The Shire – LOTR and Hobbit movie set in Matamata, New Zealand

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I’ve just returned from a month long trip to New Zealand, hence my recent silence in cyberspace.  I was writing, but mostly on paper and didn’t publish any of my stuff while on the road.  The next few posts will be about some of the experiences I had in NZ, which is a superbly amazing country.  I’ve tried to keep them as close to the original writing as possible, so that I convey what I felt and remembered immediately after each experience.  Enjoy!

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I’m currently waiting at the Auckland airport for my flight to the south island of New Zealand.  I’ve been in NZ for about a week now, and today I had the pleasure of visiting the movie set for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, so here is some underground hobbit-hole awesomeness.

The Shire (besides being located in Middle Earth), can also be found in the small, otherwise non-descript town of Matamata, New Zealand.  It’s actually built on a sheep farm amidst the rolling hills of rural NZ.  Here are a few interesting things about this set:

  1. There are 44 total hobbit holes + The Green Dragon Inn that make up the Shire
  2. The New Zealand military were comissioned with the task of building this set.  Guess they weren’t too busy eh?
  3. The holes are different sizes to contrast the heights of different characters.  For example, Gandalf stood beside the small holes so he looked big, and the hobbits played their parts next to large holes so they seemed shorter.  This picture illustrates what I mean:Hobbit HoleThis guy isn’t super tall, but the house makes him seem quite big.
  4. The “hobbits”, recruited in Matamata and surrounding areas ranged in age from 4 to 86
  5. The people of Matamata were kept in the dark as to what was transpiring in their town.  Neighbours close enough to find out were required to sign non-disclosure contracts lasting until the movies (all 3) were released.  So were all the actors, staff and anyone involved.  Wasn’t that something like 9 years??
  6. The air above was a no fly zone.  The punishment for flying over was loosing your pilot’s license for life!
  7. They actually brewed real beer (1.1%) for the scene of Bilbo’s birthday party.  It’s called SoberRing Thought Beer.
  8. Since the Shire faces East, they filmed a sunrise and played it backwards to mimic a sunset scene with Bilbo and Gandalf
  9. Each hobbit hole (remember, there were 44) required a clothesline with clothes, so someone was responsible for running up and down hanging clothes and taking them down everyday (something to do with washing them so they looked “fresh” for the next shoot).  This created footprints, and made it seem like there were actually hobbits living there. Clothesline
  10. The oak tree above Bilbo’s house started dying after the Lord of the Rings, so for the Hobbit, each leaf was cut off and replaced with an artificial one.  When it was completed, Peter Jackson decided that the colour wasn’t right, so each leaf had to be spray painted. Individually.  4 university students were assigned to this task. IMG_3130
  11. The Green Dragon Inn actually serves drinks. 3 alcoholic beers and a non alcoholic Ginger beer.

And probably other quirky things, but I can’t remember them all now.

We booked the tour at the Matamata I site, downtown Matamata and impossible to miss because it looks like this:

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Hobbit hole.  Surprise eh?

It was $75 US per person.  A bus then drove us from downtown to the sheep farm on which the set was built.  A brief history/bio of the farm’s owners was given by the driver as we headed to the Shire.  The drive through the farm itself was beautiful.  When we arrived at the Shire’s Rest, we dismounted and were taken by another bus to the Shire itself where the tour began.

Our tour guide took us through the winding path of the Shire explaining different things about the set and the people who worked there.  Here’s what it looked like:

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Hobbit Holes

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We walked around the meandering hill until finally arriving at Bag End, the grand-daddy of the hobbit holes, and Bilbo’s house.  It’s a huge (hobbit wise) structure with an oak tree (fake) overlooking the rest of the Shire:

Bag End

Bag End

After Bag End, the tour wound toward the Green dragon Inn.

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We all got a complimentary drink (apple cider for me, ginger beer for the better half), and ended the tour with a ride out of the Shire, back to the Shire’s Rest to await our bus to the Matamata I site.

The staff, bus drivers and tour guides were fantastic.  Very friendly and quite funny, they make the whole tour a lot of fun.  I did feel that $75 (approx. $63 US) was a little expensive for this tour, but then, as I discovered later, everything in New Zealand is quite expensive!  Regardless, I’m a fan of the movies, and thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

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4 Responses to “The Shire – LOTR and Hobbit movie set in Matamata, New Zealand”


  1. 1 elatlboy February 26, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    I’ve yet to visit anything Lord of Rings/Hobbit related in New Zealand. I need to change that. Great photos! Didn’t realize all that went into making The Shire and the secrecy involved.

  2. 3 Brandi April 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I am a huge fan of the movies as well…would love to see the shire!!! With the price of the tour they should allow you to go in the hobbit holes….

    • 4 islandsidechronicles April 4, 2013 at 2:32 am

      The hobbit-holes are actually just finished on the outside. They do let you enter/look into them, and there’s nothing inside except dirt and a few 2*4’s. I imagine they did all the interior shooting on a set in the studio. But the tour is still worth doing!


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