When we shared our plans to visit Sydney and Auckland, we were most commonly met with two responses: many of our friends wondered just how many hours we were going to spend on planes to get there, and almost everyone wanted to know if we were going to Hobbiton. While the number of hours spent in economy-class seating elicited shock and dismay, Hobbiton universally brought smiles back to their faces. That made us smile, too: as fans of storytelling, stories don’t really get more beloved or more encompassing than J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the chance to experience a morning walking through Hobbiton is equitable to walking right into a fairytale.
When visiting Auckland, New Zealand, Hobbiton is an easy day trip that takes you from the busy city into the lush, green hills of the Shire. Located just two hours south of Auckland in Matamata, Hobbiton is an immensely popular destination for international visitors. To make the most of our time outside of the city we paired our visit to Hobbiton with a tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and discovered another surprising, even mesmerizing destination. Should you include Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glowworm caves on your New Zealand itinerary? Our vote is yes—and here’s what you need to know to make the most of your experience!
What Is Hobbiton?
If you have never read the The Lord of the Rings or its prequel The Hobbit—or if you skipped the movies that brought new fame to the stories—you aren’t alone. In fact, even on a tour of Hobbiton you won’t be alone; close to half of the travelers who made up our group tour were entirely unfamiliar with any aspect of the story. Still, it’s a good idea to have a little bit of context before you arrive.Both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit center around hobbits, imagined by Tolkien to be related to humans with some significant differences. Hobbits are typically no taller than two to four feet and are characterized by a love of bright colors, a simple yet fulfilling lifestyle, and a sense of fierce protection of their homes and the land surrounding them. To picture what kind of a place might be most attractive to hobbits might conjure images of tiny shirts blowing in the breeze on a clothesline and miniature wheelbarrows brimming with dirt and colorful flowers under a brilliant blue sky—and that is precisely what we found when we arrived.
Today, Hobbiton refers to the movie set constructed for The Hobbit films. Director Sir Peter Jackson took an aerial tour of New Zealand prior to filming The Lord of the Rings and identified farmland that seemed perfect for Hobbiton; with permission from the Alexander family who owned the land, Hobbiton was constructed. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed over the course of 15 months, with principal photography for all three films captured during that time. When filming was complete, Hobbiton was deconstructed and the land was returned to the farmer. Years later, when Jackson planned to film The Hobbit trilogy, he needed Hobbiton to be rebuilt exactly as it appeared in the first films. This time, with permission from the Alexander family, a permanent set was constructed so that it could remain behind when filming was finished. For some visitors that history provides an important distinction: the Hobbiton you tour today was not part of the original The Lord of the Rings set, although it looks identical; it was, however, used for The Hobbit trilogy.
Hobbiton: Tour Highlights
The Hobbiton tour starts at Shire’s Rest, located on Hobbiton’s outskirts. From the parking lot you will look out onto the very beginning of the green hills, dotted with the occasional sheep. In addition to serving as the ticketing counter and the place to board tour buses, Shire’s Rest also has a café with coffee and snacks and a gift shop.
A brief journey on the tour bus will transport you from Shire’s Rest to Hobbiton, and the magic begins before you leave the parking lot. Our guide played a video that features both Jackson (the director) and Alexander (the farmer) sharing what makes Hobbiton so special, and while we found it tempting to watch the video in its entirety our eyes were constantly drawn out the window as we watched civilization give way to nature. By the time the bus stopped we were just a few minutes from where we started, but we felt like we were miles and miles away.
Our guided tour provided plenty of great stories, insights, and photo opportunities as we traversed the same grounds the hobbits loved so fiercely in Tolkien’s stories. While guides provide some terrific details about what visitors see on the tour, there are a few unmissable highlights.
► Hobbit HolesThere are a total of 44 hobbit holes in Hobbiton, and each one is full of allure and personality. Hobbit holes are hobbit homes; being tiny in stature, the holes are marked by colorful circular doors that just about everyone would need to stoop down to walk through. Most hobbit holes are empty inside; only a few are large enough for a visitor to enter. We were also interested to see that some hobbit holes had full-sized doors while others had much smaller doors; larger doors allowed actors to pass through with ease, while smaller doors used in external shots were no more than a few feet tall and were true to size. From numerous vantage points it was possible to see multiple hobbit holes nestled within the landscape, which made us wonder if a door could open at any time as a hobbit looked out to see what the commotion was all about.
► Bag End
Fans of The Lord of the Rings know the names Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins, two of the more famous hobbits, and their home is called Bag End. Considered one of the largest hobbit holes, Bag End sits under a large oak tree and overlooks much of Hobbiton. Because you can’t see much inside the hobbit hole, it is the oak tree that has the most interesting story. The Lord of the Rings was filmed before The Hobbit, and in the decade that passed between the filming dates the original oak tree died. In order to ensure the set looked exactly the same across all six movies, a fake tree was created and installed in place of the old tree. The new tree has hand-painted leaves, and while it moves a bit less freely in the wind, it looks realistic—even up close.
