After a day at sea, we are scheduled to arrive in Tauranga, New Zealand at 5 pm. Most guests will be staying on the ship tonight for the evening’s entertainment; we have chosen an evening excursion to Hobbiton. Hobbiton is the recreated set where segments of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed. Azamara has begun offering evening-dubbed Nights and Cool Places-and even overnight excursions when the boat stays in port overnight. The evening excursions and overnights were added as the result of guest input.
A day trip to Hobbiton will be offered tomorrow, but by going tonight we can also tour the geothermal pools in the area tomorrow. Additionally, the twilight excursion has some unique elements to it. I knew I couldn’t return home to Rocky without seeing at least some of the movie connections to New Zealand based on the Tolkien books.
Peter Jackson, the movies’ director, did a fly over the area and selected the Alexander farm as the setting for the shire for its untamed beauty. It is one of the few remaining sheep farms in the area. The story goes that when Jackson went to meet the farmer and ask about the use of the farm, he went on a day the national team had a rugby game. This country is mad for their rugby. Not knowing of Jackson’s fame, the farmer said he was too busy watching the game and suggested Jackson come back on a day when the All Blacks, New Zealand’s famous and highly successful rugby team, were not playing. Later the farmer was informed of Jackson’s stature in the movie industry and the meeting eventually took place.
The agreement reached was that when filming was complete, the film crew would put the land back exactly as they found it. When filming concluded, initial demolition took place but there was a delay and some of the set was left for removal at a later time. Many fans approached the farmer about seeing the remaining set and Alexander realized he had something special on his hands. Alexander reached a new deal with Jackson whereby Jackson’s team would rebuild the set using more durable materials (these should last 50 years). Most of the original set was foam board. After reconstruction, Hobbiton opened as a tourist attraction in 2002.
Original construction for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was begun in March of 1999 and everyone was sworn to secrecy. The set was again reconstructed in 2011 for the Hobbit movies and small additional section was also added at that time. By 2013, Hobbiton had welcomed half a million visitors. In 2014, the night-time events were added; this is the one we are taking advantage of. Tonight, the park is opened exclusively for our group of 40 guests. Crowd avoidance is a major advantage of this excursion.
The plan was to meet at 5:15 and exit the ship as soon as it was cleared. Unfortunately, about 3 pm we were informed that due to low tide the ship would be in a hold pattern until 5 pm and that we should anticipate docking a hour late. We were worried that our tour would be cancelled, but since the set was rented exclusively for us the evening was simply delayed an hour. We are now scheduled to return to the ship at 12:30 am.
We ended up getting off the ship and leaving about 45 late. Hobbiton is located in Matamata in the Waikato Valley about an hour from our berth in Tauranga, New Zealand. It was a beautiful ride and our guide told us about the area, but everyone was just anxious that we would get to see the set before the sun went down I am not sure we took in much of what he said. Fortunately, the sun does set late, about 9 pm, during the summer.
When we arrived, our guide jumped right on board and we skipped the welcome center and gift shop (which I am guessing will not be open when we conclude here about 11:30 pm). The Hobbiton guide was young, cocky, and clearly having fun with the tour. He was great about taking pictures of us, telling stories, and giving us time to take photographs while still keeping us on schedule.
The tour company has a bus, but we just stayed aboard our own coach and he talked us down to the set entrance. We drove through the Alexander farm as the set came into view. The farm is once again a sheep station. While on the bus and during our walk around the set, our guide pointed out particular locations where specific scenes from the film were shot. There are a total of 44 hobbit holes built at 60, 90, and 100% scale to accommodate the various species that the hobbits come in contact with.
Our guide also pointed out the detail in the set. When fruit or greenery needed to have a consistent look through shooting, it was pulled out and reproduced artificially. In some cases the natural element has come back; in others it is still fake. Actually it was hard to tell which was which.
You can not go into the hobbit holes, they are only facades. Bag End has a few details that show with the door open, but the interior scenes were shot in Wellington, New Zealand, also on the northern island. They did set up one hobbit hole that you could stand inside to have your picture taken and Boris and I were first in line. We are a bit tall to be hobbits.
Everyone had their favorite spot, but by far the one that was most photographed was Bag End, home to Bilbo Baggins. I can’t image trying to get a picture of this on a typical tour without lots of bodies getting in the way.
I found the entire set charming. Of course, you want to immediately run home and watch the movies again so you can see the frame where a particular part of the set you just saw was used. That said, I think that even if you have not seen the films or even read the books you would still enjoy a visit to Hobbiton. The setting on this farm is truly breathtaking and the fading light of day made it even more magical.
As we finished our initial guided tour, we were led to the Green Dragon Inn for our complimentary beverage of ale or cider. To reach the Green Dragon Inn you pass by the Hobbiton Mill and over the double-arched bridge. We stepped inside the pub for our beverage and then came back outside to enjoy the lovely view back toward the shire while our banquet was prepared.
When the feast was ready we were called inside to take a seat at one of the long tables. In the history of the feast (open since 2014), only one group has eaten all the food offered; it was a rugby team. There was so much food, some that appeared to be a table decoration at first. We sat across from a family from Michigan who had one of the few children on the ship; 8 year old Elizabeth took a liking to Boris and chatted with him most of the evening. Seated to my right was a family from Poland and I enjoyed talking to their high school son who wanted to practice his English (which was quite good).
After the feast, lanterns were distributed and we took a modified tour through the shire on the way back to the bus parking. We made a stop at the party tree and all were invited to dance, although there were few takers. I highly recommend the evening tour, especially if you can go through the park in a small group. Hobbiton is a gem that I am so glad that it was preserved. As a student of film and a fan of these movies, I know Rocky would love Hobbiton. I hope to be back to share it with him.
Time to get back for our early morning tour. When we arrived at the port at 12:30 am, the gate was closed so we had to wait for the security clearance. We won’t get a lot of sleep tonight but it was so worth it. “I think I am quite ready for another adventure.”