Whether or not you are a Lord of the Rings or Narnia: The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe fan it would be hard not to recognise why Peter Jackson and Andrew Adamson chose New Zealand as the back drop of both films. With its dramatic backgrounds of rigid snow capped mountains, rolling hills, crystal blue rivers, and wide plains covered in blowing tussock it encapsulates both stories to a tee. It is hard to believe that Tolkein never made it here when it fits his descriptions of Middle Earth so perfectly. You look at a mountain range and can almost see Frodo, Aragorn, Gimli and the rest of the fellowship crossing the ridge of the mountain. Gandolf charging across a wind blown field on his white horse or elves moving amongst the waterfalls and forests. Then you visit Hobbiton and are instantly transported directly into the world from your imagination or the movie.
Visiting Hobbiton, might have been one of my top reasons for coming to New Zealand. I was so excited! So much so that from the moment I touched down into Auckland a small countdown to my visit to Hobbiton began. It was probably a good thing that my tour was towards the beginning of my trip otherwise I would have wished my whole trip away.
I got picked up outside Base in Rotorua on a giant green bus with Hobbiton and a picture of the Ring painted on the side. My bus driver was as enthusiastic about the trip as I was and promptly decided I was going to be nicknamed Galadriel or Princess for the length of the trip. Whether this was inspired by me being one of the few girls on our bus or my name tends to make people think of Princess Leigh I don’t have a clue but it made me smile.
It is an hour’s drive out of the city and as you approach the farm where it was filmed the scenery slowly changes from flat fields and housing to become the rolling hills of the Shire. Then you turn a corner and you’re there; at one of the biggest attractions on the North Island, the Shire, forever frozen in an endless summer.
We piled off the bus and were introduced to our guide. A lit major from England who proudly proclaimed to have read Tolkein 28 times! When they first built the set for the Trilogy everything had been made out of polystyrene. However, when the contract was done for the Hobbit the only stipulation was that everything was made using permanent materials so that it could be used as a tourist attraction. The result is magical. The pathway into the Shire, complete with sign post, is the one Gandolf and Frodo use at the beginning of the first film. After coming down the stone walled entrance way we arrived at the first ring of Hobbit Holes tucked into the sides of the hill and undergrowth. A haphazardly manicured garden brimming with flowers, a vegetable patch and hobbit size garden tools and shed make it all the more real.
As we were guided around the winding paths, past brightly coloured doors and window panes nestled into the hillside towards Bilbo’s house at the top of the valley, it felt like the guides had just asked all the hobbits to stay in their homes while they took us around. I was half convinced that if I knocked on one of the doors you would be asked in for tea. Fake bread and honey were outside the bakers house for sale. The ladder was left just so beside a miniature plum tree, there was smoked meat left out to dry in a shed and of course Bilbo’s house had the sign “No admittance accept on party business” hung on the front gate. Even the May Pole was out in the field near the Party tree. Oh and the flowers!! They were gorgeous. Wheelbarrows and gardens filled with every flower imaginable. Everything must always be in full bloom in the Shire so they have gardeners working year round to keep it summer.
The tour ends at the Green Dragon Pub with a free pot of locally brewed larger, ale or apple cider. The incentive to keep us moving during the tour. The faster you are the more time you get to spend in the pub. I had the cider and I won’t lie. The cider was scrumptious, the sun was beaming; I would have quite happily stayed there perched beside an oversized barrel for the day soaking up the surroundings drinking cider. Only half expecting Frodo or Sam to come bounding through the front door.
It was a whirlwind tour in someways and long enough in others. You can hire out the Green Dragon for private functions. They were having one that evening and I desperately wanted to hide somewhere so I experience it. What a fantastic and unique place for a shin dig. Perhaps a bit geeky but the level of coolness totally weighs that. Two friends of mine did the evening tour which includes dinner and a tour of the shire by lantern. Both agreed it was worth the extra cost with delicious food and the tour itself was more atmospheric. Next time. The next day it was onto Taupo to do another must and a Lord of the Rings spot – the Tongariro crossing and Mt Doom.