There and Back Again: The Nerdy Bird’s Tale, Part 1
I tried staying in New Zealand in a Hobbit hole but that was frowned upon. So here I am to tell you all about my grand adventures from my trip to Australia and NZ earlier this year!
I keep putting off writing about my time in Australia/NZ because it’s going to be a monster of a post but I swear it will get done.
— Jill Pantozzi ♿ (@JillPantozzi) April 22, 2016
So yeah. Suffice to say this was a long time coming. I orignally meant to write about the big adventure as soon as I got back but the more I thought about it, the more work I realized it was going to be (we were gone 25 days!!) and it just slipped away from me between life and all my other writing. But I have so much to tell you and since not all of you follow my social channels, and there was so much more to say, here we are! I was brainstorming for a while how I wanted to go about this – it definitely needs to be in a few parts – and I finally realized I would start near the end…
Comin’ for you, Proudfeet! pic.twitter.com/Da95s7cSPO
— Jill Pantozzi ♿ (@JillPantozzi) April 9, 2016
That’s right, I’m talking about our trip to Hobbiton!!! The famous set from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is located in Waikato, NZ and was on top of my to-do list on the trip. We rented a car to drive from Wellington (my story of the WETA tour and more coming later!) to Rotorua and then to Hobbiton and Auckland and that was its own adventure. But driving through town to get to the location was very exciting. The 12 acre set is part of a working family farm and really tucked away in a massive area of hills and valleys but before you get there you stop at the ticket, restaurant, and gift shop area.
We had had a guide set up our trip North so our tickets were already purchased. The tours are timed so they bring a large group to Hobbiton from this little rest stop every few minutes by bus. There were accessible restrooms here but the restaurant was up a flight of stairs and none of the buses had wheelchair lifts. We had our own special tour guide who hopped in our rental car and traveled with us behind one of the buses.
Jackson’s crew, and the NZ army, had to pave roads and do a bunch of other work to get the original set together. It was also kept pretty secret because they didn’t want anyone to know they were filming there.
After three months of shooting, the plan was to tear down the entire set! I’m always devastated when film sets and props are destroyed, mostly because of how much time and effort goes into making them (but also because there are so many things I’d love to collect if they existed!), but especially so in the instance of Hobbiton. But the sets, as is the norm, weren’t built to last so when Jackson decided he was going to need the town again for The Hobbit, the people there told them he was going to make them better this time so they could keep them around for tourists. Thank you!
Our tour guide excused himself from us for a few minutes and went to pick up a golf cart we could ride in for the tour. Normally it’s a “walking tour” but considering we had my manual wheelchair with us and there are no paved walkways, this was the easier way for us to see the whole set (which was even more expansive than I imagined). It was a bit of work to get me into the cart but once we were there we were good to go (and probably the envy of some of the other visitors).
It was…hard to contain my excitement. We found out as we went along that our tour guide was a pretty nerdy guy but it took him a little while to realize what a big nerd I was. As he started his talk I quickly realized I knew many of the fun facts he was sharing so we wound up asking him a lot about the actual day to day of the set because it was really interesting to think about once you were there.
There are a LOT of Hobbit holes. I mean, a lot, a lot. There are 44 in total and they’re literally everywhere you turn. It was awesome.
Not all of the houses are featured prominently in the films but a few are recognizable. Most are regular size while a few others were made specifically larger or smaller depending on what they needed to be used for.
As we went along I noticed lovely details everywhere – from sign posts, to mailboxes, and laundry! After a bit we came into a more open area that’s featured most prominently in The Fellowship of the Rings during Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday.
They had games like horseshoe set up but one part in particular was roped off…
…the famous tree! It’s gorgeous and ginormous but unfortunately, as we were told, wear and tear has taken its toll (mostly from humans behaving badly sad to say) and it’s not meant to be touched anymore.
And up on the hill, Bilbo’s house!! Did I mention there were a lot of Hobbit holes?
I’m going to have an entire section later devoted to animals I met on the trip but seeing as how this security sheep was keeping a close eye on us as we dipped behind-the-scenes a bit to get to another part of the tour, I had to share now. Don’t look at it too long, there may be some wizardry at work here.
