|The movie set built in Matamata, New Zealand, to represent Hobbiton, Bilbo Baggins’s hometown; Hobbit Valley, seen from a Hobbiton window.|
|In the past decade, the three Lord of the Rings movies unleashed a flood of tourism on New Zealand, the stand-in for the fictional Middle Earth. Now the country has geared up for visits from fans of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first prequel to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy. Here’s how you can follow in Bilbo Baggins’s footsteps—and get a firsthand look at a few places where the movie was filmed.BILBO’S HOMETOWN
Director Peter Jackson built the original set for Hobbiton on a sheep farm outside Matamata, a rural village on the North Island that’s a two-hour drive from Auckland. Hobbiton fell into disrepair after the LOTR movies were made but was restored and expanded for The Hobbit. (An electric fence was installed to keep sheep from wandering in.) Visitors can see the 44 Hobbit-house facades, which have round, brightly painted doors and porthole windows, built into a lush hillside. Don’t expect to go inside: It’s a set, after all, and in any case your average Hobbit is only 3½ feet tall. During your visit with Hobbiton Tours (two-hour tours from $62*), you can cuddle lambs, have a bite to eat at the Shire’s Rest Café and pick up souvenirs and woolen goods in the gift shop.