Our last Lord of the Rings experience in New Zealand was a visit to the privately owned and operated Hobbiton. The ongoing opportunity for LOTR fans to visit Hobbiton came about when bad weather delayed the dismantling of the Hobbiton film set long enough that locals kept asking to come by for a quick look at the site, which prompted the landowner to approach Sir Peter Jackson’s production company, Wingnut Films and eventually negotiate an agreement to leave the Hobbit holes in place as the basis of a publicly accessible tour.
Hobbiton is located about 2 hours southeast of Auckland and about an hour northwest of Rotarua. Once you find Pukatutu Road, follow the signs to a large parking lot, cafe, gift shop, public washrooms and – most importantly – the ticketing office. We booked our tickets online so that we’d be sure of getting on the bus at our preferred time. Also, having a pre-booked time got us up and moving in the morning so that we’d be sure to arrive on time. We noticed quite a few people who hadn’t pre-booked hanging around waiting for a bus with open seats.
The buses transport tourists from the public area to Hobbiton, which is accessed via a farm track on a working sheep farm. Each bus carries somewhere around 40 passengers (we didn’t actually count how many people were in our group, but our bus was full and that’s our best guess). The bus ride is less than 10 minutes and then everyone gets off to begin the walking tour through Hobbiton.
A visit to Hobbiton is a bit like a visit to Disneyland. The tour guide keeps everyone to a fairly tight schedule, designed to get each group through the site in about two hours, keep the groups bunched together and keep the groups reasonably spaced out to allow for decent photo opportunities. And although we really enjoyed our visit to Hobbiton, the quality of the guest experience doesn’t match Disneyland. Our tour guide was a nice enough guy, but seemed most concerned about keeping our group on schedule. When it came to telling us about filming and Hobbiton insider information, it seemed to us that he was kind of “going through the motions” rather than sharing the “inside scoop” with genuine interest and enthusiasm.
In addition, it was a challenge to get photographs without a lot of people in them, but we did fairly well by hurrying at the front of the group or lagging behind (to the aggravation of our guide).
Despite those points, Hobbiton is a “must visit” location for LOTR fans. The highlight of the tour is the home with the round green door – the home of Bilbo Baggins, later the home of Frodo Baggins. It’s at the top of the path and sits under a fake oak tree. Our guide explained how the collect up all the leaves that blow off the fake tree and periodically do maintenance to re-attach those fallen leaves. We didn’t really believe him until K found a fake leaf, showed it to the tour guide and had to turn it over for re-installation!!
The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn, where everyone is offered a mug of beer, cider or ginger beer. We opted to take ours outside, where the sun was shining and we had the chance to take a few more photographs before it was time to board our bus for the short ride back to the main visitor centre where we disembarked just outside the gift shop.
Despite the large number of visitors and feeling like we were somewhat rushed along in order to keep to the prescribed schedule, a visit to Hobbiton is well worth seeing if you’re even a bit of a LOTR fan. It’s fascinating to see how there are multiple versions of the famous green door, each a different size so as to help convey the different sizes of Hobbits, Dwarves, Wizards and Humans. And we saw seven doors of Hobbit holes that haven’t yet appeared in any of the movies, so maybe we’ll see them on the big screen when The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (or possibly The Hobbit: There and Back Again) is released in December 2014.