get our tickets for the next available tour. As I was about to close to door, Kris whispered, “Why don’t you just check one last time to see if anyone has cancelled for the Banquet Tour tonight?”
My clever husband was right. No one had cancelled, but two tickets hadn’t been paid for yet. They were giving the people until 1 pm to call back and pay for them, and if they didn’t, they would release them for sale. We held off on going on our tour, and waited the few hours until 1, impatiently watching the time as we let Xander romp in the grass outside that was so green it didn’t seem real. As the hands of the clock turned to signal that 1 pm had arrived, I was standing at the desk with a grin on my face.
“Did they call back?” I asked him eagerly.
“No, but let me just see if they emailed in the last few hours.”
I held my breath as he called the office to check. No email. We were in!
Mike and Andy were our guides and hosts for the evening. Mike was a Kiwi, and Andy was a Scotsman from Dunoon. He seemed pretty skeptical that I had heard of such an obscure town in Scotland, far less been there, but once I mentioned the Dunoon mugs we have at home, I think he believed me. They were both charming, hilarious, and most importantly, patient with Xander’s baby antics.
At the Shire’s Rest Cafe (which has a marvelous gift shop!) we all boarded a bus that drove us across the farm to the film set. Since it was early spring, there were adorable lambs froclicking everywhere. I think the word froclick may have been invented just to describe the joyful movements of lambs. Mike was our driver, but also provided amusing commentary the whole way.
This is the sign that greeted us once we got to the set. I was grinning like an excited little kid. Xander didn’t even know how cool it was that we were there.The image below is Andy quizzing the group on what level of fandom we had achieved. When you hadn’t done one of the things that he listed, you had to put your hand down. The list was: watched all 3 Lord of the Rings films, watched all 3 Hobbit films, read the Hobbit, read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was stunned to be only one of only a few who had completed the entire list (several times over if we’re being realistic). I think I just assume that the rest of the world is as nerdy as I am.
Andy had us (nerd) champions shout, “I’m going on an adventure!”, and so began our walking tour. Xander came so close to taking his first steps in Hobbiton. I’m all about letting him reach milestones on his own time. I’m not a parent who is trying to coax him to do anything before he’s ready…but man did I want to be able to tell that story! We walked a meandering path through Hobbiton, past each perfectly individual hobbit hole. Which one would you like to live in? Keep in mind, the number of chimneys and windows is an indicator of status and wealth. The attention to detail was astonishing. Xander was (unsurprisingly) more interested in the plants than in any of the hobbit holes, but in his defense, the spring flowers were lovely as well. At last, we rounded a corner and caught our first glimpse of Bag End. You’ll notice some sheep in the background below. The sheep that live on the farm are white-faced, but in the films Peter Jackson decided to replace them with black-faced “stunt sheep” because he thought they better suited the feel of the Shire. Mike encouraged us to look inside one of the doors to see what the interior looked like. We all imagined a cozily furnished hobbit hole, but soon discovered that they are, of course, only facades. The interior only goes back a few feet. It’s okay. Kris could build it out for me. I know I joked about being hobbit sized when we visited Rivendell, but I am a pretty good fit!The pond in the image below was man made as part of the set. Apparently, they built it and left it until filming started. While it was unattended, a colony of frogs thought it would be nice to live in Hobbiton, and moved in (can’t blame them!). When the crew returned and started rolling, the croaking of frogs was so loud it was drowning out the dialogue. The crew painstakingly caught and relocated all of the frogs, but they evidently didn’t move them far enough away. The stubborn frogs had returned to the pond the following day! They moved them again, but this time to a pond that was far away, so they wouldn’t get any ideas about coming back.As we crossed the higher part of the hill, we caught our first sight of the Green Dragon over the lake. We could hear festive music coming from within, and began to eagerly anticipate the culinary delights that were being prepared for us there. Xander was insistent that he had party business to attend to at Bag End, but we convinced him to keep moving.The image below is of Sam Gamgee and Rosie’s house.The Party Tree was reflecting beautifully on the lake. Finally, we made it to the Green Dragon Inn!
“You can drink your fancy ales,
You can drink them by the flagon,
But the only brew for the brave and true,
Comes from the Green Dragon!!”Upon our arrival, we were offered a tasty beverage from the locally brewed Southfarthing range to enjoy as we wandered the Inn and socialized before dinner. Their brews included the Girdley Fine Grain Amber Ale, the Outbarton Brew Traditional English Ale, the Sackville Cider, and the Frogmorton Ginger Brew. We both sampled the amber ale, and it was scrumptious!
We sipped our drinks, and watched darkness slowly fall on the Party Tree and the lakeside hobbit holes. One of the best parts of the Banquet Tour was how long we had to simply relax and soak it all in at the Green Dragon before dinner began. Hobbiton looked enchanting lit up at night. That’s Bag End up at the top of the hill. With a friendly fire crackling, smoke billowing from the chimney, and warm lights glowing from within, the Green Dragon couldn’t have looked more inviting. At last, it was time for our feast!
Tolkien had this to say of hobbits:
“As for the Hobbits of the Shire, with whom these tales are concerned, in the days of their peace and prosperity they were a merry folk…Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking. And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted.”
We were invited into the banquet room where a spread of mouth watering foods filled the long tables. At first, it seemed odd to all be sitting together around a huge table, but as we passed food to one another and began to eat, strangers became friends. It was easy to forget that the world outside existed. For a little while, we got to be hobbits, living in the moment, enjoying the simple pleasures of delicious food and good company. I had requested a vegetarian option, which was exceptionally good, but Kris assures me that the many meats were fantastic. It was truly a feast fit for hobbits! By the time we had sampled the deserts, we were all utterly stuffed and ready for another leisurely walk through Hobbiton. Andy and Mike distributed lanterns, and we stepped out into the refreshingly cool night air. The stars above us were beautiful, but the lights of the hobbit holes seemed to be welcoming us home. The lights of the Green Dragon twinkled to us in farewell across the lake. I won’t give away the specifics to leave lots of excitement if you manage to go yourself, but we had our own little party by lantern light under the party tree. By the time we got back on the bus to depart from our fantasy world, we were relaxed and thoroughly satisfied. Even Xander had stuffed himself and slept like a champ that night.
For an up to date list of our New Zealand Adventure posts, look here.