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There is the one place in the world where Middle Earth and reality collide and every Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie fan's fantasies come true. In the small country town of Matamata, somewhere in the center of the North Island, you'll find New Zealand's #1 attraction - Hobbiton (you heard me right, it's the most visited tourist destination in the entire country!). We were lucky enough to book one of the coveted spots for the Hobbiton Evening Dinner Tour, which started just last year. I'm bringing you an inside look at what you can expect from the Hobbiton Movie Set Day Tour and the Evening Dinner Tour so you can plan your next visit to this mystical world. I'm not going to give many details away so you can experience the enchantment for yourself, I'll just provide you with the necessities to plan your visit.
Full disclosure - I've personally never actually been able to get through the first Lord of the Rings movie despite several valiant attempts by my husband who is one of those super fans who has read all of the books, watched all of the movies and at times truly believes he has a higher Hobbit calling. I was just as excited to go there as any other stop on our New Zealand road trip, but not necessarily counting down the days with gitty excitement (like a certain man I know who will remain nameless - *cough Colin* - excuse me). With that said, it was truly one of the most memorable and impressive man made experiences I've ever been to and I recommend that everyone visiting New Zealand should go at least once, fan of the movies or not.
You need to purchase tickets online at http://www.hobbitontours.com . There are 2 pickup options - The Matamata i-SITE, which is in the center of town in Matamata or the Shire's Rest Cafe, the main pickup point located just outside the Hobbiton gates and a 15 minute beautiful backroad drive from Matamata. If you have a car, I'd definitely suggest choosing the Shire's Rest Cafe as there is ample parking and you can take your time exploring the shop, opposed to having your time dictated by the bus back to town.
Movie Set Tours depart daily, rain or shine, every 30 minutes starting around 9:30am to 3:30 or 4:30pm. There are plenty of available spots; however, you'll want to get tickets in advance since tours do fill up and can sell out.
Evening Dinner Tour tickets on the other hand should be purchased at least a few months in advance to guarantee entrance. For example - there are already several December dates that are sold out and that's three months away. This private dinner is reserved for less than 50 guests and at this point it is only available Sunday and Wednesday evenings, with Tuesdays beginning January 2016. If you have the time in your trip, absolutely book the dinner tour - it's well worth it and a completely different experience than just the day tour; well worth the money too!
Ticket Costs in NZ Dollars through March 2016:
The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour Only: Adults $75; Kids $10-37.50
Evening Dinner Tour (includes Movie Set Tour): Adults $190: Kids $100-150
Planning Your Visit - To Stay or Not to Stay in Matamata
So Matamata is a pretty random town with no other major tourist sites to explore in the near vicinity; however, it is decently central depending on your plans. We decided to stay in Matamata for 2 nights because we visited the Waitomo Caves in the morning (just over an hour drive each way from Matamata) and did the Hobbiton Evening Dinner that night, which makes for a busy day but is definitely doable if you have a car. The dinner ends sometime between 8-9pm, so it's also nice not to have to drive long distances on a very full stomach; another reason we decided to stay in town. Otherwise, if you are just going for a day tour, I'd recommend staying in Tauranga or Rotorua and just doing the drive there and back in the same day (1-2 hours each way depending on where you are coming from).
This is not a destination with many high end options; however, we found The Eldonwood Bed and Breakfast, a quaint luxury B&B that suited all of our needs for a short stay. This very new accommodation option run by Willie and Faye is comfortable, clean, safe, central, extremely welcoming and an incredible price. My husband and I booked their private suite above the garage, which has a private entrance, a mini kitchenette, bathroom with heated floors, extremely comfortable queen sized bed, cable television and wifi and in the morning, they cook and serve you a hot breakfast in their home. Willie and Faye are a lovely couple, helping us plan our trip by answering questions and offering suggestions along the way. We would absolutely stay there again if we were in the area.
The Hobbiton movie set tour
The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is a guided tour of The Shire and is also included in the Evening Dinner Tour price. Unlike other attractions, this is not one you show up to at any time and explore on your own. You are bussed in and out on large charter buses and remain with your group during the 2 hour tour, with freedom to take pictures and wander along the way.
