Just at the opening of my senior year at the University of Iowa, I departed my snowy state for the warm islands of the South Pacific, looking to escape the familiar elements of my Midwestern college life.
Picking Newcastle, Australia, as my base of operations, I enjoyed six long months of serious writing, intensive literary courses, lively beaches, and gorgeous cities. In between my classes and writing, I found time to explore Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, the last of which became my long lost love and (someday) future home.
And while Australia was wonderful to me, it was simply a starting point for me. This was my first real extended trip outside the U.S. beyond a few days in Mexico and two weeks in Cuba in 2012 – and I was ready to sate my wanderlust. With a multitude of countries I could hop to from here, I let my geek flag fly and picked New Zealand as the next island on my conquest. Not for its expansive fields (which are lovely) and cultured cities (Auckland is a great place to get lost), but for the fabled land of Hobbiton.
The journey there and back again was the easiest of all my travels. Hoping to pinch a few pennies with my budget, I stayed exclusively at hostels in Australia and New Zealand, all of which were a bus ride from the airport.
Having pre-purchased my Hobbiton ticket (a requirement, as they consistently sell out), I was able to package a transfer to the site and on to my next destination, Rotorua, without a hassle. So on one cloudy day in Auckland, I stepped out of my hostel and into a cozy shuttle with two other world travelers, setting off for Hobbiton.
The drive itself led us through the hills of central New Zealand. I try to use these two words sparingly, but the drive truly was scenic and picturesque, filled with the famous New Zealand sheep and rolling fields. Though it was the early morning, our guide was lively enough for all of us, providing insight into towns and farms around Auckland, the economy of the area, and the best sights to visit.
I can’t say enough about how helpful he was. Right as he passed off to our Hobbiton guides, he personally made sure my luggage was loaded onto a bus for Rotorua and the driver knew who I was so my transfer went off without a hitch.
Where to begin with Hobbiton? Let’s start small.
Every house was about my height (5’7″, in case you were wondering), 10 feet wide, and 1 foot in length. You read that right; you can’t even open the round Hobbit doors wide enough to step inside. The main thing to remember about Hobbiton is that it’s a film set and every detail is based around tricking the audience into thinking it’s real.
Most of the windows had potted plants and were just dusty enough to obscure the wooden wall just a foot behind them. Props were scattered around the gardens, with everything from wrist size hoes to tiny chairs. We were all welcome to pose with them and take silly photos, showing off how small the props are.
Some of the plants were fake so that visitors could enjoy the fantasy all year round, but the variety of colors and types helped build the aura of the small village. Even the paint on the plows and pots were intricately detailed with chips and faded colors to invoke the real wear and tear of the set. This was seen in greater detail at the Green Dragon.
We could’ve spent hours taking photos and studying the little details of Hobbiton, but our helpful guides kept us right on schedule, leading through the maze of houses. We were a diverse group of different ages, nationalities, sizes, and cliches, but we were all enchanted by the village and made it known with a lightning round of questions throughout the hike. Our guides were all too used to it, listing off film and book trivia for our delight.
Though the beginning of the tour led us to a handful of houses, the main part featured a wide area beside the lake where hills of houses were kept tucked away, as well as the Party Tree. We were given a bit of time to explore here, wandering up and down trails. The hike was truly fulfilling, offering us sweeping views of The Shire, plus we got to visit Bilbo’s famous home, Bag-End, and the fake oak tree that towers over it atop The Hill.
The last leg of the tour led us down to The Mill, which rests on the shore of The Water, (the stream that cuts through The Shire). Here we could look out over The Hill and cross The Water to arrive at the famous Green Dragon. Just as we arrived, we were introduced by our guide to Pickles the Cat, Hobbiton’s permanent resident. Apparently, one of the set workers found Pickles as a kitten when driving to Hobbiton. Since then the cat has lived at the set, wandering around and purring at tourists (and begging for treats).
After driving through the hills of New Zealand and hiking through The Shire, our tour group arrived at the final destination: The Green Dragon. In this iconic pub our tour guide treated us each to one pint of authentic, Hobbiton beer, a refreshing end to our tour. But even though it was the end, The Green Dragon was probably one of the highlights of the tour, primarily due to the immense amount of the detail that went into it.
Not only is it a fully functioning pub, but it feels completely lived in and perfectly reflects the village atmosphere of The Shire, with leaflets adorning the walls to the hand written guest book and stunning dragon carving over the bar. Even us, the tourists, added to the pub’s aesthetic, a handful of weary travelers backpacking country roads in a far off land all gathered here for a few pints and stories.
Looking to take the trip yourself? Check out an array of Hobbiton tours from Auckland and Rotorua, perfectly with trips to the nearby Waitomo Caves, another great feature of the region.
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