21 Apr A Day in Hobbiton
(Or that time we walked in Frodo’s hairy feet)
Frodo is reading. He sits on the grass under a tall tree’s shade on a peaceful meadow, and a deep voice sings in the distance. He knows who the voice belongs to and with a mischievous grin, springs to his hairy feet. He runs down the hills, the singing voice calling him, while birds chirp and butterflies follow his path. He comes to the edge of the hill and stops Gandalf’s carriage. The wizard welcomes him in his arms.
Together, pulled by an elegant horse, they enter The Shire.
Green hills are framed by a turquoise lake, and a windmill spins behind a field of flowers. A stone bridge leads to Hobbit holes perched on the slopes of the rolling hills. The place is warm and beautiful. It’s tranquil, yet full of life.
It speaks. It lures. It captures.
It’s no secret I’m a Lord of the Rings fan (books and movies). It’s also not a secret that this was one of the main reasons why I really really really wanted to visit New Zealand. A month before our trip I reread The Fellowship of the Rings, and I kept picturing the battles, the long walks, the Hobbits journeying into the deep forest, right in the middle of New Zealand’s majestic scenery. So, of course a day in Hobbiton Movie Set was on top of our New Zealand road trip list.
That first scene with Frodo and Gandalf in ‘The Fellowship of the Rings’ embodies what The Shire and Hobbits are all about. And there’s a place in Matamata, New Zealand where this scene comes alive.
Peter Jackson (LOTR director-but come on, you should know this) hand-picked Alexander farm for the set. The man, in his genius glory, discovered the 1250 acres farm from a helicopter and, in his mind, saw The Shire. He somehow knew that this is where he could bring to life the land of the amazing creatures Tolkien created.
After the Lord of the Rings trilogy the set was torn down, but for the filming of The Hobbit movies it was rebuilt using permanent materials. When the production eneded, they decided to open the set to the public. (We can celebrate. Our pleas have been heard.)
We arrived at Hobbiton and two things happened: it was hot as hell (hey! NZ summer does exist!) , and a sculpture of Gandalf welcomed us in the ticketing office. Obvious signs that we were about to have a great day.
The tour starts with a bus ride up the farm, past lots of sheep and into the set entrance. As soon as I stepped out, a warm feeling traveled up my stomach and I just couldn’t believe my eyes. Suddenly, I was Frodo and I was home.
I can describe what The Shire looks like in real life but I can’t (even though I desperately want to) make you feel the essence of the place.
In the Fellowship of the Rings, Sam stops in the sun-lit field, right by the scarecrow and hesitates before taking the one step that’ll take him the farthest away from home he’s ever been. That apprehension of leaving home can only come from a deep and strong love of a place as special and unique and The Shire. And Hobbiton feels just like that.
The details are what makes this place come alive. Every house has a story, every tree was meticulously built, every porch speaks of the Hobbit who lives there. It’s not only faithful to what we see in the movies but, most importantly, it’s faithful to the books.
We walked by the first Hobbit hole, past the knee-high fence protecting the perfectly round door and, I swear, the only thing missing were Gandalf’s fireworks.
We mostly wandered on our own. The tour guide gives time to take photographs and look at the holes but, in our opinion, it wasn’t enough. There’s just so much to see! We climbed up the the small hills, and stopped at every single Hobbit hole. We wanted to see what made each of them unique. Was it a bakers’s house? A lumberjack’s? Did it have fruit outside? Or honey? We could’ve stayed hours just looking at every single small detail that went into creating the set.
Meanwhile, the guide’s explanation was okay, but we would’ve loved to hear more stories about the movies, and what their production meant for a place like Alexander farm. We wanted an inside look into the madness that we’re sure came to Hobbiton when the movies were filmed, and we didn’t get that. What you do get, though, is all the information you could ever want about the actual building of the set including materials, times, and mishaps.
Halfway through the tour, high and imposing, the most anticipated house comes into view: Bilbo’s. It’s so real, you can almost hear him saying that he won’t go on any adventures that day, but inviting you in for tea anyhow. Of course, you can’t go inside since the famous “No admittance except on party business” sign is there to keep intruders away.
During the whole tour, you can only go inside one Hobbit hole, and I’ll give you a piece of advice: DON’T. I was so excited to see what a Hobbit hole looked from the inside and boy, was I disappointed. It’s literally an over-sized closet where they store umbrellas. Umbrellas, for crying out loud. Bilbo, wherever he is, would choke on his second breakfast. For a minute there, I though all magic would be lost.
Thank Tolkien for the Green Dragon.
Coming down from the houses, you reach a clearing where Bilbo had his legendary 111th birthday party. The swings, seesaws, and colorful flags are all there, ghosts of a party that happened in our imagination. Of course we played on them like children on coke. There was some definite staring from the rest of the group, but we’ve come to learn than being a silly tourist is the best kind of tourist there is.
The cherry on the delicious cake that is The Shire, is the stone bridge. The same bridge that appears on the first scene, when we see The Shire for the first time, and connects the village with the Green Dragon across the lake.
Crossing it makes you feel like you’re really in Middle Earth- that you’re part of the magical, epic story. There’s also something so powerful and real about seeing the little holes from a distance, that you understand the drive to fight for it and the sacrifices the little Hobbits made just to save it.
Frodo wisely said, “I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”
The Shire represents everything that is good in Middle Earth. It’s the root that keeps the Hobbits grounded, but also gives them the drive to keep going. It’s where they find the strength to be the courageous, magical creatures that they are, and what gives them the will to keep fighting.
At the end of the tour you are taken for a drink a the Green Dragon. I never drink so I chose the Ginger Beer-the only one alcohol-free. Let me tell you, even Isaac swapped his beer for mine when he had a sip. It’s de-li-cious and exotic, and refreshing, and yes, middle earth-y.
We slowly enjoyed sitting in a table by the lake, watching The Shire on the other side.
Tolkien was right when he wrote: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
When traveling, you never know where you might end up, but if it’s a place like Hobbiton, then the risks are definitely worth it.
Have you been someplace that’s got a special significance to you? Where? Did it disappoint or was it everything you’d dreamed of? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment below.