Let’s Go Exploring! Hobbiton and Auckland, New Zealand: Fangirling over the Lord of the Rings

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“My PRECIOUSssss…” I whispered, clutching the Hobbiton map to my chest as our tour bus rolled through the lush green hills of New Zealand, straight to the Shire.

Ever since watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy way back in my college days (its epic 3 hour length was perfect for procrastinating from exam studying), I dreamt of going to New Zealand. There were two things I lusted over back then: Legolas’s sexy flowing blond mane and the dramatic snow-covered mountain peaks of New Zealand, where the movie was filmed. What I wouldn’t have given to sit inside a hobbit hole, hike to the peak of Mount Doom, or enjoy a pint at the famous Green Dragon pub.

Now, 12 years later, that dream finally became a reality. And now I was seal clapping and gushing over every tree, blade of grass, and hobbit hole I laid my eyes on. The entire 2-hour drive there from Auckland, we’d been listening to the movie soundtrack on a loop, and now, after a short 5 min bus ride from the studio entrance, I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in front of Bag End, Bilbo Baggins’ house!

“Notice anything strange about that tree?” asked our guide, a bubbly young brunette in full hobbit uniform, pointing to the oak tree on top of the roof.

I stared at its dark green leaves, squinting at the bright sun rays peeking through. I’d been so busy gaping at Bilbo’s pipe, lying on the bench in his front yard and the famous “No Admittance. Except on party business” sign that I hadn’t even noticed it.

“The leaves aren’t moving?” I replied.

“That’s right,” said our guide. “They’re fake! Peter Jackson had 40,000 artificial leaves flown in from Taiwan. They had to be individually attached by hand and spray painted to match the exact shade of green in the book.”

Geez, I thought. That’s more effort than I’ve put into anything in my whole life! Turns out the attention to detail didn’t stop there.

“Here’s another fun fact,” our guide continued. “You see those trees over there?”

“Yeah?”

“Tolkien describes children playing under plum trees in the book but Peter felt they would look too big relative to the rest of the set so he had apple and pear trees planted instead. But to be true to the descriptions, he had the fruit on the trees be manually replaced with fake plums.”

OK. This guy is either a genius or seriously OCD.

“They even had a designated ‘frog transporter’ on set, whose only job was to transport the frogs (which had to be flown in from Australia) to another pond so that their noises wouldn’t disrupt the dialogue in the film.”

Ok that’s insane. I wonder if that job came with health benefits. Like if you get warts or something, is that considered a work-related injury?

“And finally, do you know why this yellow hobbit hole door is much bigger than this blue one?”

 “Why?”

“It’s a camera trick. Gandalf is a wizard who needs to be towering over Frodo, the hobbit. But since the actor Sir Ian Mckellen isn’t much taller than Elijah Wood, Peter Jackson had the door behind Elijah built bigger to make him look shorter and Sir Ian’s door built tiny to make him look giant.”

And this is why if you’re a film nerd, you can’t go to Auckland and not do a day trip to visit Hobbiton in Matamata.  You can even have a drink at the Green Goblin inn without a designated driver on the way back, because they serve ginger beer. And here’s another fun fact: the Inn was actually burned down for the scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo looks into the Mirror of Galadriel and sees orcs invading the Shire. They later built it back so it could be used as a tourist attraction.

Back in Auckland, we stayed in a Home Exchange, a massive 4 bedroom 2 bathroom house in Devonport, a quaint bayside village just a 15 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.

Devonport, I found out, also happened to be the birthplace of singer Lordes and had spectacular views of Auckland when you climbed to the top of the dormant North Head volcano (or “Maungauika” in Māori):

Renting a car was easy from Shore Rentals and given that the entire population of New Zealand is only 5 million (1.7 million of whom live in Auckland), the road weren’t too congested and other drivers were in general, quite chill.

Wanderer found it a bit unnerving to be driving on the opposite side of the road (although, if you’re from the UK, you’d feel right at home) but luckily our trusty Hobbiton guide told us about a lifesaving rule.

“Whenever you drive in a foreign country, think ‘Passenger = Pavement.’”

This means whenever you drive, keep your passenger on the pavement side of the road. This was helpful since it meant we didn’t have to think too hard about which direction to turn and which side of the road to be on. Plus, it works regardless of which country you are in.

