“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
When people hear ‘New Zealand’ they usually think of Lord of the Rings and the home of the Hobbits, Hobbiton. As one of New Zealand’s most visited tourist attractions the Hobbiton movie set welcomes up to 3000 people a day.
Unlike other movie sets, like Leavesdon, this set is a working farm home to nearly 13,000 sheep and 300 Angus beef cows. So how did a farm transform to become one of the most famous places in Middle Earth?
Let me take you back to the beginning.
In 1998, Sir Peter Jackson’s team of location scouts were searching for the iconic rolling hills and lush green pastures of Hobbiton. An aerial search over New Zealand led them to the Alexander farm in the heart of the Waikato in the North Island. As soon as they spotted the farm they felt it matched the description of The Shire perfectly and before they knew it they’d found the Hobbits a home.
In March 1999 the crew began the nine month quest to bring the character of Hobbiton to life; help was provided by the New Zealand Army, and soon 39 temporary Hobbit Holes were scattered across the 12 acre plot used for the set. Filming commenced in December 1999, and took around three months to complete.
After filming closed 17 bare plywood facades remained. These shells would become the attraction we see today. After a lot of interest from the public, tours of Hobbiton started in 2002.
In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson returned to film The Hobbit trilogy, and he left behind the beautiful movie set you’ll see today with 44 permanently reconstructed Hobbit Holes, in the same detail seen in the movies.
In 2012 the final piece of Hobbiton was added, The Green Dragon Inn, and became the grand finale to the Hobbiton journey.
When Ross and I visited on a crisp winter’s day, we were amazed at the scale of the tour operation. On arrival you are checked on to a coach and driven along a private track to the entrance of Hobbiton. In a group of around 30, we began with a few rules, mainly to stay on the path and don’t wander away from the group. At first I didn’t think this was much of an issue but in such a large group it can be challenging to hear your tour guide and pick up the interesting behind-the-scenes details revealed. You’re also restricted to go at the pace of the slowest member of the group, which is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to go at your own pace.
Anyway, as we started to wander through Hobbiton we oooo’d and aaaa’d at the different Hobbit Holes, picking our favourites along the way.
We wandered through the vegetable garden, past fishmongers and bakeries and finally came across the most anticipated house, the one belonging to Bilbo Baggins.
“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not Today. Good morning! But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Good bye!”
At the end of our tour we crossed the bridge you see Gandalf arrive on when he first visits The Shire and had a refreshing drink in The Green Dragon. Sitting beside the roaring fire (very welcome in the New Zealand cold) we sipped our cider and thought of how much fun it’d be to have been on set during filming.
For some people, visiting Hobbiton is a must-do, for me, it was more of a can-do. Having not seen the Lord of The Rings films The Shire was already a little lost on me, but for Ross who has seen and thoroughly enjoys the films he found the experience a little underwhelming. It’s very much a hands-off experience, which is a shame because it feels like the team could have easily kitted out a few of the Hobbit Holes for visitors to go inside and explore. Instead you are kept to a fixed route and time frame which means you have to be back on the coach at a certain time, so if you haven’t had your fill then tough luck.
Overall, it was enjoyable and I’m glad I went however, for $79 for adults and $39.50 for children aged 9-16, it is an expensive day out and in my opinion, I feel you could spend your money on something a little better.