I look down at the green grass outlining my sandals as I stand underneath The Party Tree visualizing hobbits and an unusually tall wizard dancing around it. I follow the grass ahead to the hills that surround this branchy, grey tree with green, bushy ends to see yellow, red and blue circular doors surrounded by windows less than a foot tall on houses built right into the land.
Situated down the trail beside me is a lake rippling with the wind, across it is a yellow pub with straw roof connected to a matching watermill by stone bridge. That’s the Green Dragon, where tiny locals meet up. Chimneys stick right out of the grass of properties along the lake below me, which are owned by town fishermen. Follow the trail to the top of the highest hill to see Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
It’s a scene dreamed about by Lord of the Rings fans all over the world, but for New Zealanders, it’s just another day in Hobbiton.
About the tour
Located in Matamata on New Zealand’s North Island, Hobbiton is the film set used for The Shire in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit, of which the first part of premieres in Wellington this November.
This is just one of a few stops on the Waitomo Caves and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton Movie Set Day Trip from Auckland, a tour that will help visitors understand why Peter Jackson chose New Zealand to film Lord of the Rings and why the country’s scenery is so renowned.
The tour didn’t start on the bus or at a distant location, but upon arrival at the Sky City pick up point in Auckland where someone with a wicker basket full of muffins was there to greet me with breakfast. Arriving ahead of schedule, a large coach pulled into the station and out of it came Paul, my driver saying, “Hello doll,” in a burly voice fit for a sports announcer, big smile on his face.
This tour involves a lot of driving: two and half hours to Waitomo, two and half hours more to Rotorua, another hour to Hobbiton and two more hours back to Auckland, so I think I got lucky to have such an entertaining driver to liven up the beautiful but long drives between stops. Paul got to know all ten people I started my tour with, taught us a lot about New Zealand and the region we were traveling through and created a quiz that actually got pretty heated.
The first stop is a tour of the Waitomo Caves, known for its glowworms. The one-hour tour here takes guests through temperate forests, down 130 feet of limestone and on a ten-minute boat cruise through the caves where the only light provided is by glowworms.
These bioluminescent insects, that are actually more like maggots rather than worms, have four stages of life, which our guide went through in detail. They give off a blue glow during the second or larvae stage off development. During this period they live inside a tube of silk and mucus at the top of sheltered damp surfaces, like that of the limestone caves at Waitomo. They leave sticky string dripping off their tubes to catch food.
While the tour guide pulled a 10-foot, metal boat through the underground river to an opening on the other side, I and another 20 or so passengers stared up at thousands of speckles of blue light formed in clusters all over the ceiling. It looked more like the view of the earth from space at night, rather than stars above. In fact, I started to make out countries above me.
After Waitomo Caves, I hopped back on the bus where Paul was handing out brown-bag lunches complete with a chicken sandwich, slice of carrot cake, pastry, apple and water, and settled in for the two-and-half-hour journey to Rotorua.
With a bit of organizing, Paul worked things out so we didn’t have to rush to Rotorua and could stop at a few places in the Waikato region along the way. He told us about the Battle at Rangiriri and gave us a few minutes to visit a monument dedicated to Rewi Maniapoto who led Maori warriors in that battle. He told us facts about the Waikato River and allowed us to get off the bus and take photos of it along the way. He even pulled over to pick a piece of toi toi grass for us to feel.
I was lucky to have another friendly driver pick me up for this leg of the tour. Ben drove one other passenger and myself by minivan through Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park to Matamata, where we would tour The Lord of the Rings set.
The film location is hidden by grassy hills of farmland speckled with sheep, which definitely helped to keep it secret. The land was originally and still is used for raising sheep.
I’ve been on a lot of tours in New Zealand and Hobbiton is one of my favorite. For fans of the books and films, this spot is a mecca. For others, it displays one type of scenery that makes up most of the North Island–green hilly farmland–while giving people a glimpse of everything making a film like The Lord of the Rings entails.
On the tour, I learned about all the intricate detail that went into the set, like how the crew mixed lichen paint, wood chips, yoghurt and vinegar together to create what looks like mold and splattered it all over homes and fences to make the set look older. I got to step inside a hobbit’s home and hear all the stories behind filming, like how Peter Jackson had a one-percent-alcoholic beer created for party scenes in the film, so the actors could get into character without getting too drunk.
The two-hour journey back to Auckland was more of a transfer than a guided tour, but after such a heavy day, the silence and warm, comfortable bus were welcomed.
People need to drive through New Zealand to truly experience it and if they want to see Waitomo and Hobbiton from a base in Auckland, then this is the ideal way to do it while learning about and seeing a lot of the North Island. But it is a 12-hour day if it’s necessary for you to return to Auckland so just be prepared for the journey If you can move on after this tour, say to Rotorua, that will cut down on your time in transit.
Read more: Follow the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand
– Bobbi Lee Hitchon