Tauranga, according to our bus driver/tour guide, is like Auckland with the volume turned down several notches. The area around the port is resort-like with good surfing, lovely beaches, shops, restaurants, and a relaxed atmosphere.
The port itself is the largest and most efficient in the Southern Hemisphere. The claim to fame of greatest interest to us, however, is that a farm about an hour’s drive from Tauranga is the site of Hobbiton, the movie set used for the Peter Jackson films, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Peter Jackson’s location scout was doing an aerial survey of the dairy land near Matamata, with specific goals in mind, green hills, water, and a huge oak tree that would serve as the “Party Tree” for Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday party. He found it on a farm owned by the Alexanders.
The extensive set was built into the hills, but in accordance with the agreement, was largely removed at the end of the film. Due to a cyclone, not everything was able to be removed and word spread about the hobbit holes on the farmer’s property and interested friends and then others came to see the remains of Hobbiton.
When Peter Jackson returned to film The Hobbit trilogy, Hobbiton needed to be rebuilt. This time, however, the set was built of more permanent materials and was not destroyed after the film. It has turned into a well maintained “Tourist Farm”. Each group of visitors is joined by a guide who points out features and tells stories of the set. You are not always in a crowd of people which gives time for photos. The largest hobbit hole (green door) at the bottom of the picture is Bag End, the home of Bilbo and later Frodo Baggins. This home is an actual movie set with room inside for over 100 people with movie equipment.
Most of the holes are facades with very limited space inside. We could recognize the homes of Samwise Ganges as well as Bag End. The huge party tree is also prominent on the grounds.
We were impressed by the detail and care that went into the design and execution of the set. There were cheese maker hobbits, baker hobbits, and even artist hobbits. The unique mailboxes for each home were also fun to see.
The grounds themselves are very well cared for by a small army of gardeners and provided habitats for lots of butterflies and even cicadas.
At the end of the tour, we had time for a pint of ale (or ginger beer) at the Green Dragon Inn, a scone, and a visit to the store. This excursion easily lived up to our expectations.