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JOURNEY TO MIDDLE EARTH

For a family holiday that’s filled with fantasy, adventure and a dash of luxury, there can be no other place than Tolkien’s New Zealand.


WORDS Rebecca Lawson

Wizards, wands, enchanted forests, dragons, treasure…and some pretty fine local wines. What more could you need on a family holiday? New Zealand has again become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, as Peter Jackson once more casts the country’s undulating pastures and jagged snow-tipped mountain ranges as the star in his Tolkien epic, The Hobbit.

As all Middle Earth fans out there know, The Hobbit is actually the prequel to its more well-known big brother, The Lord of the Rings, and it’s drastically shorter length and less complex storyline has earned it a far more child-friendly reputation, so New Zealand is answering with some fantastic family-friendly travel tours and ideas.

The best place to start your ‘Unexpected Journey’ of Middle Earth (or New Zealand, as it used to be known) is where Bilbo Baggins did; in Hobbiton, or thereabouts. The Hobbiton film set is being permanently maintained as a theme destination and is now complete with the Shire’s Rest Café and Gift Shop. Both are nestled amongst the softly lit, emerald dappled hills of Matamata, the perfect rural idyll and just as Tolkien must have imagined.

Matamata lies in the middle of the north island and about two hours’ drive from Auckland or 45 mins in the car from Rotorua, but of course if you want to discover it in true style (although admittedly not like Bilbo did) we recommend choppering in – you can always pretend you’re on the back of a dragon. Helipro is a great company to hire your ride with – they are used to kids and know all about Hobbiton tours. In fact, they recommend the flight from Taupo to Hobbiton for its fantastically atmospheric views which include the Huka Falls and the active geothermal areas of Orakei Korako.

Main image: Hobbiton Movie Set, images courtesy
of Ian Brodie Photos. Film Stills courtesy of New Line
Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure 'The Hobbit: An
Unexpected Adventure', a Warmer Bros. Pictures' release

 

This works out quite well because one of New Zealand’s secret gems lies in Taupo, The Point Villas, and isn’t it handy that they have their own helipad? This stunning property is comprised of only two exclusive villas, designed to blend in with the natural surroundings. Offering complete privacy, the villas are both perfect for families and are fully appointed with every luxury you could require and Bilbo had to do without, including magna solar heated pools. They are also fully self-contained, or if that seems a little like hard work, there is a full valet service and world-class chef on hand who knows all about ‘second breakfasts’ – and if you don’t, you’d better read up on your Tolkien before your expedition sets off.

There also a number of companies who offer private day tours from Auckland to the Hobbiton film set. Absolute New Zealand Tours, for example, organises tailor-made, fully-escorted trips for the family. The two-hour drive from the capital to Matamata takes a meandering path through the rolling farmland of the Waikato region – the perfect way to set the mood for a day in The Shire.

Of course, not all Tolkien’s tale is told in Hobbiton, and there are various other locations throughout New Zealand that were used in filming. Absolute New Zealand Tours also organise a 14 day Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton tour which ventures much further afield, all the way to Rivendell, which was filmed in Kaitoke Regional Park in Upper Hutt, and beyond. This tour covers both islands and takes you to the majority of the filming locations, including Wellington which is production central down to the Queenstown area, home to the Misty Mountains in Norwest Lakes, and much more.

With Peter Jackson (the cinematic expert on Tolkien and the director of all the Middle Earth films to date) deciding to extend the originally planned duo of films into a fully-fledged trilogy, it seems all things Baggins will be at the forefront of pop culture for a few years yet, so think how special your kids will feel when they can chant “I’ve been there…” throughout the films.


Stay: The Point Villas www.thepointvillas.co.nz 

Info: HeliPro www.helipro.co.nz 
 Absolute New Zealand www.absolutenewzealand.com
 Hobbiton Tours www.hobbitontours.com



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