I awoke from a disturbed sleep with a smile already on my face. I’d been looking forward to this day for a LONG time and I was having trouble containing my excitement. I treated myself to a chocolate milk and a coffee & walnut slice for breakfast; if this was to be one of my best days ever then I was going all out on treats (which I continued to do when I went to the Polynesian Spa that night, as I mentioned in my Rotorua post).
Finally the time came to go and get the bus; the actual Hobbiton bus. As I checked in and was handed my ticket, I was literally shaking. I boarded the bus and settled in for about an hour’s journey out to Matamata, the tiny town that’s now home to one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations (thank you, Peter Jackson!!) The drive out was pretty pleasant, they played Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit snippets on the TV on the bus, each getting me more and more excited.
I should clarify that, for me, watching twelve hours of Lord of the Rings and all of the special features that come with each film, is an annual event, and as such I feel like I know the films/ cast/ crew/ anecdotes very well. LOTR has had a massive impact on my life; I did a film degree and trained as an art department assistant, which was down (in part) to the LOTR appendices. So you see, this was something of a pilgrimage!
As our bus pulled off the main road from Matamata, our driver warned that the land was about to drastically change and she was not wrong. Before our eyes, great round rolling hills; the roundest hills I’ve ever seen, unfurled ahead of us and all of a sudden it felt very hobbit-y!
First stop was the gift shop, as we waited for our cue and our slot to go down into Hobbiton. I’m trying not to buy anything whilst here in New Zealand (you should see how big my bag already is) and as such, I showed great restraint in there. I clambered back onto the bus, anxious to get going and as our guide climbed aboard a buzz filled the bus, this was it! The bus set off down the winding track to the Alexanders’ farm, a 1250 acre sheep and cattle farm which is home to Hobbiton. As we rounded a row of trees, there it was in the distance, a hillside so lush and green, filled with hobbit holes af varying colours (and so many people!)
It had been a fairly grey drive over but as we bounced off the bus and walked through Gandalf’s cutting (the bit he and Frodo ride through on his cart, so cool!) and got our first proper look up at the hillside, the sun came out and honestly, I could’ve just cried with pure joy. Our tour guide, Jacob, set about showing us around, starting in the vegetable patch. I very much stayed right at the front, like teacher’s pet, for the whole tour. I maintain that this was the best tactic because 1. I was already super keen anyway and 2. I took all my pictures before most of the tour had caught up and thus they couldn’t wander in and ruin my shots. I can hear my dad sarcastically saying “clever sod” right about now.
Through the vegetable patch, which Bilbo goes running through carrying his contract in the first Hobbit film, we started our ascent up the hillside to Bag End, passing various Hobbit holes on the way. The guide regaled us with tales of the art department, which to be fair I mostly already knew, but enjoyed nonetheless. For example, the art department were tasked with removing all foliage from an apple tree and re-wiring it with fake leaves and fake fruit to make it look like a plum tree, as that’s what the director wanted because that’s what trees they are in the book. Typically, the trees didn’t even make it into the movies and so it’s quite nice that now at least they’re seen and appreciated by hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists every day. Many of the hobbit holes are adorned with props to give you an indication of what the hobbit that lives there might do for a living, my favourite of which was clearly a cheesemaker, the windows stacked high with rounds of cheese. Let me tell you, I was ready to move right in.
Tourists would be posing for pictures left right and centre, but there’s only one hobbit hole that you’re specifically allowed to go into the yard of and open the door. Everyone has their picture taken here, including me, because why would you turn down such an opportunity! You’ll notice that I look like a complete idiot in my picture due to sheer excitement (and blinking) Side note: I have a pretty nice DSLR camera which means it can be hit and miss getting people to take a picture of me on there, it’s like they see the big camera and freak out, so I tend not to ask people to use it… I will reprise this story in just a moment..
We continued up the hill towards Bag End, which for those of you that don’t know, is Bilbo (and later Frodo) Baggins’ house and probably the most desirable hobbit hole in The Shire. Given that Bilbo and Frodo are pretty much the main characters in their respective film trilogies, Bag End is a BIG DEAL. As we walked along the path and it came into full sight I was so excited, I was even shaking a little bit! I stood in awe, staring at the iconic green door, internally saying “omg omg omg“. I just couldn’t believe it was right there in front of me! An Irish lady, who was part of my tour group, asked if I would take her picture and of course I obliged, the photographer in me making sure to frame the picture perfectly and getting as much in shot as possible. She thanked me and offered to take my picture and I was like “sure“, handing my camera over (on auto mode) with the same uncertainty as ever. She snapped a few pictures and handed me the camera back, confidently saying “I took a couple for you”. I thanked her, and continued to be awestruck by Bag End in front of me. It was only later, checking through my pictures, that I realised… she hadn’t taken a single photo!! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly gutted but, to be honest, I’m happy enough with the photos that I took myself that it’s not too big a deal.
All too soon, we had to leave Bag End, and we headed down the other side of the hill and through some woodland towards the party field, stopping along the way at number three, Bagshot Row, the home of Samwise Gamgee. I found this to be one of my favourite spots on the whole tour as the walk through the trees was unexpectedly beautiful and of course, Sam is arguably the hero of LOTR. Across from Sam’s place was the party field, where of course Bilbo celebrated his 111th birthday in The Fellowship of the Ring. Looking over at the field, that incidentally sits beneath the huge party tree, I could just picture the scene where Merry and Pippin steal Gandalf’s firework and honestly I was just stood there beaming!
From the party field we moved on and crossed the bridge to The Green Dragon inn, which was really impressive. You could choose one of two ales, a cider or a ginger beer, and being a massive loser, I obviously chose the ginger beer. I picked out a prime spot and sat myself right in front of the fireplace as I sipped from my ceramic cup, feeling like I could very well settle into life in The Shire. From outside The Green Dragon, we had a beautiful view of the Hobbiton hillside across the lake. Once again, I could have just welled up with elation but, I assure you, I kept it together!
Nearing the end of the tour, I slowed my pace to take in as much as possible before I had to leave. The sounds and smells amongst all the gardens were so lovely, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget them. As we boarded the coach, I felt so incredibly lucky to have visited, and honestly, pretty proud of myself for bloody getting to New Zealand so that I could visit. As we rolled back up the hill, out of the farm, they played a clip of Peter Jackson thanking you for visiting and I could feel myself smiling my head off yet again. After this they played a few movie clips, only now you looked at them and went “oh my god, I was just there!”.
It was definitely one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited. 10/10, would go again.