It was the Easter school holidays and we were on a mission to check out accessibility at the Hobbiton Movie Set. We prepared ourselves by watching all the The Lord of The Rings movies again, The Fellowship Of The Rings, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King. It was a mammoth undertaking as each movie is around three hours long.
We had no idea how much we’d get to see with Finlay by using his powerchair. We hadn’t come across any reviews other than those in manual wheelchairs who were able to transfer onto the golf cart provided.
Packing up our van with everything but the kitchen sink we headed South. I decided it was going to be the powerchair or nothing and left Finlay’s Hippocampe All-terrain wheelchair behind. Sometimes hoisting Finlay into different seating in the morning can trigger lengthy muscle spasms. I wanted to make the trip as comfortable as I could for him and the rest of the family.
We travelled 138 km south from Auckland along Highway 1 and then turned off taking Highway 2 for signs to Matamata, a 15-minute drive from the Hobbiton Movie Set. Here we decided to spend the night in a central motel that could cater for myself, the three kids, a caregiver and a powerchair. These days we break up even our shorter journeys as it helps a lot when travelling any distance with Finlay.
Welcome to Hobbiton
Before setting off to the Hobbiton Movie Set you check-in at the base known as The Shire’s Rest. On arrival we parked up our van behind the ticketing office in the one marked mobility park. We had already pre-booked our tickets and informed them that Finlay was in a powerchair. They advised the importance of letting them know if you are unable to join their regular tour bus transport. Over the years the Hobbiton team have learnt to adapt their tours to best include as many access needs as they can. Originally when the movie set was created it wasn’t intended to be a tourist attraction.
Finlay is unable to self-transfer or sustain his posture on a seat without a great deal of support. We had our own transport and knew we would have to drive to the start of the movie set ourselves.
The Tour Buses
I have to say I am amazed how many tour busses Hobbiton has and none of them have wheelchair access. Pre-Covid this place was seeing over two thousand visitors daily and there used to be well over two hundred staff working here. Now, with the international borders closed those numbers have dwindled dramatically leaving around 25 staff to manage a steady stream of New Zealand visitors. We were told Kiwis were supporting them well and they were still seeing a good few hundred visitors a day.
In our lifetime, I would like to see wheelchair accessible tour buses included in Aotearoa New Zealand for all major tourist attractions.Tweet
The Golf Cart
The golf cart is used for those who are unable to step up into the regular tour bus. It doesn’t cater for all those with access needs unfortunately, as you need good upper-body strength to be able to self-transfer or be transferred onto the golf cart. Your manual wheelchair or walker is then either attached to the cart if it folds down or taken onto the Green Dragon Inn at the movie set. We have heard of many good reviews from wheelchair users who have thoroughly enjoyed the golf cart option. It even comes with your own personal friendly guide, Luke below being one of those people. Definitely not a bad option to the tour bus as you still get the full commentary and potentially cover areas that the regular tours don’t see.
Services dogs are allowed on the Movie Set by the way.
Ticketing Office & Souvenir Shop
The ticketing office and shop have plenty of space inside to circulate in. The two glass double doors were both opened out so we could come in and out easily. There were plenty of souvenirs to find here, our youngest got sucked in by the gold ring and chain under lock and key. We started to call him Gollum but then he finally conceded and settled on a mug for his keepsake.
The Shire’s Rest Cafe
An old straw bale barn has been converted into a cafe upstairs but wheelchair access hasn’t been provided. This was disappointing to see, but they assured us that they were looking into remedying it with potentially a wheelchair platform lift. Luckily it was a warm and dry Autumnal day to sit outside on the beautiful wooden benches dotted around under trees. The staff were accommodating bringing our orders outside to us. We all enjoyed a cooked breakfast before our tour started at 10.45am.
It was an easy wheel onto the flat, well-maintained grass to access the picnic style wooden benches. We didn’t feel ‘out on a limb’ at all as it was such a beautiful day and there were a number of tables occupied.
Although Finlay is unable to use standard accessible public toilets we always like to check out what they have on offer. It is becoming a familiar sight these days to find a baby changing table included.
The Hobbiton Movie Set
Finlay being unable to self-transfer or sit in the golf-cart meant Luke (golf cart driver/personal tour guide) accompanied us in our wheelchair accessible van to the start of the movie set. He was great fun to have onboard with his knowledge and passion around the making of the films. His enthusiasm was infectious and soon had us absorbed in the world of The Lord Of The Rings.
We parked up outside and Luke took the first photo of our motley crew at the entrance to the movie set. We were so lucky with the weather and spying the shelter stacked up with courtesy umbrellas reminded us of that. Finlay’s personal assistant for the day was Melissa who was overjoyed to be on a trip with us to Hobbiton. She’d read all the books, watched all the movies and was an absolute fan who enjoyed being tested on her knowledge by Luke. Apparently she only got two facts wrong on the whole way around!
Now it’s very hard not to take pictures of everything you see here. We were told there were 44 Hobbit holes to check out. We were absolutely entranced and delighted by them all. Apparently one of the fun things to do as you walk and wheel around is work out what’s real and what’s not. The creativity that has gone into every detail is incredible. Everything is so well maintained and manicured to keep it as real to the movie set as can be.
