The entire journey from Christchurch until now I’ve been torn between homes to dinosaurs or the realms of elves, dwarves, orcs and goblins. The landscapes of New Zealand are without a doubt worth of locking in to film. Some areas looked as though they had been lifted straight from the movies, others left a little bit more to the imagination. Jurassic Park wasn’t even filmed on these islands! The Hobbiton Movie Set was a mix of both, obviously not the dinosaurs though. It’s a tiny green oasis of little homes in the middle of the rolling hills of a dusty brown sheep farm. If it weren’t for all of the obvious signposts along the road, you could quite easily miss it.
I’ll come out and say it first, a tour of the set isn’t cheap. At $75 NZD we were looking at one of the more expensive packages of the holiday when we considered what was involved. We parked up at the visitor centre, bought our tickets and waited for our time slot. A bus drove us through the farm into the set itself. The tour lasts approximately two hours.
We were taken through the village, being regularly reminded it is just a film set. I was genuinely surprised at how easy it could be to forget that these are just doors and windows cut into the hills, most of them don’t open and those that do have nothing behind them. None of the gardens are real, even two of the iconic trees are fake. The wooden frames of doors were aged with vinegar. The dirt tracks through the gardens and around the houses are used by the gardeners.
Locations of scenes used in the films were pointed out to us, we were regularly invited to take photographs. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed about the lack of freedom. It might have been more enjoyable to walk around as I pleased, but this was perhaps the best way to reduce crowds and keep an eye on everyone. It’s surprising to find the majority of filming that actually took place in the model village never made it on to screen.
I won’t deny the guides do a fantastic job and make it an interesting-to-all attraction. My family have read a grand total of zero books and have maybe seen half of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films between them and yet they too were suitably impressed. With props scattered around, trails walked into the grass, and smoke rising from some of the chimneys you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d paid for a tour of a living hobbit village.
The last few stops of the tour include the front door of Bag End itself. The sign on the gate reads “No Admittance, exception party business” and as a tourist it marks as close as you’re allowed to the front door. Then there is the party tree, where Bilbo makes his infamous speech before disappearing and finally, the Green Dragon which is the only fully functional building on the set and arguably the highlight of the tour.
The outside of the building is wildly distorted which made it easier to suggest Gandalf’s height compared to the hobbits when filming happened. The inside feels a bit twisted because of this. Still, there’s a free beer inside with a choice of a stout, an amber ale or a cider. All of which was pretty reasonable. Better still is the food available from the bar. The cold pork pie slice is the size of a house brick. The pie is easily the most delicious pork pie I have ever paid for, I had to go back for more before we were escorted back onto the bus. Hardly more than a few hours had passed. The final stretch of road lay out before us.