While it was snubbed from a Golden Globe nomination today, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wins our award for the movie that inspired the most travel in 2012. Opening in theaters worldwide this weekend, this latest installment in filmmaker Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy is creating a surge of tourism in New Zealand, with fans from all over the world raring to see the filming locations.
Hobbit fever is sweeping New Zealand, where about 150 locations were used for Lord of the Rings films scenery. From their Hobbit-themed plane to their unexpected safety video featuring the epic’s mythical creatures, Air New Zealand is now dubbed the “airline of Middle-earth.” And Auckland’s Wellington Airport welcomes throngs of fans with a giant sculpture of Gollum and a sign that reads, “The Middle of Middle-earth.”
New Zealand is certainly embracing Hobbit mania and reveling in their otherworldly status. The mecca of all this mania is Hobbiton, the movie-set-turned-tourist-attraction. You can tour the 44 hobbit holes set in the picturesque rolling hills of Matamata’s countryside to see how the furry-footed creatures live. You can even drink like a hobbit at Green Dragon, a Hobbit-themed pub that recently opened in Hobbiton. We do wonder, however, if this bar skips the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule so barefoot “little folk” can join the party.
But it’s not only the man-made wonders that are getting fan traffic. New Zealand’s natural wonders that provided the dramatic backdrops in the films are also getting a spotlight. One of the most-visited geological marvels in New Zealand is the mystical Milford Sound, which Rudyard Kipling called the “8th wonder of the world”. This fjord on the South Island is part of the protected Fiordland National Park. Now it’s even more popular due to its cameos in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Can’t get enough of the enchanting haflings? See more locations from the films in our Follow the Hobbit trail slideshow. And even if you’re not part of the fandom, don’t fear; there’s a lot more to New Zealand then Hobbit treks. Even without a Hobbit sighting, the natural beauty here is simply magical.