I’m Still Dreaming Of Matamata

I’m Still Dreaming Of Matamata

This far into the pandemic, international travel still feels like a dream in Australia. While we briefly had a window of time during which we could visit our neighbours in New Zealand, fresh outbreaks across the east coast, and in New Zealand itself, put a temporary end to the arrangement. It means this International Hobbit Day, a day for all Tolkien fans to celebrate, feels bittersweet.

Before the pandemic began, I had a plane ticket and hotel reservations to revisit New Zealand on a pilgrimage through the film sets and tourist locations that helped make the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit adaptations so famous. In 2021, I have flight credits, a hotel refund and an uncertain future, with travel feeling far off.

To be clear: this is necessary.

We’re living in a global pandemic, and the only ways we can improve conditions for everyone are staying home, getting vaccinated and following health regulations. But the more I think about International Hobbit Day and everything it means, the more I long for that sweet return to travel and normality.

When the borders finally do reopen, there’s only place I want to go. And it’s a place that any Tolkien fan should visit, if given the chance.

hobbiton matamata
Image: Leah J. Williams

On a secluded hill in Matamata lies the Hobbiton Movie Set, a perfectly preserved inlet filled with hobbit holes, replica markets and even a fully operational Green Dragon tavern, which serves themed food and drinks from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. 

If you’ve ever seen The Hobbit (or anything to do with the film), you’ll be entirely familiar with this location.

While the original version of the set created for The Lord of the Rings in the late 1990s and early 2000s was dismantled, it was re-established in more permanent form for the filming of The Hobbit trilogy, and this is the version you’ll find in Matamata’s green hills today.

It really is a magical place, and I was so lucky to visit in 2015, in a time when travel was freer and we could live beyond the five kilometres of our LGAs. It’s easy to think my experience was coloured rose, but pure words can’t encapsulate how visiting Hobbiton made me feel. I’d loved The Lord of the Rings for the longest time and The Hobbit trilogy had just concluded when I went.

Everyone in our tour was just as excitable as I was, and the tour guides knew how every titbit of trivia would land. As we walked through gardens and fields hand-tended by dedicated staff, we learned about how sets were created and why some hobbit holes were just facades for filming. We got to taste ‘real’ Middle-Earth wine and cross the gorgeous river bridge to visit the Green Tavern.

To some, the feeling may be naff, but I was genuinely delighted by how real everything was. The gardens were lovingly tended daily, each Hobbit hole was phenomenally intricate and every step felt like I was living the movie.

There are so few magical places that really transport you elsewhere and make you forget all your troubles. For me, Hobbiton is that place. Between visiting Bilbo’s lodgings under the hill and sitting back for a rest at the Green Dragon, there’s so much magic in Matamata — and it’s such a shame that this year’s International Hobbit Day celebrations have been curtailed by rising coronavirus cases.

hobbiton matamata international hobbit day
Image: Leah J. Williams

International Hobbit Day celebrations were due to kick off on September 22 at the Hobbiton Movie Set, and would’ve included a whole new Green Dragon Marketplace filled with traditional food and craft stores, special beverages and a Party Marquee packed with delicious Hobbit-themed foods. There was even a night-time celebration planned — a rare moonlight tour of the location where Hobbit houses would glow and flicker at night.

Sadly, this event has been postponed until October (or until local coronavirus case numbers drop), but the real shame is international tourists won’t be able to help the Hobbiton crew celebrate.

In lieu of an in-person visit, the Hobbit Movie Set has provided tips to celebrate International Hobbit Day in person. For one thing, you can fill your plate with delicious food and, for another, you can make your very own Hobbit-themed playlist to vibe with. If you’re really keen, you can also dress up or bring out your finest dining sets to really get the party started.

It’s not quite the same, but it should help you feel a little more comfortable in your own home — and it’s the perfect excuse to treat yourself. In ‘tough times’, that’s exactly what you should do.

Current border closures mean New Zealand is currently tackling extreme challenges for tourism and the economy, and places like Hobbiton are doing their best to adapt to difficult circumstances. There’s no doubt Hobbiton will be waiting once the pandemic lulls to more manageable levels, but the distance has made me appreciate my own experiences far more.

There’s nothing quite like visiting Hobbiton, and while we can’t celebrate the history and legacy of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises in person this year, International Hobbit Day is still a great chance to consider a trip when ‘all this’ is over.

Hobbiton is special, and after a trying few years, we all deserve something nice. Whether you’re a major fan of Tolkien or just a fan of cinema, there’s so much to love about the film set and so many great bits of trivia to discover along the way. This year, I’m thinking about how grateful I am to have made the trip in simpler times.

International tourism feels a long way off, but I know where I’m going as soon as it’s safe to fly.

Happy International Hobbit Day, everyone.