Hobbiton. The first stop I made on my first trip out of the US in 2004 after flying into Auckland NZ, and right at the time when the Lord of the Rings film trilogy had finished and gained a large fanbase. I was fascinated with my visit to Hobbiton, so I knew I had to return 12 years later when I decided to visit New Zealand again. Since my last visit, the next series of the films The Hobbit came out so I couldn't believe how much it had changed! From a simple undressed, informal movie set tour, to now a popular tourist attraction, this place now felt like a small theme park. Check out my before and after visits and how this should certainly be a stop on your list while visiting New Zealand, Lord of the Rings fans or not!
To visit Hobbiton, you need to get tickets here: http://www.hobbitontours.com/ , buy in advance, they do tend to sell out now! If you are driving from Auckland, allow about 2 hours to get there via car. I believe there are buses, but the drive through the countryside to get here is nice so it's worth it to rent a car especially if you plan to explore more of New Zealand.
In 2004, I basically had a private tour with a single guide. There was no one there but a few of us JRR Tolkien fans. Nowadays be prepared to be in groups of up to 50, ride a tour bus, have a uniformed fancy tour guide, and wait in line to see the attractions. It's like Disneyland for middle earth!
The tour starts off with a pathway through the hobbit homes! In 2004, there was 3 to see and an unmarked path. Today you can find a whole
village and a clear path marked that your guide takes you through. If you've watched The Hobbit films, you'll see that they kept it dressed just like in the movie with every little detail in place including the mailboxes, lanterns, yard props, path signage and flowers.
After walking through the paths, eventually you get to the main hobbit-Bilbo's house for a fun photo-op. Of course when I first visited there was no line- my tour consisted of 5 people. We were each able to walk inside the house and have our picture taken. Today my tour had close to 30 people and everyone waits for their turn. Though you can't actually sit inside anymore for the photo, they did keep some of the set dressings visible in the doorway to make it look like a real hobbit home.
Bilbo's house sure has grown over the years! Note, this is the exact same house in the exact same spot. After the filming of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the set was stripped down to the bare shells of the homes as you see here on the left. The set was then revived once The Hobbit films started shooting. When the films wrapped it made sense just to leave everything in place and build on it even more with the window dressing and landscaping. This made it really amazing for the fans and tourists to experience, but also quadrupled the number of people now visiting the location.
After hitting all the hobbit homes, you make your way down the path to the famous Gandalf tree. This is where he lit the fireworks on Bilbo's
birthday party at the opening of Lord of the Rings. I will say that even though the set and experience nowadays is much more robust, pretty and immersive, I am happy I got to see it before it became something big. There's something about seeing something first before it becomes super commercialized!
In 2004, that was the end of the tour. But now, you keep on trekking! The experience has grown into a whole other section of Hobbiton that was also used in The Hobbit films. The path continues down more hobbit homes, to a full hobbit village where a tavern awaits you. I really loved all the signage and attention to detail that was put into the landscaping and the homes. I really felt like it was a lived in village!
The Tavern is the final stop on your tour. Once you arrive, there's a lot of cool stuff to see. Your guides treat you to a beer/ale of choice, and you can hang out by the fireplace with your fellow tour group. The architecture alone is so intricate, it was nice to sit and drink the ale and look at everything. There is even a guestbook to sign where you can see signatures of the actual cast themselves. I felt like I could see a hobbit or dwarf join me at any minute!
Hobbiton is truly a magical place! I love seeing how this place has grown. And as I had mentioned before, you don't have to be a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fan to enjoy visiting here. The beauty of the New Zealand countryside is worth the drive out here, and the Hobbit sets just make you feel like you entered a real life fantasy. It's a special place where fantasy was completely brought into reality. I hope you enjoy your visit to Hobbiton!
2004 photos credit to Rob DaGasta @personofleisure