I had not slept in over thirty hours, yet I was still wide awake! I had a pint of the finest Southfarthing apple cider at the Green Dragon Inn before stuffing myself at the Hobbit feast, where an abundance of meats, side dishes, and desserts filled the tables. After dinner, I strolled towards the big tree, Bilbo Baggins’ party tree, for an evening of merriment listening to Hobbit tales and dancing while singing Hobbit songs! I was in the Shire in Middle Earth!
The Hobbit (or There and Back Again) by J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorite books. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” the book started, and continued to describe the hobbit dwelling (hobbit-hole) and the Shire itself where the Hobbits lived in Middle Earth, the fictional world in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books.
When Peter Jackson adapted both books into films, he created a real-life version of the Shire, specifically its center, Hobbiton. In this neighborhood, the Hobbit protagonist Bilbo Baggins and later his nephew Frodo lived. Jackson built the set on a farm in Matamata, about a 2-hour drive from Auckland, New Zealand’s capital city, in the North Island. After the filming, the farm owners kept the Hobbiton movie set. It is now a Tolkien tourism destination offering guided tours.
I walked through the Shire just before sunset, passing the different colorful hobbit-holes with their round doors and windows like portholes. Different kinds of flowers covered the front yards. The grounds and grasses served as rooftops with visible chimneys protruding. I climbed to the hill and stopped at Bag End, the hobbit-hole at the end of Bagshot Row in Hobbiton. It is the home of Bilbo Baggins with its unmistaken round green door and a shiny brass knob in the exact middle.
As the book described, “[The hobbit-hole is] Not a nasty, dirty, hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
Unfortunately, the hobbit-holes’ luxurious interiors were filmed in a studio, and not on location at the Hobbiton movie set. I was still very excited while the scenes in the films (or as I had imagined from the books) played in my mind. I sat on the bench where Gandalf (a wizard) sat and smoked a pipe. I opened a couple of the hobbit-hole doors. However, the round doors did not open to the comfortable living space of a Hobbit. Instead, the doors were merely props and opened to small empty spaces as big as a closet. I was tired but walking through the fictional Shire kept me awake and captivated!
I opted for the Evening Banquet Tour at the Hobbiton Movie Set. It was a limited evening tour that started at dusk after all the other tourists left, and it included a hobbit feast! The guided excursion through the Shire and the banquet lasted for about 4 hours. After exploring the 12-acre site with the guides, I proceeded to the Dragon Inn for a feast.
Hobbits were ravenous. They loved food! They ate breakfast, then second and third breakfast, and meals throughout the day. For people half the size of humans, they ate quite a bit.
Just before it got dark, I arrived at the Green Dragon Inn. It stood by a lake across from the hobbit-holes in Hobbiton. Its design and construction matched the one used in the films.
I ordered a Southfarting apple cider at the bar. In the books and movies, Southfarting was a rural and more fertile area of the Shire. The farm had a local brewery, which sold beers, ales, and ciders only to the Green Dragon Inn’s patrons.
Soon after, dinner started in the dining room. The dining hall featured exposed wooden beams and round windows. It had a large open space and easily accommodated the 30-50 guests. Wooden tables and chairs filled the room, and lanterns hang in wooden posts. A stone fireplace sat in one corner and a bar on another. It had a medieval period feel to it. I feel like I was feasting with the Hobbits in Tolkien’s Shire.
The actual banquet was a two-course meal befitting a Hobbit. It was a buffet style with each table loaded with roasted chicken, smoked salmon, beef casserole, lamb shanks, sausages, roasted vegetables, and desserts, including the Kiwi pavlova, a New Zealand favorite. Like the Hobbits, second and third helpings were encouraged! I was full by the second helping.
After dinner, I got an authentic handheld lantern and joined the guides and others wandering through the Shire. The paths were illuminated by lanterns hanging on the posts and by the doors of the hobbit-holes. I joined the other guests by the big tree, Bilbo Baggins’ party tree. The revelry kept me awake still. The guides told Hobbit tales and led the group to dance and sing before going into the bus and back to Shire’s Rest, the Hobbiton movie set’s visitor center.
Throughout the excursion and banquet, the guides told fascinating stories and anecdotes about the films. The lead guide mentioned that 30% of the people in his tours had not read the books or seen the movies. He polled the guests, and his 30% estimate was pretty accurate.
I arrived in Auckland mid-morning after a 14-hour flight from San Francisco. I went sightseeing before I visited the Hobbiton movie set. The Evening Banquet Tour was more expensive (more than twice the regular tour), but it was more of an experience. As a fan of the books and films, it was worth the money visiting the movie set and reliving the scenes in my mind. Perhaps next time, I will come again while fully rested and hungry!
For more information about the Hobbiton Movie Set an its tours, visit:
It can be challenging taking good photos on the tour especially with many people. Here are some tips to get better photos:
- Use a tripod during low light and at night (and for selfies if you are traveling alone).
- Hang around at the back, and you can photograph the Hobbit-holes sans people as the Evening Banquet Tour starts after all the other tourists had left.
- Carry an excellent walking-around zoom lens (e.g., 24-70mm), which can be wide enough to capture entire scenes but with the telephoto option to photograph details and faraway objects.
- Carry a super wide-angle lens (e.g., 16-35mm) if you want to photograph from inside a Hobbit-hole looking out.
- Inside the Green Dragon Inn, use high ISO, say 1600 or higher, and fast lenses at f/2.8 or faster to maintain enough shutter speed for handholding as it may be difficult to use a tripod.