We were told to keep to the paths and not venture onto the grass. This is purely to maintain the set as it was when the movies were made. You will see subtle channeling in the hard-packed dirt paths to help drain away the rain. Finlay’s powerchair coped very well throughout. The paths are not a complete write off for a manual wheelchair, especially if the casters could be lifted with maybe a free wheel. But, for some of the steeper rises assistance will be often needed throughout. The hard-packed dirt paths are uneven in parts from the flattish cobbling in places. Along with lifting the caster wheels on a manual wheelchair fatter rear tyres would also help. It will be very much up to the ability you have with your chair and the support you have with you. The Golf Cart guide will be able to talk things over with you as they know the paths well.
The detail is incredible even down to the moss on the gates which apparently isn’t real. The brief was to make it look like old England. Check out the cheese sellers stand below.
The twisted exposed timber used on the houses are beautifully crafted.
Our youngest couldn’t help asking Luke if anyone had taken one of the honey pots away as a souvenir. He is always the little joker in the family.
Each Hobbit hole has its own unique character and with forty-four to get around we knew we had lots to see.
My camera was making the most of the eye candy around, so much thought and detail had gone into everything.
Sam and Rosie’s House
Finlay and I couldn’t head up to Bilbo Baggins house as the paths become steeper, a little more windy with a few steps. However, we could see it from afar and didn’t feel we were missing out too much. We were able to get right up to Sam and Rosie’s house though to enjoy the story behind the little wooden hobby horse perched beside the door.
This is where I saw a bumble bee on a flower and went up nice and close to see if it was real. Glad to say it was very real but that’s how clever the creators have been as you just can’t be sure.
In front of this house a chess game is all set up. We joked about moving the pieces to confuse the maintenance crew.
Luke would tell us many a tale of the movie set creation and point out locations where key scenes in the movie were filmed. One scene was when Gandolf came though The Shire on horseback.
The Party Field
While the other’s went up to check out Bilbo Baggins house we ventured into the Party Field which was home to the famous Party Tree to wait for them to come down. This large tree was in the centre of the field and was where Bilbo Baggins delivered one of his renowned long speeches before leaving the Shire.
Here we discovered a picturesque view over at the Shire with a lake, bridge, the old mill and what looked like the infamous Green Dragon Inn. We found a few fun activities to try out, such as a few pairs of walking stilts, a swing and a seesaw. It is here where you discover what landmarks Sir Peter Jackson sent his location scouts out to find. They managed to find what they were looking for on a humble private sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato.
On Our Way Towards The Bridge
It was a good option to use Finlay’s powerchair to attempt much of this tour. We probably found the hardest bit negotiating this narrow wooden pathway through the bush. It dropped away either side meaning we needed to be particularly visual as not to veer off the side. It only goes for a little way though and we managed it just fine. I did consider what it would be like after a heavy rainfall. I think, however, they have kept on top of drainage to keep weather erosion to a minimum.
Depending on ability, support and wheelchair you may decide to keep to the golf cart itself. You can reunite with your wheelchair once you arrive at the Green Dragon Inn for your courtesy ale. The guide will adapt and do whatever works best for you.
Gandolf’s Horse Cart
Apparently this is a favourite photo opportunity to sit on Gandolf’s horse cart. We couldn’t help filling in for the horse with Finlay and his super strong powerchair. The photo also gives you an idea of what they mean by ‘cobble stones.’ They aren’t the smaller ones that would be considered far too arduous in a manual wheelchair. They also aren’t everywhere, just in certain areas.
Before we went over the bridge, Luke, our tour guide mentioned that the bridge is actually made of a ceramic! He said if you knock on it you will see it is actually hollow. It looks so real! Luke wanted Finlay and I to take it really slowly over the bridge as not to distress the artificial ‘look-like’ cobble/paving stones we were driving over. This made me think just how hard they have to work keeping this movie set well maintained and true to the movies.
As you head over the bridge you are able to see The old Millhouse, which offers a more private dining space for up to 32 guests. They provide for corporate events, small wedding receptions and private dining spaces here.
The Infamous Green Dragon Inn
We entered the Green Dragon Inn from this side entry as the lip was just a little too high for the power chair at the front. The golf cart brings you out behind the inn and here is where you are greeted with your courtesy ale. The inn also accommodates the evening banquets when the Shire gets all lit up making it a real magical night tour to do.
The Green Dragon Inn provides an opportunity to see an inside location for the movies, plus the bar where Rosie Cotton served her fellow Hobbits behind. Finlay’s sister happily poses as Rosie Cotton in the book using some of the dress ups on hand. Doesn’t that cake look delicious and realistic?
The rest of us relaxed beside the open fire with our ale.
This place certainly took me back to an old public house in the midst of the English country side.
The Green Dragon Inn’s Accessible Toilet
We had to check to see how the accessible toilets faired in the inn. I mean this is a drinking place and a stopping point before you get back to the bus, golf cart or private vehicle. It was pretty okay but flushing the toilet may be an interesting feat. Again, of no use to our Finlay so we will have to dream of a Changing Place one day finding its way here. We were very lucky on this tour not to need it however.
The Way Out
The golf cart would generally take you back to base from the Green Dragon Inn. Luke offered to wait with everyone while I headed off to get our van. However, as the powerchair was coping so well we decided to carry on around the lake to where our van was parked instead and take in a few more hobbit holes.
Find out more
By visiting their website
Where we stayed
It is worth reading about our accessible accommodation at The Matamata Central Motel. We will also fill you in with some access tips for the town Matamata itself.
Our saving grace
On our way back to Auckland we detoured through Hamilton to check out the new Waikato Expressway. The route took us right passed the Hamilton Gardens and knowing there was a Changing Place here proved to be a life saviour.