Since a young age I have always had an interest in film. When I travel I always try and make a point of visiting film museums, studios, and take film related tours. Right here in New Zealand we have the largest “green” movie set in the world – Hobbiton. It is the location for the Shire, as seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit films, and it is only a few hours drive from Auckland.
As the story goes in September 1998, locations scouts discovered the Alexander family’s sheep and cattle farm during an aerial search. It was the perfect location as it had green rolling hills and a big tree by a lake, which was crucial for Bilbo’s ‘eleventy-first’ birthday party scene. Top secret construction began in March of the following year and filming started in December, lasting three months. The agreement was that the set would be removed and the farmland would be restored to its natural state once filming was complete. But due to storm weather the clean up was delayed. The intention was to return once the land had dried out and finish the clean up. During this time the Alexander family realised they had a potential tourist attraction on their hands.
It was this tourist attraction that I visited over 10 yeas ago. The lake, the party tree, and the remains of a couple of hobbit holes was all that was there to see. Nothing flash at all really. In 2009, the Shire set was rebuilt for The Hobbit films with permanent materials. There are now 44 hobbit holes, gardens, a double arch bridge, a watermill, and The Green Dragon Inn.
I choose to take a day tour to get to Hobbiton. There are several different companies offering tours from Auckland. I chose Bush and Beach’s Hobbiton Express Tour.
They offer pick up from inner city accommodation. Living in the city, I opted for the 6.55 am pick up outside 172 Quay Street, opposite the Ferry Terminal building. This morning after picking up one more passenger from the Crowne Plaza, our group of 17 made our way south.
It was pouring with rain as we left but our driver and guide Dion reassuringly joked that “Hobbiton looks more English in the rain”. Dion provided excellent commentary on the Auckland and Waikato region. His factual information and trivia was peppered with just the right amount of jokes.
We stopped for a short refreshment break just before eighty thirty at the Firepot Café in Gordontown Village before making our way through Cambridge and onto Hobbiton. By this time the sky was clearing and by the time we arrived at Hobbition the blue sky and sun was out – I was glad I put on that SPF 50+ this morning.
At Hobbiton we meet up with another Bush and Beach tour van with a party of 11 and met our Hobbiton tour guide Kendall. There was the potential for everything to turn to shambles first thing because three cruise groups, which were meant to visit yesterday, had to reschedule for today due to the recent nasty norovirus outbreak. Kendall and the other guides coordinated it so we were not shepherded around like sardines.
We started at the Party Tree and Party Field and then made our way around the 44 hobbit holes and gardens, including popular stops at Bilbo’s house “Bag End” and the home of Samwise Gamgee.
Kendall was an excellent guide offering various interesting tidbits of LOTR trivia and always offering to take photos.
After making our way across the double arch bridge and past the Watermill the tour concluded at the Green Dragon Inn, where we were offered a complimentary ale, cider or non alcoholic ginger beer.
As a private tour group we had lunch in a themed marquee behind the Green Dragon Inn. Bush and Beach advertise lunch as being at Shire’s Rest café, which is not on Hobbiton set itself, so we were very lucky to have this opportunity. After lunch I had the opportunity to walk around and take a closer look at the interior and exterior of the Green Dragon Inn and the Watermill and Bridge.
Bush and Beach offer a $10 voucher to use in the gift shop. The Shire Store sells Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit merchandise including Tolkien books, DVDs, posters, clothing, Weta Collectives and bottles of that ale, cider and ginger beer enjoyed at the Green Dragon Inn. We did not have to spend more than the $10 voucher as there were postcards for $2, fridge magnets between $5 and $10 and shot glasses for $8 each.
We left Hobbiton a little before 1pm and on the way back we passed through Matamata, a small rural town that promotes itself as being the gateway to Hobbiton. We made a quick unschedule stop at the Matamata i-SITE, which is modeled after the Green Dragon Inn. Those who wished could pop inside for a quick photo with Gollum (a statue).
A little after 2:30 pm we made a stop for ice cream at Pokeno Village, which is about 35 minutes out of Auckland City. You can get a large one scoop ice cream for $1.50 or if you’re feeling really adventurous a jumbo ice cream for $12.
We got into Auckland City a little bit after 3:30pm, which is a little bit later than the advertised time of 3 pm. Word of mouth would suggest this is quite a common occurrence but hey if that is the only criticism one can make about Bush and Beach they are not doing too bad.
Bush and Beach Hobbition Express Tour
7:00 am – 3:00 pm
$275 per adult, $140 per child
Hobbiton Movie Set Tours
501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata