Our precious…


Chris Gardner presents the latest chapter in the story of our own Hobbiton.

Chris Gardner investigates

Overseas visitors to Hobbiton Movie Set Tours are expected to contribute a precious $2.6 billion to the New Zealand economy this season, up from last season’s $2.42 billion.

Hobbiton is expecting to open its round doors to 570,000 visitors this season, about 7.5 per cent more than last season’s 530,000, chief executive Russell Alexander says.

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About 85 per cent of Hobbiton’s visitors travel from overseas to immerse themselves in the world of Middle-earth –  The fantasy created by  J.R.R. Tolkien for The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings and captured on film in two blockbusting trilogies directed by Kiwi Sir Peter Jackson.

Of this season’s projected visitors, 484,500 are expected to come from overseas.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment International Visitor Survey figures show the average spend per Middle-earth tourist is $5,377 compared to the average $3,855 spent.

Nicola Greenwell

Last month Warner Brothers announced two new movies based on Tolkien’s books were in production, the first, The Hunt for Gollum, is expected to be released in 2026.

“It’s fantastic to see the news that another two movies in The Lord of the Rings series are going to be made,” said Tourism New Zealand chief executive René de Monchy.

He said the March visitor survey showed 14 per cent of those who came here on holiday visited because of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

“After 20 years, 14 per cent is a pretty big number.”

Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Nicola Greenwell said Hobbiton had been a bucket-list experience for overseas travellers for nearly 20 years and was one of the most visited attractions in the Waikato.

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit…

Russell Alexander employs a team of 275 who welcome visitors on tours, enjoy Hobbit themed second breakfasts, run in Halfling Marathons across the set and the Alexander family farm, and explore the insides of two Hobbit holes belonging to the Proudfoot and Twofoot families on Bagshot Row.

The Hobbit holes opened in December.

“It was the missing element,” said Alexander.

The culmination of two years of planning, nine months of excavation, set decoration and an untold investment.

Russell Alexander

Tours began of the stripped set in 2002 after The Lord of the Rings had finished filming. The set was rebuilt with permanent materials in 2010 for The Hobbit trilogy. Since then, Alexander and his team have been adding value every year.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic scoured the world and Hobbiton was not immune.

“In one meeting we had to lay off 241 staff, and overnight we went to 26,” Alexander said.

Hobbiton was open and shut as New Zealand moved through different alert levels and the traffic light system was introduced.

“It was harsh. We came close to not coming through the other side.”

But just like the heroes it spawned in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, Hobbiton overcame.

The re-building of Bagshot Row signalled a post Covid recovery for the attraction, and the wider region.  Hobbiton has expanded tours by 20 minutes to allow visitors to linger in the Hobbit homes, reducing throughput by 120,000.

“It is an unexpected journey. It’s coming down to being the best we can be. There’s a lot of opportunity for some pretty cool events here.”

Hobbiton is staffed by a team from Cambridge, Hamilton, Matamata, Morrinsville, Tauranga, Te Aroha and Tokoroa.

Waitomo Adventures chief executive Nick Andreef was there on Bagshot Row on opening day and described the fully furnished Hobbit holes as “very impressive”.

“Hobbiton is a beacon of light,” Andreef said. “Hobbiton Movie Set is an incredibly powerful driver of visitors to the Waikato region and many people would be unaware of just how important it is.”

Nick Andreef

As Hobbiton’s closest town, Matamata continues to prosper on the back of The Lord of the Rings. Tourism, with a tourist bus leaving daily from the Middle-earth themed i-Site.

“Most people are going to Hobbiton,” said Chamber of Commerce Board member Lynette Stanley.

Matamata i-Site consultant Kathy Lethbridge continues to have daily enquiries about movie set tours. “It’s still just as popular,” she said.

Matamata Broadway’s Williams Jewellery’s Joy Williams said Middle-earth jewellery sales were not at 2002-2007 levels, but the stores had reduced its lines because many tourists just wanted to take photos with them.

Redoubt Bar and Eatery manager Kayla Hughes said business had returned to pre-pandemic levels with patrons popping in after visiting the set. “It’s really good, we are back to normal.”

See: Hobbiton – in tourists’ hands

Matamata i-Site consultants Celesete Heaslip, right, and Kathy Lethbridge received Hobbiton queries daily.


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Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner is a freelance communications professional.

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