Besides the houses looking amazing as-is, when you spend a little time you notice really fantastic details. Each one had different items sitting outside to demonstrate what the specific Hobbit’s job might be.
For instance – a potter.
There aren’t real “roads” on the land and our golf cart was about as wide as most would handle so going up some of the more steep hills was a bit nerve-racking.
But then you’d see three more Hobbit holes and lean over the edge to get a picture like a weirdo…
Another lovely setup.
So when I said the property was massive I wasn’t joking. It’s truly expansive and since you can’t really spot anything else in the distance you truly get the feeling of being in Middle-earth.
Don’t forget to say hi to anyone you might see along the way! HEY, WHO LET THAT GUY IN??
That’s my fella! I decided not to try and get off the golf cart at any point in the tour since it was tough for me but since this hole’s door was open I told Brad to get off for a photo op! While it would be very magical if each house was really a house, most of the holes only have enough room inside for the doors to open. There’s no furnishings, just supporting walls. Since they weren’t featured in that way in the films, there was just no need.
Here we are, arriving at Bilbo’s for a simple hello…
…turns out he didn’t want any visitors!
Bilbo’s house is one of the few that has a small interior but even that isn’t what you might have imagined. The door opens wider than the others and you can clearly see his wall and a few items inside but that’s as far as it goes! Once the actor stepped into the door, the rest of the scene was filmed on an entirely different set.
I was seriously nerding out at this point.
Once we got back down the hill we stopped for this photo-perfect moment.
I should take this time to mention how much work is involved in keeping up this place. There’s a full-time crew that has to make sure everything stays looking the way it should, from the grass to the chimneys!
It was tough to decide but I think this was my favorite Hobbit hole.
There were two other very interesting anecdotes we learned on the tour. One was about a particular tree on the land. In the J. R. R. Tolkien novels plum trees are mentioned but when it came time to plant, Jackson didn’t think the look was right so they wound up planting apple or pear instead and adding fake plums after the fact. And then the tree never made it into the film anyway.
The other tidbit came when we asked whether or not anyone ever tried sneaking onto the property. It’s quite large as I said, and would take quite a while to get there on foot, but security didn’t seem to be a priority. Our tour guide said it did happen a few times including once when they found a man SLEEPING IN A HOBBIT HOLE. When they discovered him he ran off without a word. They don’t know how long he was there but that kind of effort takes determination for sure.
The tour ends with a stop at the Green Dragon Inn which is another lovely spot. Here we got out to stretch…
…and take use of the facilities. LOOK AT THAT DOOR!!!
The building was roomy and comfortable.
There were a few small bites to be had but since the tour is timed you don’t really have that much time to relax. I honestly could have stayed there all day.
As you can see, a little step here. I was thankful many times during out trip that I went with my manual chair rather than my motorized scooter.
The details were tremendous.
With your tour ticket you also get one pint of beer! They have four different kinds available and the brewery that makes it only offers it at Hobbiton.
Even though the tour groups come through periodically we were able to find a quiet corner for a few minutes. It was lovely.
No, I didn’t steal this map though that reminds me – people steal things from Hobbiton. A lot.
Our guide told us they used to serve the beer in really nice Green Dragon glasses but they were getting carried off to the tune of about 60 per day! We mentioned maybe they should have just started selling them since obviously people wanted them that badly but the guide said people would also steal items from outside the Hobbit holes as well so now everything has to be glued down! Bad, nerds! Bad!
While I was there I couldn’t help thinking about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. Not that I’d want to see rides at Hobbiton but the potential for more seems obvious (that private function sign was just decoration at the time). They do a few other events outside the tour (yes, weddings too!) but an actual restaurant you could eat at on the land after the tour would have been fun. That said, perhaps it best stays “natural.” Speaking of which…
On the way back out of our magical trip to Hobbiton we finally ran into the one main thing we were warned about when driving in NZ – that you might have to stop for livestock. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
There was some traffic (among other things) pic.twitter.com/8VNTSAIEq2
— Jill Pantozzi ♿ (@JillPantozzi) April 10, 2016
That’s it for this part of my grand adventure! I covered everything I can remember but feel free to ask more specific questions about anything if you’re curious and I’ll try and help. Happy New Year!