If you're a fan of the Hobbit/Lord of The Rings films, you probably know that it was all filmed in New Zealand. We managed to go see several of the locations while we were in the country, but with most of them you kind of have to use your imagination to picture how it was used in the movie. It's been 13 years since the first movie was released and the landscape has changed or grown in the years since filming.
We had many recommendations to go to the Alexander Farm in Matamata, the large, sprawling farm which was the location for the set of Hobbiton (where the hobbits live). We went back and forth on it before we got to New Zealand, because it was a lot of money when you're on a budget ($75 each - which adds up to our entire budget for the day)! But more and more people told us it was "must-see": someone who had never even seen the movies said it was definitely worth going.
So we went! And it was amazing. It looks exactly like it does in the movies. At the time of filming no one really knew how big the movies were going to be, or how much it would affect the tourism to New Zealand, and so they tore down the majority of the set. People still flocked to the site in droves, and the local farm owners started giving tours, and improving the set again. When it came time to film The Hobbit, the owners of the farm had one condition: they had to be able to keep the set after it was done. Since everything had been removed, they had to rebuild anyway, and so this time they built everything to be permanent.
The tour starts off at the visitor centre where you pile onto a bus. The farm is so huge that you can't even see anything until you're right there.
We chose the last tour of the day, which actually ended up being a really good idea. We got a bit more time (it ended later than it was supposed to), and it never seemed rushed since we didn't have a group behind us. It was a bit of a different tour from normal, we were told, because there was an event going on in the Green Dragon pub that evening. Instead of going to the pub for a drink at the end, we went there first! We had a bit of a look at the start of Hobbiton along the way, seeing our first hobbit holes of the day!
At the pub, we had the choice between four drinks (a couple ales, a cider, and a ginger beer), and had time to look around and take pictures of the pub.
The Green Dragon also had a bunch of cool Hobbit-era signage.
The Bywater bridge into Hobbiton past Sandyman's Mill, although very authentic looking, is not actually an old stone bridge, but a more modern bridge with a fake facade. Until you actually walk on it and hear hollow footsteps and see the stones up close it's pretty realistic though.
After the pub we moved on to the rest of the set. It was really quite picturesque! Rolling hills and hobbit holes everywhere. The party tree was huge, and there was actual smoke (well, from a smoke machine) coming out of the chimneys of the hobbit holes.
We were able to take pictures outside of most of the hobbit holes, and even got to go inside one of them!
Our guide was really good, informing us of which scenes happened where (and describing them for those of us who hadn't seen the movies in awhile, or who hadn't seen them at all), who lived in each hobbit hole (well, the significant ones anyway), and giving us some behind-the-scenes information about the location.
One interesting filming trick they used is that the first few hobbit holes are quite small, at around half size, with later holes a bit bigger. Only a few (such as Sam's and Bag End) are actually full size. In the movies many of the hobbits you see around Hobbiton were actually children.
Bilbo's house, as befitting his social status, was the largest in the village, and is right at the top of the hill. It even had the "no admittance except on party business" sign out front!
Just past Bilbo's house on the hill, we got a great view down towards the party tree and the area around it.
At the end of the tour we had a bit more time to spend around the party tree, taking some last pictures and asking our guide any questions we had.
As the last tour of the day, we got a few extra things. Our guide showed us an extra hobbit hole occupied by a carpenter. The details they put into the sets are extraordinary and things you wouldn't appreciate without thinking about them. For example the little fruit trees in front of houses have little hobbit-size ladders to reach the tops, even though a human could reach the top easily. In fact, since the books called for plum trees, but real plum trees are too large for the set, they used apple and pear trees instead. Before filming, they picked off all the fruit and replaced them with plums.
Overall it was really, really cool, and a highlight of the trip! I'm not even a huge fan of the LOTR/Hobbit series, but the whole atmosphere was great. Definitely worth going to, even if you're not a fan of the movies! If we go back, we'll visit again and try and get into one of the dinner tours at the Green Dragon.