As soon as I started looking at possible shore excursions for my New Zealand cruise, Hobbiton popped up and I knew we were going to go. The best option was to do a Hobbiton tour from Tauranga, a port only an hour from where it is located. Here is my review of the tour we chose.
Which Hobbiton Tour to Take
There are literally dozens of tours available to Hobbiton, New Zealand. I was going to do the tour while our cruise ship was docked in Tauranga, but it is also possible to do a Hobbiton tour from Auckland or too. The drive from Auckland to Hobbiton takes about 2.5-3 hours each way, so if you can visit from a closer location then it will not be such a long day of driving. It’s also possible to do a Hobbiton tour from Rotorua, which is about a 1 hour drive from Rotorua to Hobbiton.
Our cruise ship offered a Hobbiton tour as one of their shore excursions. It was a simple tour though, going straight to Hobbiton and then back to the ship. I wondered if I could come up with something with slightly more in it.
While shore excursions booked through the cruise line are always more expensive (sometimes significantly so) they are easy to organise, you literally walk off the boat onto a bus for the tour, in a tender port you get priority on the tenders, and you are guaranteed that the cruise ship will not leave port until you are back on board.
In Tauranga we were in port from 8am until 9:30pm, so I was happy to take the risk and book with someone else, knowing we would have time to sort it out if anything went wrong.
So I looked for a local tour. One of the things I think about a lot when cruising is how to get money to the locals in the ports we visit to mitigate one of the huge problems cruise ships can create for many communities – people get off the ship, cause congestion, behave badly and do environmental damage (think of Venice!) but very little money goes back to the community. The cruise companies make all the money because they are the ones selling the tours.
When looking for a tour I considered the time of the tour, the size of the group, other places we might stop, inclusions such as bottled water, snacks & wifi, and of course, the price. Some tours booked through various booking platforms (eg: Viator) also provide a guarantee that you will be returned to the cruise ship on time, so that is another thing to consider.
The tour I chose was operated by Adventure & Cultural Tours Bay of Plenty. It is run by husband and wife team Stephen and Amanda Appleton. Besides Hobbiton tours, they offer a range of tours, both group and private in the Tauranga area. Another of their popular options is a visit to Rotorua to enjoy the thermal and cultural attractions there.
Our Hobbiton Tour from Tauranga
We like to be early, particularly when we are not sure of the lay of the land, so even though our pickup time for our tour was at 9am, we disembarked at 8:30am to give ourselves plenty of time to find the meeting place. It worked out that it was really simple. A walk along the dock, then out past the security point and we couldn’t miss the tour operators standing there with signs.
We were greeted by Amanda, and I was quick to note that her sign only contained one name – ours! Our small group tour had just become a private tour. There was one other person along with us though, Denise, who was in training and due to do her first tour the following weekend. Even though we were nearly half an hour early, because it was just us we were about to immediately get going.
The Port of Tauranga is actually located in the small town of Mount Maunganui, which, funnily enough, sits on a peninsula at the base of Mount Maunganui, a large lava dome. The town is only separated from Tauranga by a bridge, and is more like a suburb than a seperate town. Before we left the peninsula, Amanda pointed out all of the main sites and drove us along the main surf beach. She told us about the area, some of the local history and even a little about some of the local characters who have holiday homes in town.
We got the same sort of information about Tauranga as we passed through the city heading to the west. Tauranga is the fifth largest city in New Zealand and it is growing the fastest. It also has the largest port in New Zealand, which dominates most of the protected sea front. We made a brief stop to see a sculpture to recognise one of Tauranga’s most accomplised residents, Lyndsey Dodd, the author of the Hairy Maclary children’s books which have sold millions of copies world wide.
It wasn’t long before we came to McLaren Falls Park. Here we took a short walk through the forest to see a waterfall. Amanda pointed out things like the Silver Fern that is New Zealand’s emblem, and mentioned some of the other wildlife found in the area. A second stop was made at the big waterfall, where we were astounded to hear tales of people jumping off the footbridge (even though it is prohibited) into what looked like a small puddle of water – but is apparently quite deep. Admittedly we were there at the end of summer so there wasn’t as much water flowing as other times of the year. I preferred to keep my feet on the ground!
As we left McLaren Falls Park the Hobbiton stories began. Amanda gave us a lot of the background about how the site was discovered – and how it almost wasn’t the site. Firstly it was spotted by air, but soon enough Peter Jackson (writer, director and producer of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) knocked on the door of Ian Alexander, the farmer who owns the land. When Ian eventually answered, he was not so impressed with these people wanting to look around, telling them they could just have a look themselves – so long as they shut the gates! – while he went back to watching the second half of his rugby game.
The next time Ian Alexander heard anything was when Peter Jackson turned up again, this time with non-disclosure contracts. Once they were signed, Peter finally told Ian what they were planning on filming on his land. Ian was none the wiser, but luckily his son Russell was also there. He was a huge fan of the books and had an idea what they could potentially become. He told his Dad “I’ve got this!” and proceeded to build, along with Peter Jackson and the Tolkien Trust, over twenty years, one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions.
There were plenty of other stories and interesting tidbits too, but I will leave them for you to discover on your own tour.
Arriving at Hobbiton
By about 10:30 we were at Hobbiton. On arrival there are not a whole pile of Hobbit houses in plain sight, the movie set is hidden towards the back of the property and is only accessed through one of the tours. What you will find is a visitor centre which includes a ticket office, cafe and a gift shop, plenty of parking and of course toilets. It is here that you will be allocated a tour time and meet your guide before heading off to the set.
