The school holidays were upon us and I announced to the kids that we were off to visit the Hobbiton movie set down in the Waikato. We binge-watched the entire Lord Of The Rings film trilogy to make sure we were prepared. Our family is always keen to visit somewhere new, but we do have to plan as much as we can to get the most out of any trip.
Our oldest, Finlay, is sixteen years old, non-verbal, and uses a power wheelchair for his mobility. His transfers are all performed using a mobile hoist, so family holidays outside the home can often feel like a leap of faith. Going anywhere entails a lot of planning and packing, even for one night away!
We decided to spend a night close to the Hobbiton movie set, in the small farming town of Matamata. We knew it was essential to pre-book for Hobbiton, to prepare the staff for our access needs.
The movie set is located on private farmland, so you arrive first at The Shire’s Rest and park, before taking a bus to the movie set. At The Shire’s Rest, you’ll find plenty of parking, the ticket office, souvenir shop, cafe, accessible toilets, and a fleet of green tour buses. Because the buses aren’t wheelchair accessible, we were advised we would have our own personal golf-cart tour instead. This got the kids excited – there’s nothing like getting VIP treatment!
We arrived early to grab some breakfast at the cafe. We discovered the cafe was accessible only via a mountain of steps. We were told there were plans to remedy this with a lift in the future, but that didn’t help us much on the day. Our other option was to sit in the garden below, and have the staff go up and down with our orders, so we took that alternative. After finishing our delicious breakfast, we were greeted by our charming personal guide for the tour. His name was Luke, and he instantly made us all feel at ease.
Finlay’s not able to self-transfer or sit in the golf cart, due to his cerebral palsy. So, Luke opted to accompany us in our wheelchair accessible van to the start of the movie set. He was great fun to have on board, with his knowledge and passion around the making of the films. His enthusiasm was infectious, and he soon had us absorbed in the world of the Lord Of The Rings.
Taking Finlay’s powerchair to Hobbiton was the best choice for us. Generally, with the golf cart tour, you are taken around alternative back ways to access parts of the movie set. A manual wheelchair or walker can either be attached to the back of the cart, or be taken into the infamous Green Dragon Inn to await your arrival there. The powerchair allowed us to follow behind most of the general tour group, with our own personal guide.
There was so much to take in, and I used my camera to snap one picturesque scene after another. We were absolutely entranced and delighted by everything we saw. The creativity that has gone into every detail is incredible. Luke pointed out items along the way and we guessed whether they were real or not. Pretty much everything, down to the moss on the gates, has been painstakingly created.
The 44 little Hobbit holes have their own unique characters, with a different garden scene behind every miniature picket fence. Finlay and I couldn’t head up to Bilbo Baggins’ house, as the paths became steeper and more winding, with a few steps. However, we could see it from afar, and didn’t feel like we were missing out on too much.
We then descended onto the Party Field, home to the famous Party Tree where Bilbo Baggins delivered one of his renowned speeches before leaving the Shire. Here is where you can see all the landmarks Sir Peter Jackson sent his location scouts out to search for. Who would have thought a humble private sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato would hold the perfect location?
Everything in Hobbiton has been kept as it was when the movies were first made. The hard-packed dirt paths are well maintained to prevent any water damage or wear-and-tear. When the movie set was first created, they wouldn’t have foreseen it becoming the international tourist attraction it is today. Access for wheelchairs hadn’t even entered their minds! I was extra-impressed, therefore, by how much we could access with the powerchair. We were even able to wheel all the way across the bridge, past the Millhouse and Gandalf’s horse cart, to enjoy a courtesy pint of ale inside the Green Dragon Inn.
The Inn has more accessible toilets, a roaring log fire, and it’s easy to imagine Rosie behind the bar pulling a pint with all your favourite Hobbits around you.
We felt real family inclusion at Hobbiton, in terms of adapting to our access needs. Our family was buzzing for days after our visit. The Hobbiton movie set is a must-do when in New Zealand, no matter what your access needs are.
Kimberly Graham writes about accessible and inclusive travel at grabyourwheels.nz.
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.