► Green Dragon Inn
Fans of the Lord of the Rings know the Green Dragon Inn was the meeting place for Hobbiton, and today tours make it the last stop before the tour concludes. The Green Dragon Inn is a fully functional pub that serves food and drink, including several ales crafted specifically for Hobbiton. We had about 25 minutes to enjoy a few beers before leaving Hobbiton; Adam tried the amber ale, and I opted for the traditional English ale. The amber ale is a light, refreshing beer with a touch of caramel sweetness, where the English ale is closer to a stout with rich notes of chocolate and coffee. The Green Dragon also offers a hard apple cider and a nonalcoholic ginger beer, so there are plenty of good options to enjoy after a walk through Hobbiton.
► Sam’s Hobbit HoleSamwise Gamgee is a dedicated companion to Frodo Baggins, and as part of the Fellowship of the Ring he serves as a devoted sidekick. As a popular main character in the story, one of the final stops on the guided tour of Hobbiton is to Sam’s hobbit hole. It is prominently featured at the end of The Return of the King, when Sam returns home to Hobbiton. Marked by a cheerful round door surrounded by flowers, it’s easy to tell why Sam didn’t venture away from Hobbiton before The Lord of the Rings story began.
► Party Tree
One of the reasons Jackson loved the New Zealand farmland he chose for Hobbiton was the tree that is affectionately known as the Party Tree. The tree was famously part of the backdrop at Bilbo Baggin’s 111th birthday party, and under its branches he gave a speech before leaving the Shire.
Today, the Party Tree stands as an enormous, impressive welcome to the Shire and to Hobbiton, and the tree is easily visible from most of the hobbit holes.
How to Get to Hobbiton
Getting to Hobbiton is easy from Auckland; numerous tour companies offer itineraries focused on Hobbiton, and many travelers prefer to rent a car or take a bus to get there.How you choose to get to Hobbiton depends on your travel style and preferences. If you prefer to travel on your own, renting a car is easy to do and is typically inexpensive. Still, remember that driving in New Zealand may be challenging; like Australia and the United Kingdom, New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is located on the right side of the car. Some drivers find the transition easy, and plenty of others find it confusing and even scary. If you are up for the challenge, Hobbiton is about two hours away from Auckland, and once outside of Auckland traffic is generally light and easy to navigate. If driving isn’t for you, daily buses leave from Auckland—be sure to check the schedules, as many routes run just once a day.
We took a small group tour to Hobbiton that included hotel pickup, a knowledgeable driver, and our Hobbiton tickets (as well as Waimoto Glowworm Cave tickets) for a single price. While we may have saved some money if we had booked Hobbiton tickets and transportation separately, we appreciated the ease of knowing our driver would keep us on schedule and help us navigate any challenges. With our limited schedule, we didn’t have time for anything to go wrong or off-course—and our guided tour helped us to have a much more relaxed day. We picked Cheeky Kiwi Travel, and we felt we got a great value for what we paid—and the chance to spend the day with our driver, Dane, made the whole experience even more memorable. Dane is of native Māori heritage, and during the hours we spent with him we learned a lot of great information that we wouldn’t have been exposed to if we booked a trip on our own.
This video shares some great imagery from the Hobbiton movie set to share just a piece of the experience.
Tips for Your Hobbiton Experience
► Guided tours are the only way to go
It is not possible to wander around Hobbiton on your own; whether you take a tour from Auckland or drive on your own, your tickets will ultimately seat you on a bus that takes you to a fully escorted tour. Most of the tour is a walking tour, and there are plenty of opportunities to pace yourself to get great photos if you hang back a bit from the rest of the group, but you cannot walk around the movie set unescorted. Don’t be discouraged, though; we heard fantastic stories from our guide and found her to be a wealth of information, and we wouldn’t have enjoyed our day as much without the guided component.
► You don’t need to know the story
I was surprised by the number of people who didn’t know anything about The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit before arriving at Hobbiton—and even more surprised by how little impact that had on their experience. Hobbiton is simply beautiful, and our guide provided enough context through her stories that it was easy to understand the significance of each stop we made. If you are planning a visit to Hobbiton and haven’t seen the movies or read the books, you will still have a great experience. That said, consider watching the movies or reading the books anyway—the stories are beautifully crafted and will stay with you for a long time.
► Look for the attention to detail
I couldn’t believe the level of detail that went into Hobbiton. From tiny billboards advertising goods and services to moss that looked like it had been growing for centuries, Hobbiton looks like it has stood the test of time—much longer than the handful of years it has been open to tourism since the final scenes were shot in 2013. Pay attention to the details during your visit; look for the tiny axes, the worn paths from the hobbit holes to the clotheslines, and the chipped paint that gives Hobbiton a rustic feel. Considering many portions of Hobbiton were shown only briefly in the movies—and some were not shown at all—it’s an incredible testament to the level of care and precision Jackson demanded of the movie experience he created.
