The final stage of the Tolkien Pilgrimage was, of course, Hobbiton. Nestled in the countryside of North Island, not far from Matamata, the Hobbiton movie set is accessible only through organised tours. There’s good reason for this though – mainly that it keeps the tourists under control, a task not dissimilar to herding cats.
On advice, we took the first tour of the day with a view to getting there before it was too busy. And a glorious morning in the Shire greeted us. The coach ride from the Shire’s Rest cafe drops you off at the edge of Hobbiton right where, in the Hobbit, Bilbo runs off shouting, ‘I’m going on an adventure!’
Then it opens up onto a full vista of Hobbiton, starting with vegetable patches near the lake, hobbit holes nestled away in cosy corners, all overlooked by the fabled Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo themselves.
The tour ambles through the gardens and around the hills, stopping at plenty of hobbit holes along the way.
All the hobbit holes are themed to the profession of the hobbit that lives there, so the beekeeper has bees outside, the fisherman has smoked fish and a rod, while the Sackville-Bagginses have cider. Unfortunately, Bilbo was not home to visitors.
One of my favourite sites on the opening sequence of Lord of the Rings was also present, that of the mill by the Green Dragon Inn, complete with bridge and waterwheel.
Sadly, you can’t live here. I asked. The next best thing, however, is to go back again. The set is so well done that we went back a second time, but for an evening banquet at the Green Dragon. This is more expensive but more than worth it – it’s as close to living in Hobbiton as you’re ever going to get.
The evening banquet includes the last tour of the day which gives you even more time to explore. Since we’d already taken hundreds of photos on the first visit, we could just wander around and soak up the atmosphere, and pick up the little details that made the films the masterpieces they are. And that’s why they worked, Lord of the Rings in particular. Everyone involved loved what they were doing and put the extra effort in to make it perfect.
The evening tour continues into the Green Dragon for a mug of Southfarthing:
You can sit by the open fire, peruse maps of the shire and check out paintings of influential hobbits to the tune of the ambient music which you might expect of a fantasy inn. And then they draw back the curtains and the banquet is prepared.
After the hobbit-sized portions that leave everyone completely stuffed, you wander back into Hobbiton. As darkness has fallen, all the hobbit holes are lit by lanterns outside their doors and everyone carries their own lantern as they leave the Shire through the party field.
So there it is, the ultimate end to a Tolkien pilgrimage. Of course, there’s always more to see – getting to some of the less-accessible places, for example. It would be easy to fill another trip to New Zealand, and Hobbiton is a place that will just keep giving.