An Adventure in the Shire

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!!



Queenstown and Beyond

Well done if you made it through my last post! Apparently I had a lot to say about the Milford Track, so I’ll try and be less wordy on this post.

After our 4 day adventure on the track, we decided it was time for some well earned lazy days in Queenstown. We decided to shell out for a nice hotel in Queenstown (though it was still cheaper than our bunkbeds on the track) with a hot tub, BBQ, and gorgeous city views. We checked in with our families to wish them a belated Merry Christmas and caught up on our laundry. We wondered into Queenstown for a few hours and did a little bit of shopping along the waterfront then stopped into Speight’s Ale House for a flight.

We’ve gotten pretty into craft beer since moving to Vancouver and love trying out flights of different beers. But this was a lot harder in New Zealand. Domestic beer is definitely more expensive, but craft beer is just crazy expensive, selling for $10+ a can in stores and $12 for 350ml in bars! So we were shocked when our little flight came out to $25 (they usually go for ~$7 in Vancouver), but I guess that’s just the price you have to pay in New Zealand. We did still take the opportunity to drink local as much as possible.

Wine on the other hand is comparable or cheaper to BC and there’s a lot of great wine in New Zealand. We decided to book a biking wine tour out of Queenstown and spent a full day biking to the different wineries in the Gibbston Valley. It’s a self guided tour that starts in the historic town of Arrowtown, which is this cute little “wild west” style town. We biked along the river out of Arrowtown until we reached the Gibbston Valley, where we biked to as many wineries as we could!

Before we hit any of the wineries though, we had to stop along the Kawarau River for a little Lord of the Rings viewpoint. The scenes where the Fellowship is boating along the river after leaving Lothlorien were filmed in the Gibbston Valley, not too far from where we were biking, so we popped up to one of the river viewpoints for a little look. While we were checking out the landscape, a bus pulled up to the edge of the road and a bunch of people jumped out on what turned out to be a “Lord of the Rings film locations” tour!

They all crowded in front of our view, so we stuck around to hear some of the tour guides interesting tidbits of information about the location. Apparently they had to shrink the fellowship in their boats to make the river look bigger and the location where we were standing was actually where the two kings of Argonath had been digitally added in (although replicas were still constructed for the filming – not to size obviously). We also learned that apparently Peter Jackson wanted to have orcs shooting at the fellowship while they were in the water and have Legolas shoot back, hopping from boat to boat. But just before filming, the entire river flooded and they lost all the filming equipment, so they abandoned the shoot. Peter Jackson got the opportunity to try again though when he shot The Hobbit, if anyone remembers the scene with the dwarves in the barrels!

The wineries are all gorgeous and it was fun to cycle between them trying out different wines. What I found really interesting is that there was really only 4 wines you could get at any of the wineries because of the soil and weather conditions in that region. Pinot Noir is the only red wine you can really find and is by far the most popular; the other three are Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Rose. I’m a white wine drinker, so I had no complaints! My favourite wine of the day was Peregrine Wines Rastaburn Riesling and my favourite winery overall was probably Mt. Rosa. Mt. Rosa is the last winery we did and is located at the top of a hill. The hill really didn’t look like much, but it was really hot out and we were pretty wine-weary at this point, so it felt like quite the strenuous bike ride to reach the top! We did also stop at Cargo Brewery for a flight, which is located in this old converted church. It has a really nice vibe and you can sit outside on the lawn, but I did feel like a heathen buying beer from a church on a Sunday…

After our few days in Queenstown though, it was back on the road! Our plan was to drive from Queenstown to Fox Glacier, but we didn’t have much planned for in between. Probably for the best because it was another gorgeous drive. We drove over the Crown Road to get to Wanaka and were constantly pulling over to snap photos of the view looking back towards Queenstown. I also had the delight of discovering that there is such a thing as yellow lupins!

We stopped for lunch in Wanaka and went for a little walk to see the famous Wanaka tree (#thatwanakatree). Seth didn’t really believe me when I told him we were going to see a famous tree, but he had to admit I was right when he saw the crowd of people snapping photos of it down along the beach front. I’m a little bit sad we didn’t have time to do the Roy’s Peak hike in Wanaka. For some reason I seem to have missed that hike in my research, but upon discovering it I was really aching to climb it, but sometimes you just can’t fit everything in and we decided to skip it.

The drive through the Lake District after Wanaka was probably one of my favourite stretches of road on the trip. You leave Wanaka and drive along Lake Hawea, before returning back to Lake Wanaka again. Both lakes are incredibly scenic and make for the most gorgeous viewpoints as you drive along between them. The mountains get bigger as you approach Mount Aspiring National Park and we decided to do a short walk to the Blue Pools.

I’m not sure “blue pools” is the best name for the hike, it’s really just a blue river, but admittedly very pretty. There was a lot of people enjoying the beautiful weather there, so I decided to go for a swim, but it was all glacier and snow melt (just like the Milford Track) and freezing cold. In retrospect, most of the rivers are freezing and the ocean seems to be the warmest place we swam!

The highway continued on to Fox Glacier where we were planning to ring in the new year and go on a heli hike. It ended up being quite the adventure, so more on that in my next post!