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Matamata is a must visit if you’re a Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fan. Take a guided tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set and enjoy the town’s fabulous cafes. ( 20 plus) and shortly bike the  Hauraki Rail Trail extension ” late 2018″

Two hours south of Auckland lies the lush farmland of the Hobbiton Movie Set on a guided tour; it has more than 44 unique hobbit holes, including Bag End (Bilbo’s house). As you wander through the heart of the Shire, you’ll get to hear the fascinating commentary about how it was all created.

Location: 501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata 3400, New Zealand

Pre-film set history

The underlying geology of the area is that of the Hinuera Formation, a group of alluvial silts, sands and gravels laid down in the last glacial period.[3] Originally largely marshland, it was transformed in the 19th century by a large-scale drainage scheme and is now fertile agricultural land that is also a major racehorse breeding area.[4]

The Alexander family moved to the 500-hectare (1,200-acre) property of rolling grassland where the set is located in 1978. Since then it has been a livestock ranch with 13,000 sheep and 300 Angus beef cattle. The main sources of income from farming are mutton, wool and beef.[4][5]

The Lord of the Rings

When Peter Jackson began to look for suitable locations for The Lord of the Rings film series[1] he first saw the Alexander Farm during an aerial search[5] in 1998[6] and concluded that the area was “like a slice of ancient England”.[1] Set Decorator Alan Lee commented that the location’s hills “looked as though Hobbits had already begun excavations”.[7] Part of the site has a lake with a long arm that could double as a river.[7]

The exterior of Bag End in 2006 before its 2010 make-over

After suitable negotiations with the owners, work commenced in transforming part of the farm into sets for Hobbiton and other parts of J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Shire in March 1999.[5] The New Zealand Army brought in heavy equipment to make 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) of road into the site from the nearest highway and initial ground works. Further work included building the facades for 37 hobbit holes and associated gardens and hedges, a mill and double arch bridge, and erecting a 26-tonne (29-ton) oak above Bag End that had been growing near Matamata and which was cut down and recreated on site complete with artificial leaves. Thatch on the pub and mill roofs was made from rushes growing on the farm. Generators were installed and water and sewerage also had to be considered. Catering was made available for up to 400 cast, crew and visitors per day.[3][5]

Jackson wrote: “I knew Hobbiton needed to be warm, comfortable and feel lived in. By letting the weeds grow through the cracks and establishing hedges and little gardens a year before filming, we ended up with an incredibly real place, not just a film set”.[1] Lee commented that “it was satisfying to see that it had taken on something of the look of the Devonshire countryside I’d lived in for the past twenty-five years”.[7]

Visitor centre

Hobbiton mill and double-arched bridge

Although the set was not built to last, the hobbit hole facades having been constructed from untreated timber, ply and polystyrene,[5] it was evident that the location was of interest to tourists. Guided tours of the 5.5 hectares (14 acres) movie set site commenced in 2002[8] and continue to be provided daily. The two-hour excursion should be booked in advance[3][9][10].

Highlights of the tour include Bagshot Row, the Party Tree, and Bilbo’s Bag End home. There are now 44 hobbit holes on view[9][11] although it is only possible to enter a few of them, all of which have small, unfinished, earth-walled interiors.[12] (The interior of Bag End was shot in a studio in Wellington).[13]

Refreshments are available at “The Shires Rest Cafe” prior to or after tours. Breakfast and indeed “Second Breakfast” is served.[14] In 2012 the “Green Dragon” inn (a replica of the Green Dragon that featured in the LOTR and Hobbit trilogies) was opened on the set. There is now also a store selling merchandise and souvenirs adjacent to the cafe and evening events commenced in 2014. The tours have generally received good reviews [15][16] (although not all are complimentary[17]) and in 2013 the set welcomed its 500,000th guest.[2][8] Expansion is ongoing in 2017. The kitchen that serves the Green Dragon is being moved and enlarged and the visitor’s centre will also be moved across the road from the current parking lot to ease the receiving of visitors arriving by coach.

The Hobbit set

Hobbit holes overlooking the lake on the set

In 2010, the set was rebuilt in a more permanent fashion for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,[6][18] filming for which began in 2011.[19] Ian McKellen reprised his role as Gandalf the Grey and was joined on the Hobbiton location by Martin Freeman, who remarked that the site “just looked like a place where people lived and where people worked”.[6]

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