The rain swells from a misty dribble to a full autumn shower as we traverse the rolling, radiant green hills that surround the Shire. There might be better days to slog around in the countryside, but we’re on a schedule – it’s time to find Frodo, and a little water won’t deter us. We pull into the lot next to a herd of sheep languidly grazing on the dewy grass and dart inside to purchase tickets – $75 NZD ($65 USD) each for a tour around the site we’ve all seen in the movies.
The next outing won’t begin for another twenty minutes, which gives us time to check out the gift shop. Here you can stock up on all your Hobbit memorabilia, from replicas of The One Ring to maps of Middle Earth, to bottles of Hobbit brew. The grey wool Elven cloak by the door is particularly enticing.
The Hobbiton bus arrives right in the knick of time.
We’re introduced to our tour guide as make our way into a gated area. More sheep – hundreds this time – zigzag the gravel road as the driver explains that even though the farm is home to upwards of 13,000 sheep, they were all too ugly for a role in the movies.
Off the bus, and they hand out large umbrellas to keep us all dry. They go through the rules: Stay with the group, don’t touch anything. Don’t open the gates or mailboxes, no leaning on the fences. We’re guided through a passage you might recognize as the place Gandalf enters the Shire in Fellowship, and where Bilbo Baggins runs when he leaves.
Once through, we see the first Hobbit holes. And we immediately start to notice the level of detail that has been achieved here. Every house is painted in brilliant colors and looks like someone’s just been there – a spade plunked into garden soil here, the morning wash on the clothesline there.
The lane snakes its way through 44 Hobbit holes, and if you look up at any point you’ll be able to make out Bag End at the top of the hill.
Climbing our way up the slippery track, we really do get a sense that this is a living village. Every 15 minutes, a different chimney will start puffing out smoke. Many dwellings show some indication of what the Hobbits who live there might do for work. Some sell produce, some are beekeepers, some make pottery.
One hospitable Hobbit opens up her home to visitors.
We recognize Bag End by the giant faux oak tree and the No Admittance sign posted on the gate. I ask, where is the mark that Gandalf carved into the front door with his staff? Our tour guide reminds me only dwarves can see it. Of course, silly me.
Our shoes are soaked through by the time we get to the Party Tree.
Our guide has promised us free ale once we get to the Green Dragon, so we huddle under the umbrella and hastily make our way over the stone bridge.
Once inside, the Green Dragon is warm and dry. We enjoy mugs of stout and look across at the mill through the steady showers.
Ten minutes later, we’re rounded up and sent back to the bus. The whole experience seems like it was too short.
We’ve had a few Middle Earth moments over the last month here in New Zealand, but the Hobbiton movie set really drives the point home. It doesn’t take a child’s imagination to see Frodo and Sam rounding a bend and picking some fresh apples for the party tonight, or to hear the cheery melodies of folk music spilling out over the velvet terrain.
And if you’re near the lake, just close your eyes for a moment and concentrate. Do you smell it? The gunpowder from Gandalf’s fireworks is still heavy in the air. It’s time for an adventure.