Because we were running really early, we had time to grab something to eat before our tour. There are ready-made sandwiches and light meals available, as well as cakes and sweets. We were able to order from the menu (we were told it would take twenty minutes to be ready, but in reality it was much quicker) and could not pass up the opportunity to have a Second Breakfast and Elevensies (these are references to meals in the books).
The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
We were on the 12pm tour, so at 11:50am we lined up in the waiting area until our bus was ready to board. At 12, our bus pulled up and we all jumped on, eager to finally see the Hobbit village from the movie. It takes 5-10 minutes to drive through the property to the movie site, and during that time our guide Jacob gave us more background information about the set. He pointed out where all the crew were located, with about 600 people on site each day.
And finally we were there! The bus dropped us off and we entered The Shire through the lower gate, the place where Bilbo runs out of town, waving a map in the air and proclaiming “I’m going on an adventure!”. I was surprised to learn that about 40% of the people who come here to visit Hobbiton have never seen the movies! I have to admit, I’ve only seen “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, not any of the Hobbit movies.
We spent the next hour or so wandering through the town and learning all sorts of facts, from the reason some of the houses are bigger than others, to the details of the tree on top of the hill. Peter Jackson’s attention to detail is second to none, although I think I would have been like the art department, who wanted to kill him for his demands during the filming! Now, of course, they are thrilled with how it all turned out.
During the tour we all took dozens (probably hundreds) of photos. There was also a photo opportunity while inside one of the Hobbit houses. Towards the end we visited the town square where the Party Tree is located before calling past the last houses.
To end the tour we visited The Green Dragon pub, enjoying a beverage while relaxing for a little while and taking in the view across the rolling hills of the set. Most people chose one of the two different beers, or the cider, but there was also a non-alcoholic ginger beer which I can say was delicious. These drinks are brewed especially for The Green Dragon, and if you want to take some home, they are available in the gift shop.
The bus ride back to the visitor centre was taken up with a short video that included clips from the movies and an interview with Russell Alexander about the Hobbiton site.
Returning to Tauranga
Before we left we spent a few minutes browsing though the gift shop. There are some really cool things to buy here, and some unique souvenirs from your New Zealand trip. We are still wondering though, how many people purchase that $900NZD wizard’s cloak?
On the return journey from Hobbiton to our cruise ship there was still plenty to learn and see. Amanda kept us entertained with local stories and random facts in between the scheduled information. Our first stop was at a road-side viewpoint as we passed over the hills separating the Bay of Plenty district from the Waikato district. We had a great view back towards Hobbiton over the Matamata-Piako Plains (although there was a big tree obstructing our view of Hobbiton itself!)
A little further down the highway we pulled off again, this time to take a look at a kiwi fruit plantation. This area grows around 80% of the world’s kiwi fruit, and it was interesting to learn that there are different methods to growing the gold kiwi fruit to the green kiwi fruit. There is also a pink kiwi fruit being developed, although it is not yet being grown in commercial quantities. I will be trying one as soon as I can get my hands on them!
Next was a stop at Mossops Honey to taste some of the delicious Manuka honey produced in the area. The shop also has a beehive built into the walls behind perspex, and it’s fascinating watching the bees go about their work. We tried searching for the queen, but she was not hanging out near the perspex for us to find. We tasted four types of honey, but even better was to come – included in our tour was an ice cream cone. If I remember rightly, there were a few different flavours, but we all chose honey flavoured ice cream. As we licked our cones, I do believe there was a murmur of “this is the best honey ice cream I’ve ever had!”
Thanks to our early start we were making good time, so Amanda offered to take us to another part of Tauranga where we could take some photos with Mount Maunganui and our cruise ship in the background. She then gave us some more suggestions as to what we could do in town since our ship wasn’t leaving until 9:30. When we chose to take a walk around the base of Mount Maunganui, instead of dropping us off at the cruise ship, she dropped us at the start of the walk instead.
What I Thought of the Hobbiton Tour
Overall I was very happy with the tour we chose. We got a lot more than just a visit to Hobbiton. Along with bottled water in the car, Amanda had also baked some brownies to share with us (gluten-free, just in case her customers needed them) and picked up a couple of cans of New Zealand’s favourite L&P soft drink. Wifi was also offered in the vehicle, but we were too busy chatting to test it out.
Hobbiton itself was everything I expected and more. As I said, I hadn’t even seen all the movies, so I’m clearly not the hugest fan but I still had a great time. I think anyone would enjoy visiting here. The only issues are that it is not wheelchair accessible and there is a reasonable amount of walking, including stairs, so that does have to be taken into consideration.
Amanda herself was fantastic. She really knew her stuff, and was easy to chat with about all sorts of things. We joked and laughed and had a great time gently fuelling the great Australia-New Zealand rivalry!
I was very happy with the value for money this tour provided. Given that Hobbiton tickets were $84NZD (increasing to $89NZD as of April 1st 2020) and this was a whole day tour, the price was very affordable, especially when compared to other similar tours. Then if I take into consideration that we ended up with a private tour, it was exceptionally cheap (but that was luck, I cannot guarantee the same for you).
Amanda (and I assume Stephen when he is taking the tour) had something special to share with us on the way back to Tauranga that no other tour operator has. It’s a secret though, so I will let you be surprised when you book your own tour with Adventure & Cultural Tours Bay of Plenty.
Book Your Own Hobbiton Tour
When booking I used Get your Guide to find this tour. For all the tour details, and to check availability and prices, click the link below
If you prefer to book using the Viator site, you can also do so, by clicking here.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.