Another highlight of our time in Auckland was meeting up with Joanne and Jon, a producer from Warner Brothers and a Hollywood director whom we met while working on a FIRE TV show. Prior to the pandemic, Jon had fallen in love with New Zealand after vacationing there with his wife and wanted to move there permanently. After meeting us, he ended up selling his house in L.A and doing the whole geo-arbitrage thing.

You know L.A prices are cray cray when you end up moving to New Zealand to save money. I know this because grocery prices in Auckland were atrocious! I thought Melbourne and Sydney were bad, but this was a whole new level.

Even after having been to Switzerland, Japan, Sweden, and Denmark, New Zealand still managed to sticker shock me whenever I hit the grocery stores. The only other place with more expensive groceries that we’d been to is Iceland.

Eggs were almost $1 each and even at that price, they ran out!

I was later told by my Home Exchange host that the reason why the prices are insane and inventory low is that the government recently passed a law phasing out caged eggs, which caused farmers to scramble (no pun intended), leading to a shortage.

Pack ‘n Save ended up being the cheapest grocery store, but difficult to get to without driving. Luckily, lamb was abundant and reasonably priced but sadly, since I can’t eat lamb, I lived vicariously through Wanderer who declared it the best lamb he’d ever eaten.

Best lamb ever? My gag reflect still won’t let me eat it.

Attractions

Other than a day trip to Hobbiton, attractions we visited in Auckland included taking a ferry to Waiheke island (a chill place for biking and hiking), the War Memorial museum (which is free on certain holidays like Anzac day), and a free walking tour downtown. We were also planning to visit Rangitoto, a dormant volcano you can climb, but ended up running out of time.

Our tour guide gave us helpful tips like visiting https://heartofthecity.co.nz for a list of city events and buying tickets through https://www.bookme.co.nz to get discounts for attractions all over New Zealand.

She also told us that New Zealand has 3 official languages: Māori, English, and Sign language. Their reverence for their Māori native culture was also reflected in their “silver fern” symbolism, a species of fern only found in New Zealand, whose leaves reflect moonlight, making it a useful guide to navigate through the bush at night.

If you’re coming to visit New Zealand, you basically have to land in Auckland, so if you are a Lord of the Rings nerd like me, don’t miss a day trip to Hobbiton while you’re here. Auckland is more of a place to work, so for nature, we ended leaving visiting another place in New Zealand, which in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in the world. We’ll talk about that in a future post, but in the meantime, can you guess what that place is?

Here’s how much we spent:

Category
Cost in USD/couple per day
Cost in CAD/couple per day
Notes
Accommodations$0$0Since we stayed in a Home Exchange we ended up spending nothing on accommodations, except for the rent back home ($51/day for two people).
Food
$31.11
$42.31 ($17.69 eating out, $24.62 groceries)Despite groceries being atrociously expensive, we managed to stock up at Pack ‘n Save after renting a car, and we saved a ton of money on eating out because the local grocery store had pre-made food discounted at 80% of the original price at the end of each day. We ended up packing sandwiches and eating out only once or twice the whole 9 days we were there.
Transportation$74.67$101.55Transportation ended up being the most expensive category because not only did we need to by plane tickets for $200 USD/person to get from Sydney to Auckland, we also needed to rent the car ($50 USD/day + $35 for gas) for the day trip to Hobbiton, plus a few bus rides ($2.60 USD/person/day), the Uber to and from the Airport ($77 USD), and a ferry ride ($28 USD/person). Amortized over 9 days, it ended up costing us around $75 USD/couple/day.
Entertainment$14.96$20.35Hobbiton entry tickets cost us around $110 USD/person. We also tipped for the free walking tour. Amortized over 9 days, it ended up costing us around $15 USD/couple/day. Other than that, the museum, volcano, and hiking were free.
Total$120.74$164.21Auckland is not a cheap place but it was worth every penny. I can’t believe I actually got to visit a Lord of the Rings set and the entry ticket to Hobbiton, in my opinion, is totally worth it.


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27 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Hobbiton and Auckland, New Zealand: Fangirling over the Lord of the Rings”

  1. As I read your blogs I travel vicariously with you. This place would be a wonderful place to take grandkids to visit. Fun!

