The Lord of the Rings inspired Hobbiton, New Zealand.
Imagine a happy place of green rolling hills, colourful doorways and a beautiful big symmetrical party tree with spreading branches. Well, that’s where I came from. Oh, and it’s also the film set for a crucial part of a couple of little known trilogies – Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. That’s right, Hobbiton is alive, well, and absolutely thriving in Hinuera in New Zealand. Which co-incidentally is where I spent the first couple of years of my life.
Hinuera is one of many small farming enclaves in the Waikato, a intensely farmed area of New Zealand a couple of hours south of Auckland. It is a bucolic vision of green rolling pastures (except in summer when it can look like the dried brown hills of a drought, basically because a good summer is a drought!). One particular farm here has housed the Hobbiton film set for about a decade now. It came about as the director Peter Jackson scouted the country by helicopter looking for the perfect “Party Tree” of Hobbiton, huge and spread symmetrically, with its lower boughs brushing the ground, where a whole village can celebrate. He spotted one on this farm, and the whole film set was created around it. (the locals claim the lucky farmer refers to the party tree as the “money tree”, an apt description after a decade of film production fees and massive tourism)
The popular film set tour of Hobbiton, NZ.
And there’s no doubt it is a very popular tourism attraction right now. It’s only about an hour away from where my Dad lives, so I had to visit it for the nostalgia kick on my recent trip to NZ. There are tour buses arriving constantly everyday from Auckland, Tauranga, Rotorua and Matamata, as well as self drive visitors like ourselves. The starting point is a cafe, ticket shop and merchandise shop by the roadside. So what does the tour involve? Well, no matter how you got to Hinuera, you first have to buy a ticket which includes getting taken by bus from outside the ticket booth to the Hobbiton set. (I like the way they use old school buses – makes us feel too large for Hobbiton right for the start!)
The enforced bus transport makes sense as we head off down the farm over a few kilometres of steep, winding, gravel, one lane wide tracks. Suddenly from the drought stricken landscape around us, an oasis of green appears – clearly the Hobbiton set has some fairly effective watering systems in place. Our local guide then walks us around Hobbiton, which is bigger than I expected, and keeps us entertained with anecdotes of the set construction, maintenance and filming, as well as some of the more obsessive fans he has met on tours, although you don’t have to be one of them to enjoy this.
It’s hard not to want to stay and live in Hobbiton, it is perfectly staged to meticulous detail, and is almost hyper-real, the saturated colours of the greenery, the bright front doors, the hobbit sized clothes on the clothes line – it seemed very charming and I did start to believe that this was exactly what it looked like when I grew up here. It’s a kid’s dream village.
The enjoyment of the tour is aided by the local guides who understood that everyone wants to get photos of themselves in front of every famous piece of scenery, and had artfully designed the walking tour to make that happen easily. And it wasn’t harmed by the recent addition of the thatched Green Dragon pub, where us weary tourists could stop for a cold beer or cider at the end of our tour, knowing the brews are the ones created specifically by a local brewery for the 3000 odd film crew that had worked here. I would not have been surprised if a hobbit had wandered on by (actually I was a bit disappointed that none did).
The tour lasts about one and a half hours. On return to the shop by bus, you can also chose to watch a farm demonstration show including cute little lambs and farm dogs.
Good food recommendation for Hobbiton, NZ.
My main tip would be to skip the on-farm cafe, which was disappointing – possibly the worst cafe food I’ve come across for a few years in NZ. If you are travelling under your own steam (or can persuade your tour driver), go just a few miles down the road to the neighbouring farm district of Te Poi, and stop at the Te Poi tavern (by the big black cow) for a feast of good old fashioned home-made hamburgers - I recommend the Works Burger.