The highlight of our week in New Zealand was our Middle-earth adventure to The Hobbiton Movie Set. Hugely popular with both fans of the movies and tourists from around the world who just love the New Zealand countryside, you must book ahead for this experience.
Our day started when we drove into Rotorua and joined the bus for the 45 minutes trip to the Alexanders’ spectacular 1250 acre sheep and beef farm, just outside of Matamata. Driving through the Waikato region, when we could bear to look away from the lush, rolling green hills and farmland (stunning scenery even though it was raining) we were entertained with several behind-the-scenes short movies and one featuring Sir Peter Jackson explaining how this particular location was chosen and welcoming us to The Shire.
Our guide hopped on board at the gate and we were all dropped off at the Shire Store. All tours are escorted. There is no walking around on your own. It was fun trying to work out what was real and what was not. The apples in the basket were not real, but the vegetables in the patch were. An oak tree was cut down from nearby and moved to Bag End. All the pieces were numbered and the tree was reconstructed, complete with imported hand-painted leaves which were individually wired onto the branches. Who would have thought?
Our guide explained that when The Lord of the Rings was made, 39 hobbit holes were made out of untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. Thatch for the roofs of the Green Dragon and the Mill were cut from rushes around the Alexander Farm. When the set was rebuilt for The Hobbit Trilogy, everything was constructed out of permanent materials and a staff of 250 in summer and 150 in the off season are employed to keep the set in the wonderful condition we see today.
Loved exploring the picturesque 12 acre set, where our guide pointed out the most famous locations and explained how the movies were made. 44 hobbit holes, Bag End, the Mill, the Party Tree and finally across the beautifully arched stone bridge (which was not stone) to the Green Dragon Inn, fully reconstructed inside and out to enjoy a beef and ale pie and a pint of specially crafted beer in front of a roaring fire.
Naturally, as soon as we got home, out came all our Lord of the Rings and Hobbit DVD’s, and it was fun to recognise where we had been. We had the feeling of walking through a real village, with fish drying next to the river, chimneys, rocking chairs, wood chopped for a fire and clothes hanging on the line to dry.
I highly recommend this tour. Even if you are not a Lord of the Rings fan, it’s a fun and entertaining day out and the set is so realistic and detailed. Each hobbit hole has been individually themed and the attention to detail is amazing. I was quite happy to visit in the off season. In summer, with tours leaving every 5 minutes, it would be a very busy place. Would I want to come back in the summer? Absolutely!!!