Unlike Disneyland where fantasy worlds are simply visual facades, Hobbiton feels real; from the growing vegetable garden to the miniature line hanging laundry, I wouldn't have been surprised for a moment if a Hobbit walked right out of one of the holes and said hello. The guides provide a balanced mixture of movie trivia and mood setting creativity, without being cheesy. I personally loved the genuine excitement and passion the staff all seemed to have for jobs, making it that much more enjoyable.
We were there as the sun was setting and after it had been a very rainy day, but it didn't take away from our experience at all. We dressed warm and came prepared with layers. So don't panic if you look at your weather app and see rain - I promise you'll still love it!
All guests end the tour at The Green Dragon "pub", where you receive one free drink, alcoholic or non alcoholic, and you have the option of purchasing other food items. It's the perfect spot to relax and reflect on your Middle Earth adventure.
- Ensure that you arrive at the pick-up site at least 15 minutes early so you don't miss the bus!
- They provide an ample amount of large umbrellas to use for free, so there is no need to bring your own.
- The walk around Hobbiton is definitely muddy, so wear proper shoes.
- Definitely bring your camera; there are no restrictions on photos or videos and the guides are super helpful when it comes to taking your photo so you don't leave with only selfies.
- If you are doing the evening tour you'll have plenty of daylight for photos, but I'd suggest bringing a tripod for some cool night shots for the walk back at the end of the evening, but only if you know what you're doing otherwise you'll just end up with blurry bright splotches.
Fun Facts: Hobbiton is an actual working farm with thousands of sheep around the property. It was never intended to be a tourist attraction and was actually being torn down, until the movie came out in theaters and locals started showing up at their door, demanding to see the secret set that they recognized in the film! The family decided to partner with Director, Peter Jackson, to open the site to the public.
Evening Dinner Tour
So if you book the Hobbiton Evening Dinner Tour, you end up at The Green Dragon like everyone else with a free drink and relaxation by the fire - but then there's more! Not only have you walked through The Shire during dusk, the best time to catch the sky when it's gorgeously adorned in pink and orange hues, you are the last people left on the property. That's right, all the other suckers have boarded their buses and you and 50 other lucky visitors get the place to yourselves.
After about 30 minutes, curtains part to reveal an expansive dining room set with two long family style dinner tables overflowing with a feast fit for a Hobbit. If you remember the scene in Hook when Robin Williams and the Lost Boys sit down to a banquet dinner - it feels just like that! Now, I've been to Medieval Times and I'm telling you, that's like comparing McDonalds and Five Star Dining, they are a million miles apart. Perfectly cooked, rustic dishes are waiting for you to devour as you sit next to new friends. This delicious bounty is more than enough to feed a college football team, so you're definitely not leaving hungry.
When you think it's over and your stretchy pants are expanded to their maximum output size, here comes dessert in all of its glory. Everything from pudding, cakes and tarts to fresh grilled pears stare you down until suddenly you have an entire plate of goodies in front of you and you don't know how it happened. Trust me, it's worth the calories.
You'd think at the end of the meal, they'd quickly shuffle you back to the buses to get you out of there as quickly as possible - no way, not in Hobbiton. Everyone is handed a night lantern to light your path and for the next 30+ minutes, you get to experience The Shire like few others do. With even more stops and important tidbits of movie information, the enchantment of this sensational journey continues to awe and inspire. Ending the tour with a silly Hobbit dance, you are loaded onto the bus and dropped off back at reality where real life will never be as magical as what you just uncovered. A world beyond a world - The Hobbiton Evening Dinner Tour is one you just can't afford to miss!
Dinner Tour Tips
- Wear comfortable clothes, you are guaranteed to be extremely stuffed.
- Check out the details in the bathroom, there wasn't a corner of this place that wasn't touched with a Hobbit wand!
- Again, bring a tripod for night shots if you've got those skills.
- The walk back can get cold since the sun has gone down, even on a warm day, so layer up.
- Ask lots of questions. Dinner is a great time to talk to your guide and get all of the behind the scenes dirt that wasn't presented during the tour.