  2. LOL. How about the costs of plane from North America, collision , medical and travel insurance, costs of home exchange membership and fees ? For some reason, mere mortals like me have to allocate thousands and thousands $ more for travel in the real world on similar trips . The Truth is that travel IS expensive.

    1. Yup, when I was still working, that was also my mindset. BUT once I realised that I could give up my home, and free that budget for travel, becoming a nomad was affordable.
      And most of us use geo-arbitrage to balance expensive destinations against less expensive destinations to manage our budget. For example, in 2019, I flew to Australia for about a month, with a side trip to Tasmania, then to New Zealand for two weeks, touring by train. Next was Chile and a side trip to Mendoza Argentina, and then Colombia where I was locked down for 10 months as the pandemic raged across the globe. My budget each year remains the same because I don’t have an “at home” drain of cash.

    2. Aren’t you a real downer… must be one of those folks that think vacation is the equivalent of staying in a RV park year after year.

      Travel/medical insurance is included for free with most travel credit cards.

      North America – Australia/NZ cost less than $1000 during a sale, or just cash in some points.

      Home exchange memberships cost next to nothing or just stay in hostels.

      Live a little geez.

      1. You should check your privilege. Most people have responsibilities to their country , business, clients, family and children and can’t go away any old time larking around. Our family of 4 just got back from Sydney visiting relatives for 2 weeks. Airfare economy was $2500 each, lodging $ 300-450 night , food $150 a day , Avis rental $120 day. The costs in these articles are always understated .

        1. I have long ignored this website’s so-called “cost estimates” when it comes to travel.

      2. >>Travel/medical insurance is included for free with most travel credit cards.

        Hmm. Cards that offer medical insurance have a high annual fee. Name one that doesn’t have a high annual fee.

        >>North America – Australia/NZ cost less than $1000 during a sale, or just cash in some points.

        Points require spending in the first place to get “rewarded” with those points. For the average responsible person, you can only obtain so many points per year without spending extravagantly. (P.S. Cheap airfare usually means more connections. The ones you mentioned probably require a total travel time of 32-48 hours.)

        >>Home exchange memberships cost next to nothing or just stay in hostels.

        You need to have a home in order to do home exchange. Your home still costs money. Hostels … really? You want to use a communal bathroom. Is that why you want to FIRE?

    3. Just my $0.02…

      I wholeheartedly believe this blog does a pretty good job of telling its readers how to create the results you want to have BUT it also doesn’t just land on your lap on a silver platter. You need to put in the effort and do the work!

      And while I would concur with you there is really nothing wrong with any of us doing things the “normal” way and getting “normal” results, this all comes down to a personal matter of choice! The authors clearly made theirs and what you need to realize is these two are simply “abnormal” people doing “abnormal” things to create the “extraordinary” results they want to live…, and they are not alone! Personally, I am so done with “normal” so my vote is clearly for the latter!

      ImmigrantOnFIRE

  3. “Colombia where I was locked down for 10 months as the pandemic raged across the globe”

    That sounds like a perfect place to spend a 10 month lockdown. Colombia.

    *rolling eyes*

  4. I don’t quite get how to use Home Exchange as a traveling nomad? Don’t you need a home to exchange?

  5. Yeah you made it!! Sorry for the weather, its still the last days of winter here but come October it would be beautiful sunny again. Too bad you could only stay a few days here, there is so much to see. Yes inflation has really hit hard here and groceries are expensive but shopping at Asian and night markets can cut your food bill in half. For eating out, ask a local for all the cheap places and sites like https://new.grabone.co.nz/auckland. My favorite local takeaway place I can get dishes between $10-15. Accommodation and travel is usually expensive but airbnb, roomies, facebook flatting sites assist and its best to buy a second hand car here if you coming for longer than a month because NZ is so awesome. I hope the other place you visited was Gisborne, Wanderer would have been able to see a lot of lambs up close and personal. NZ is best seen by road as its got so much raw beauty and hidden places. Every road trip I had taken here, I have discovered places like a beautiful river off the beaten path. I do hope you enjoyed your time in my beautiful country and will come back soon. Oh and while you here, pop over to Fiji for a week, its like Hawaii but better.

  6. Another excellent post. I live in Toronto for over 2 decades now, but spent a year in Christ Church New Zealand when my wife was a student there before we moved to Canada.

