Growing up in NZ, it was pretty much impossible to avoid the Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings phenomena touching at least some part of your life – you either knew someone who was an extra or you watched on in pride as your home country featured in the glittering Oscars line-up for not one, but 3 years in a row as each Lord of the Rings movie made its debut.
Numerous LOTR tours cropped up all over the country, especially in the South Island where so much of the films are shot, taking advantage of all the fabulous scenery NZ has to offer but in almost every case, there are no remnants of the sets remaining and you have to rely on a hefty dose of your own imagination.
Hobbiton is the exception to this rule and in 1998, Sir Peter Jackson stumbled upon the Alexander family farm and after swearing them to secrecy, the Hobbits had found a home here. They constructed JRR Tolkien’s vision of the shire and after filming all the films and resurrecting Hobbiton again for the Hobbits’ movies, fans like myself are able to come here and visit.
We chose to do our tour from the ‘Shire’s Rest’, a starting-off point just directly across the road from the entrance to Hobbiton and as soon as you step onto that tour bus, you begin to enter a different world…
You get a little bit of an intro video on the bus but if you’re like me, you’re too busy looking out of the window, wowing at the scenery, but as soon as you get off the bus and into the real set, you’re immediately blown away by the feeling that you are really stepping into a real life Hobbit village. There are Hobbit hidey holes, real gardens, vegetable patches and you get the feeling that if you wait long enough, Gandalf will come riding past, just ready to begin a fireworks display.
We’re lucky that it’s not peak summer and packed with crowds, because I think that this awestruck feeling could disappear quite quickly if it was any fuller than it really was. We got a few minutes to look at every spot/ hobbit door and luckily we did all have time to get in a photo and some oohs and aahs but I can’t imagine how it would work with another group breathing down your back.
The tour continues in whirlwind fashion along all the main points, you see Bag End, the party tree and finally end up having a drink at the Green Dragon with a quick 10 minute break to catch your breath before you need to be back on the bus heading back.
There’s no denying that the set is jaw-droppingly beautiful, however there were quite a few things I felt could have been included to enhance the experience. While I’m a huge fan of LOTR and all its associated components, the husband and another friend was really only coming along to keep me company and there simply wasn’t enough information for the non die-hard fans to be really engaged!
Perhaps it would have been erring with the authenticity of the place, but I felt little discreet placards explaining what/ where everything was would not have gone astray, perhaps alongside some images of the movies since I’m sure not everyone who visits has watched the movies quite as obsessively as myself!
I had hoped to pick up a small souvenir or two at the shop at the Shire’s Rest, but I found that too be quite disappointing as it only sold some large gifts, designed for the hard-core fan and not the casual explorer. I was hoping for something small and silly, perhaps a Christmas-tree ornament or a fridge magnet and I wasn’t about to have my home dominated by enormous floor-to-ceiling pictures of the LOTR stars!
I’m glad that we went, it was a beautiful day for the family to go exploring, but it’s not somewhere I would go back to and unless you’re a huge fan, I don’t think it’s somewhere for everyone..
Tours to Hobbiton can be booked at http://www.hobbitontours.com/our-tours/hobbiton-movie-set-tour/ . You do need to book especially in peak season and I recommend coming with a fully charged camera in hand! Tours cost $79 per person.