As you might have guessed, I’m a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan. I read the books for the first time when I was 10 years old and before we went on the trip, I re-read the series and re-watched all the movies. Growing up my friends and I were totally obsessed with the Fellowship of the Ring movie, which came out when I was 11. A bit odd for a group of girls maybe, but we found a copy of the script on the internet somewhere and used to act it out as we watched it. The movies are 100% what inspired me to want to visit New Zealand and it was so exciting to finally travel around the islands after so many years of dreaming of going there.
When we first started planning the trip, I figured the most time we’d be able to get away from work would be 3 weeks. I hate not having enough time to do a place justice and after a bit of research I had to admit that visiting both islands in 3 weeks would be a bit too ambitious. The South Island was the island that was really calling to me as an avid adventurer and hiker, but I couldn’t bear to not visit the North Island and see Peter Jackson’s Hobbiton set. I had to make it happen, so I revisited all my ideas and somehow we were able to make it work that we could both skip town for 5 weeks to explore New Zealand.
It felt fitting to visit Hobbiton towards the end of the trip. We had a beautiful day for it and it really had a feeling of closing out the trip. We still had a few activities left, but after Hobbiton I felt that I could leave feeling happy and accomplished. I’m sure there’s some people that look at the Hobbiton tour and think, “nah, that’s too kitschy and expensive, I won’t bother,” while I was like, “only $30 more for the Hobbit feast? We must do that!”
It was about an hour drive out of Rotorua and we had a 10am tour booked. They run the tours like a smooth sailing ship and we departed promptly on a bus that took us into the heart of the Alexander Farm in Matamata. Our guide took us on a tour to all the little hobbit holes and Bag End, before finishing in the village with a pint at The Green Dragon (okay, it wasn’t pint sized, but it was still craft Southfarthing beer!). He shared all kinds of interesting tidbits of information with us, some of which I already knew and lots of which I didn’t, before we settled down for a feast fit for a Hobbit.
Apparently Peter Jackson scouted the countryside for the perfect place to build the Shire. He had up to 10 different locations he was considering before ultimately deciding on its current location on a small piece of the Alexander Family’s large farm. He took a helicopter tour of the farm to scout out locations and it was the party tree that’s described in the book that ultimately drew him to that location. It was mostly swamp at the time, so he requested some funding from the government to get his project started. They turned him down, but sent him a division of the New Zealand army to help him bring his vision to life.
Th original set was sadly demolished after the Lord of the Rings movies, but they had to be reconstructed again for the Hobbit, so this time Peter made it a permanent enterprise. They currently employ 7 full time gardeners to maintain the set and you couldn’t help but marvel at all the vegetation and flowers and Peter Jackson’s almost fanatic attention to detail. Everything you see on the set is completely real with the exception of the tree growing on top of Bag End, which is 100% fake, but had every single leaf hand painted.
It really was a dream to get to explore around the set and see a beloved world from your childhood completely brought to life. I do wish the group sizes were a bit smaller – it’s a lot of people per tour and it gets a bit overwhelming. We ran off a few times to take some pictures; I understand they can’t have hundreds of tourists running around the set, but there’s so many little details I felt I needed a bit more time to explore them all. Although truth be told, I can’t imagine ever having enough time to hang out there. After dinner we snuck back to the lake to admire the scenery and almost got left behind (we didn’t realize our tour group would be leaving from a different exit and were waiting for them to make an appearance).
Admittedly, the party tree was a bit of a highlight for me too. Before I’d learned of the significance of the party tree to Peter Jackson as well, I’d been looking around the set trying to find it. It’s centered in the middle of the field, with coloured flags hanging from it and Sam Gamgee’s house just around the corner. We were also super impressed with the commitment to the village and the craft beer they brew just to sell in the Green Dragon. The only thing missing were little hobbits getting into mischief! If you ever go to New Zealand, don’t skip Hobbiton, trust me, it is so worth it!!