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Middle-earth (otherwise known as New Zealand)

Michelle Brotohusodo

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

“Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

With these simple words, J.R.R. Tolkien introduced the fantasy land of Middle-earth to the world. More than 50 years later, Peter Jackson showed us it was real—and just across the Tasman Sea. A visit to New Zealand is a must for Hobbit/Lord of the Rings (LOTR) fans. If you’d like to do a tour, there’s a lot of choice so you’ll have to do some research to decide which one’s best for you. But to get you started, here’s what my experiences were like.

Hobbiton

Located near Matamata on NZ’s North Island, Hobbiton. Is. Amazing!! Going here was probably the main reason for my last trip to NZ, and it surpassed all my expectations. Hobbiton is situated on part of a working farm, and was reportedly chosen because, well, it looked like Hobbiton! By that I mean there was a perfect Party Tree, a lake, and wonderful rolling hills that were perfect for hobbits to live in.

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The way Hobbiton is set up really looks like all the hobbits have just gone out for the day. Each little hobbit hole has little details and decorations that give you a glimpse into the personality/profession of the hobbit(s) who live there.

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While you’re there you’ll notice the doors and props are different sizes. Your guide will explain how these were used to create perspective in the movies. You’ll also learn other interesting trivia about the movie, like which tree had to have its leaves painted, and how this was done.

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The only thing that would have made Hobbiton better would have been if you could actually go inside a hobbit hole—sadly, they’re all facades because the interior scenes were shot on soundstages elsewhere.

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That said, all tours end up at the Green Dragon Inn, where you’ll be able to enjoy a drink and even some food if you have time. There are lots of little details in there that make it really fun to look around, and you can even play hobbit dress-ups if you want.

If you’re really keen, there are evening banquet tours, which include a tour of the set followed by dinner at the Inn and then an evening tour back through Hobbiton. I wish I’d known about the banquet tours when I went; I’m definitely planning to go back again for that experience.

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I could have spent hours at Hobbiton, but because it’s on a working farm and there are huge numbers of people visiting every day, group numbers are capped and each group only allowed a certain amount of time there. If you don’t want to stay at Matamata, there are day tours from Auckland (we did a GreatSights one from there that included Waitomo Glowworm Caves) and Rotorua, or you can self-drive to the Shire’s Rest where the Hobbiton tours depart from.

Wellington

Wellington is home to the Weta Workshop and Cave. If you haven’t heard of Weta Workshop, it’s the company responsible for the incredible special effects and designs in the LOTR and Hobbit movies. This includes things like prosthetics (e.g. hobbit feet, orc faces), armour, weapons, to digital effects like Gollum, the trolls, and the battle scenes. You’ll see examples of their work on a very large scale at Wellington Airport!

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You can take a tour of the Weta Studio, where you’ll see artists at work and also some of their amazing creations. You can also go crazy (like I did) at the Weta Cave, which has all manner of wonderful things to buy.

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Wellington was also the location for a lot of the scenes in the LOTR movies. While there are a number of tour operators, my friend and I decided to go with one that another friend had recommended, Wellington Rover. We did not regret our choice. From the moment that Aragorn (our tour bus) pulled up, we had a wonderful time.

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In addition to the Weta Workshop, the tour took us to locations like an unassuming park in the middle of Wellington where Frodo sat in a tree and chatted to Sam, where the Black Rider appeared, and where the hobbits hid from the Nazgûl.

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My friend and I attempting to look like menacing Black Riders (sans horses).

We stopped for lunch at Scorch-O-Rama and had Hobbit/LOTR-themed meals, such as Smaug’s Ham Benedict (Cumberbatch) or Frodo’s Frittata. This was followed by a trip to a random suburban park/disc golf course where Isengard was filmed, and then to Kaoitoke Regional Park, aka Rivendell (unfortunately it was pouring with rain by that point).

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The faint white line is where Gandalf rode his horse to Isengard.

One of the other fun things about Wellington Rover tours is that they have props! So you can walk with wizards’ staffs or prepare for battle with Sting (and elvish ears if you so wish). This was a really great tour.

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Queenstown

Since my friend and I did two hobbit/LOTR tours on the North Island, we thought it needed to be balanced out with a tour on the South Island as well. We were based in Queenstown and decided to go with a tour company called Pure Glenorchy. I really enjoyed this tour as it gave us a history of the area as well as the LOTR/hobbit information. Our guide also stopped at a few additional places just because they were pretty, which made my photographer heart happy.

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Points of interest on this tour included where the Oliphant and coney cooking scenes were filmed, lots of mountains seen in the movies (such as The Remarkables), and where Beorn’s house was built.

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The triangular mound is where Beorn’s house was built for The Hobbit.

This tour also featured another important setting—Mount Aspiring National Park, aka Lothlórien. An interesting fact is that Lothlórien’s golden leaves were created by children. By this I mean that Peter Jackson got his crew to vacuum up a whole heap of the leaves, which were then painted gold by the children of Glenorchy school (and Peter Jackson made a sizeable donation to the school in return).

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Lothlórien

On this tour we also got two nice surprises. The first was that afternoon tea was absolutely delicious—a huge chicken, cranberry and brie sandwich on pumpkin bread from Bob’s Weigh—and the second was we got to play with a replica of Anduril.

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The Pure Glenorchy tour also gives each person a cd of photos of the locations, some during different seasons. While this might seem like cheating to those who like to take their own photos, it’s a nice way to see what the locations look like at different times of the year, plus it’s a good back-up if NZ’s notoriously fickle weather decides to turn on the day.

Self-guided tours

If guided/organised tours aren’t your thing, you can buy a copy of The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook by Ian Brodie and do your own thing. This is a comprehensive guide to the main movie locations around New Zealand and includes useful touring information as well as interviews with the cast and crew.

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Michelle Brotohusodo

Michelle moved to Canberra vowing to stay for two years, tops. 10 years later, she’s a bona fide Canberra convert. When she’s not working in her day job as a public servant, she’s enjoying Canberra’s culinary delights or finding fun things to do/see in and around town. More about the Author

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