    Assuming that you guys use your rental apartment in Toronto for the purpose of Home Exchange, it looks like your monthly rent is quite reasonable. I guess it is a one bedroom unit. Just curious whether you earn enough points for the two of you to travel free. I am not familiar with the Home Exchange system, but this sounds like a great idea.

    A bit off the topic: are you guys going to share an update re: how your investment portfolio is doing? Hope the dividends are enough to sustain your global travel plans.

  7. If you’re spending a little more time on North Island, my guess is:
    Waipoua Forest or
    Karekare beach (another movie location)

  8. Despite groceries being atrociously expensive, we managed to stock up at Pack ‘n Save after renting a car, and we saved a ton of money on eating out because the local grocery store had pre-made food discounted at 80% of the original price at the end of each day. We ended up packing sandwiches and eating out only once or twice the whole 9 days we were there.

    ———

    Going on 3 years now having FIREd and when I pulled the plug, I told myself not to FIRE until I could feel wealthy (mentally). That meant drawing 4% a year and actually doing my best to spend it all without regret. So far, I’m doing ok. Currently in Helsinki. Prices for everything are high. Grocery prices are nuts. Eating out is even more nuts. I’m still careful (currently looks like I’ll have spent about 3.3%-3.5% of my portfolio worth for 2023 – without going to the 80% discounted food. Sorry…focussing on the 80% discounted food turned me off. I don’t waste my money. Try to get the most from it. But no, looking always at the discount bin was not my raison-d’être when FIREing.

    1. I’ll add, everyone can do as they please on how they spend their money. It’s good to get multiple viewpoints on the topic as it enriches the readers on the variety of ways FIRE can work for each of us. What works for one doesn’t mean it works for others. And vice versa.

  9. Love the blog! And yay NZ my country of birth! I guess the most beautiful place with nature would be Fiordland or Stewart Island, but there are so many more less well known beautiful places in New Zealand it is really hard to guess!
    Unfortunately groceries are super expensive partially because of the terrible weather NZ had last summer, which wiped out a lot of crops (and obviously it is an island so stuff was already pretty expensive).
    Enjoy your trip!

  10. Welcome to NZ! Auckland is literally our most expensive city to live in, so congrats on navigating it and spending as little as you did.

    Really glad you guys are having a great time here, and looking forward to your next post! Really curious to hear more about how you navigate the prices here (I’m told we’re a VERY expensive country to live in).

  11. We went to New Zealand in January of 2023.
    I would have to say my favorite place was Mt. Cook national park.
    Beautiful scenery and great hiking.

  12. If you went to one place other than Auckland, I guess you went to Queenstown.

    For me, that sort of quick dip in to a couple of places really misses out on what New Zealand has to offer. I’ve been lucky enough to visit NZ three times, each time for a month or more, and one of my FIRE goals is to be able to travel there in early retirement without a hurried schedule. It has a massive amount for the traveller to see, it’s the perfect road trip destination.

    On my first visit I bumped into a couple of Scottish girls who summed it up well – they had 8 weeks to see Australia and New Zealand, so they split the time in proportion to the sizes – 6 weeks for Oz, 2 weeks for NZ. Biiiiig mistake, they said. Australia is very nice but mainly cities around the edge; NZ is, well, granular. Volcanic terrain makes for slow roads, and it has a mix of things to see – mountains and glaciers, volcanoes and geothermal stuff, Maori culture, adventure sports, beaches, native bush.

    It’s often said that going to NZ for the cities is missing the point. (Though I have to say I have a soft spot for Wellington, home of the Lord of the Rings films and a lovely city.) If you can, and FIRE folk can if anyone can, devote some time to travelling the country slowly.

    1. Hi from Wellington! Which is a great place to live (if you can afford it); I just wrote a guide about what to do in Wellington on my site (linked). It’s also the city in NZ that is least car-reliant. But I also wouldn’t visit NZ for the cities.

      I have had the idea, though, that over Christmas break, if in NZ, cities might be the easiest places to go. I say that after struggling to find accommodation and rental cars in Queenstown/Wanaka last Christmas. Everyone leaves the city so it might be a good time to go to the city. I keep on forgetting this. Well, this year we’re going to Canada for Christmas (not my first choice either).

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