Due to the popularity of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Movies, Hobbiton remains to be on the top of all “to-do” lists of travelers visiting New Zealand. A two-hour drive away from Auckland (Philippine Airlines now offers a direct flight to the city) the large-scale set was built for the first Lord of the Rings trilogy, but stayed intact for the use of the follow-up Hobbit prequels. It is one of the country’s great treasures, attracting thousands of tourists every year longing to experience the magic of the movies. The set remains to be one of the nation’s most visited attractions.
On a familiarization visit with Tourism New Zealand (TNZ), we were a privileged bunch given a private tour of the set. Only six of us enjoyed the sights and sounds of The Shire from late afternoon until dusk. Because of the well-versed tour guide (who could answer any and all Lord of the Rings-related questions), it was fun to learn and discover the magic behind the iconic films. Regular tours consist of up to 40 people, but private tours can also be arranged for those looking to have Hobbiton all for themselves as well.
Built on 12-acres of rolling hills, the set includes 44 Hobbit holes that comprises of The Shire village. The homes of beloved characters Frodo, Bilbo Baggins, and Samwise Gamgee, have been well-maintained, as if Jackson and his Oscar-winning crew are on standby for a day of filming scenes. Surrounding the homes are lush flora, orchards, pastures, herb and vegetable gardens, cattle, and large tress. The Alexander family, who own the cattle farms and the land in which Hobbiton is located, still live simple lives raising their sheep, despite the mutli-million-dollar business operating a stone’s throw away from their family home.
The magic begins as soon as you enter the location. When one gets a glimpse of the well-made set, eyes instantly light up from the magnificent sight. It really does feel like one of the most magical places on Earth. Our enthusiastic tour guide even mentioned that one doesn’t have be a fan of the films to feel the majesty. Certain members of our party who fell under this category agreed as they were overwhelmed simply by being there. Now imagine if you’re a major fan, you’ll implode of excitement. Bring your smelling salts, just in case.
Every detail was well-thought off. Each house was crafted with such personality, even if it isn’t evident on camera. By looking at the facade of a particular Hobbit hole, you can instantly tell what that character does for a living. The house of the baker has freshly baked bread displayed out his window, while farmers have their produce in stacks and barrels outside their door. It is a must to note that each space felt lived-in, which is important for making movies come to life. The staff of the set have their work cut out for them. Around the clock they work hard to maintain The Shire as if it were spring all year round. They tend to the gardens, take care of the props which are exposed to the elements, and even grow real herbs and vegetables to give it a feel of reality. It is worth the extensive effort because every corner of the space feels so real, as if Samwise Gamgee is just around the corner, walking home to his wife and baby.
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The latest addition to Hobbiton is the Green Dragon Inn, iconic in the movies as being the location in which Frodo and friends have drinks upon returning home from Mordor. Upon finishing the dusk tour, a server offers you a selection of their traditional ales, cider, or ginger beer, which was all brewed exclusively for Hobbiton. After several drinks, the curtains to the main dining area is lifted and visitors are greeted with a rustic tablescape of culinary delights fit for a Hobbit. Mounds of cheese and butter, loaves of bread, whole chickens, lamb shank, beef stew, fresh greens and vegetables sit atop a massive wooden table all for your enjoyment. Leave some room for dessert, because Hobbits do not skimp on the sweets. An equally sinful amount of cakes, pies, and traditional pavlova will find its way to your table before you’re allowed to call it a night.
When stomachs are full, you depart back into the garden for one more surprise. I feel I shouldn’t spoil it for you, but it is the ideal conclusion to a magical evening. The thought, care, and love put into the Hobbiton movie set gives it so much luster and enchantment that when you leave you cannot stop thinking about it. Just like The One Ring, you long to be near it. I admit, I am eager to return as well. One day I will plan another pilgrimage to this New Zealand staple that should rightly be called a Wonder of the World. Before it receives that title officially (hopefully one day in the future), for now we should call it a Wonder of Middle Earth.
For more information visit and tour bookings visit https://www.hobbitontours.com/en/