► Weather may impact your visit
We had beautiful blue skies when we visited Hobbiton, and a rainy day would have completely changed our impression. Most of the tour is outside, with considerable shifts in elevation up natural inclines, so in the rain we could only imagine the muddy, slippery mess that could transform Hobbiton from a fairytale to a nightmare. If at all possible, try to time your trip to Hobbiton so that your visit is sun-drenched—not rain-drenched.
► Book in advanceThe Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies have not lost an ounce of popularity since their respective releases, and thousands of visitors flock to Hobbiton each day. While it is often possible to purchase tickets upon arrival, pre-booking guarantees you won’t make the journey from Auckland only to discover there are no tours with availability.
► Sit on the right side of the bus
Dane, our fantastic guide from Cheeky Kiwi Travel, suggested we sit on the right side of the bus on the ride from Shire’s Rest to Hobbiton for some great views. He was right; the green pastures were more picturesque on the right side of the bus. If you are looking for great photos, try to get a seat behind the driver for the best views.
More Information: HobbitonTours.com
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Many day trips to Hobbiton from Auckland—including ours—add a side trip to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves into the itinerary to create a very full day. After Hobbiton, and a stop for a great lunch close to the caves, we had a chance to see a natural wonder I have wanted to experience for years.The Waitomo caves were most likely discovered by the Māori people in the 1700s, but they were officially surveyed in 1884. In the Māori language Waitomo means water hole, a good description of the interior of the cave; it is dark, damp, and full of formations like stalactites and stalagmites that develop as water seeps into the cave’s interior. While the limestone caves are beautiful, the main attractions are their constant inhabitants: glowworms that illuminate the cave’s ceiling like stars in the night sky.
The glowworms, called Arachnocampa luminosa, are a glowworm species only found in New Zealand. As part of the glowworm mating cycle, females maintain a strong glow that attracts males (who also glow, but for a shorter amount of time). Glowworms also lower strings of excrement that cast the same glowing light, this time to attract prey, not mates. When thousands of glowworms exist in a single location, like in the Waitomo caves, they emit a soothing blue light that appears iridescent to the human eye.
Like Hobbiton, visiting the Waitomo Glowworm Caves requires a guided tour that provides a brief history of the caves, their meaningfulness to the Māori people, and a brief boat ride that takes you onto the water for incredible views of the glowworms. Tours last just 45 minutes, but they are worthwhile to see a part of New Zealand that is almost incomparable to other parts of the world.
More Information: Waitomo.com
This National Geographic 360-degree video simulates what it is like to sit on the boat and see the glowworms above you.
Tips for Visiting the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
► Don’t bring your camera
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves may appear photogenic, but you won’t be allowed to take any pictures. The glowworms themselves are incredibly sensitive to light, and camera flashes may force them to seek darker conditions and would certainly impact the quality of their existence. Additionally, taking great photos in such low light requires long exposures that most visitors will not have time to employ. The gift shop sells high-quality prints if you want a picture to remember your experience; a quick internet search will also connect you to some nice shots that will give you a sense of what you will see (including the photo we share here—we didn’t take a single picture of our own!).
► The tour is short
Your 45-minute tour will include a walk into the caves, an explanation of their significance, a brief wait to board a boat, and a five-minute experience floating under the glowworms. Manage your expectations; you won’t take a long journey into the caves and spend any real time on the water. Still, we thought five minutes was plenty of time to sit back and admire the glowworms; the memory of floating beneath them is one neither of us will forget for a long time.
► Bring a sweater
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are underground and can feel a bit chilly, even during warm summer months. Carry a sweater or a light jacket to wear just in case you get cold.
► Don’t let water drops surprise you
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are deep underground, but the caves themselves are very much alive. During your tour it is likely you will either see or feel water as it drips through the cave structure to create stalactites and stalagmites and provide just the right natural conditions for the glowworms to thrive. Reign, our cave tour guide, told us the Māori people believe it is a blessing when you feel water drops land on your head. If he’s right, I am particularly blessed: five different water drops landed on me during the tour!
Hobbiton and Glowworm Caves Day Trip: Where to Stay
Because Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves were a day trip for us, we stayed in Auckland. We picked the Grand Mercure Hotel as our home base during our time in Auckland and were very impressed; while the room was comfortable and the staff was fantastic, the locations and proximity to restaurants and other attractions was unbeatable. We found the best rate on Booking.com; take a look at the Grand Mercure below.
More Information: Booking.com/Auckland.en.html
If you’re looking for more options, here are a few more Auckland hotels to find the accommodations that are right for you!
Enjoy Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves!
Our day trip from Auckland to see Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves felt magical from start to finish. From watching The Lord of the Rings come to life in Hobbiton to sitting in the quiet stillness under thousands of glowworms, we enjoyed a day we will never forget.
If you plan to make Auckland, New Zealand your next vacation destination, make sure to save a day for Hobbiton and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Don’t forget to let us know if you visit—and be sure to share your favorite tips with us!
Looking for more fun places to visit around the world? Here are a few more posts for inspiration!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we booked a day tour with Cheeky Kiwi Travel, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Cheeky Kiwi Travel based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.