WWOOFING: How to Travel for Almost Nothing

What is WWOOF?

Definition: WWOOFING: Willing Workers on Organic Farms

WWOOFing allows volunteers who are willing to contribute to their hosts’s property the chance to trade work for their meals and accommodations.

Andrew and I spent most of our first four months in New Zealand participating in the WWOOFing experience with several different families since we wanted to stretch our finances and didn’t want to have to work until after Christmas. It also gave us a chance to truly experience local culture and customs since, at each point, we were living with our host family as though we were family ourselves.

WWOOFing Improvements
WWOOFing Improvements

Where WWOOFing Is Available

There are a surprising number of countries that offer WWOOFing. Each country has its own WWOOF page that allows volunteers and hosts to find each other. There is usually a nominal fee to join, thus preventing those who aren’t at least somewhat serious from creating an issue.

The site for New Zealand is located here: http://www.wwoof.co.nz/

Countries that offer WWOOFing include:

  • Nigeria
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Peru
  • USA
  • Australia
  • China
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • New Zealand
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Thailand
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • Poland
  • …the list goes on!

The Work Involved

Each place is different and each host family has different requirements. No two families are the same and, even within one family, no two days are usually the same!

Trampoline Time!
Trampoline Time!

Most of the time, host families require guests to work for four to six hours each day in exchange for their meals and accommodation. Like families though, this ‘rule’ is somewhat flexible and variable! Andrew and I have stayed where we were required to perform only one to two hours of work most days, but had to prepare our own meals. We have been able to work more hours on one day to earn a day off and we have stayed with families that insist we take one day off per week.

Sheep Shearing
Sheep Shearing

It is important to discuss with each family what their requirements are, what their expectations are, and make sure that communication flows openly both ways. We were also fortunate enough with each family we stayed with that they were willing to teach and instruct us in areas where we weren’t familiar. I know more about gardening, types of plants, types of fertilizer, and how to prune grape vines than I ever expected to!

Picking Up Dinner - Pipi's!
Picking Up Dinner – Pipi’s!

Some of the tasks that we have performed/assisted with have included:

  • Childcare
  • Tutoring
  • Collecting dinner from the ocean
  • Sheep shearing
  • Gardening
  • Orchard work
  • Construction
  • Painting
  • Pruning
  • House sitting
  • Dog Walking
  • Feeding and caring for critters including pigs and chickens
  • Cleaning

The Fun Involved

Guy Fawkes Fireworks
Guy Fawkes Fireworks

All work and no play is, well, rather dull! It is supposed to be a vacation after all!

Each WWOOF place offers unique opportunities depending on the family, the area, and what your interests are! I have really enjoyed sharing our host families lives, getting to know their children, and experience life as a local kiwi.

Guy Fawkes Bonfire
Guy Fawkes Bonfire

We had the opportunity to go trick-or-treating with the kids of our host family and experience the Guy Fawkes fireworks with them. We have also gone caving with a different host family and had the opportunity to go sea kayaking with another.

90 Mile Beach Bodyboarding
90 Mile Beach Bodyboarding

We had the chance to go bodyboarding on 90 mile beach and made some awesome new friends to go hiking and swimming with.

Christmas Pool Frisbee
Christmas Pool Frisbee

We also had a family to spend Christmas with, which made New Zealand feel a little bit more like home, especially around the holidays.

That the family had a pool and absolutely stunning gardens was also a huge plus.  We got to spend our mornings helping in the gardens and our afternoons in the pool, on the hammock, or relaxing in the hot tub.

Another huge advantage of WWOOFing is sharing recipes. With most of our host families, they have done the cooking. There’s nothing like finishing up work for the morning and walking into the kitchen to the smell of a wonderfully prepared lunch. We have enjoyed making dinner for

Abby Caves
Abby Caves

them as well, introducing them to things like sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving and sharing our traditions as well.  I’m not sure I ever would have tried clam fritters, lamb roast on a spit, or fresh caught snapper.

Who Can Do It?

Catan with our fellow WWOOF'ers
Catan with our fellow WWOOF’ers

Nearly anyone! We have encountered host families that have had people of all types from age five to ninety five!

It is important to make sure ahead of time that your host family doesn’t mind if you bring children/pets/spouses though. Some prefer only young-ish single people, whereas some will take anyone with the right skills.


Horseback Riding in Raglan

Horseback riding is something that I have always wanted to learn and, now, I have a chance to do so! When I looked into it in Calgary, everywhere I found wanted me to pay a membership, join their club, and basically lay out a few hundred dollars before I even got to see a horse. While I can see their viewpoint, that just wasn’t feasible as a student with limited funds.

In Raglan, I have been getting lessons through Spirit Rides from the amazing Stephanie (check out her website here).

Riding Quinn on the beach
Riding Quinn on the beach

There are so many options for trail rides in New Zealand that I really wanted to be more confident on horseback than I was. Most of my previous riding experience has been “Here is a horse. Sit on the saddle. Hold the reins. Stay on the horse while he follows the horse in front of him.”

I have been riding weekly for a couple of months now and have progressed to an English saddle (which feels completely different from a western saddle!!) and have worked up to a trot. There’s only been one small mishap when Yasmina, a 17 hand beauty, got a bit spooked and decided she really didn’t want me on her back. I was already a bit unbalanced and she managed to toss me onto the ground. No damage though and I got right back up. Andrew told me I have to get thrown 7 times to be a cowboy, so I guess only 6 more to go!Stephanie started me on a pad, which is basically a slightly cushioned blanket that is shaped like a saddle. The idea is to really feel the way the horse moves and to learn to plug my butt into the horse so that I move with him instead of as a separate entity. It was such an awesome experience that I decided to go back!

Beach Ride in Raglan
Beach Ride in Raglan

Stephanie is incredibly knowledgeable and patient, gently reminding me whenever I forget to keep my legs in position or let my hands drop from the correct position or start to let my posture slip. I know that when we go on a trail ride I’m going to hear her voice in my head correcting me, which is awesome!

I feel a lot more confident now and wonder how I managed on trail rides before. I am a little sad that leaving Raglan will mean leaving the lessons, but at the same time I am looking forward to applying what I’ve learned and seeing some of New Zealand’s amazing scenery from horseback.

Last week I had the chance to ride along the beach, from Ocean beach all the way to Ngaranui beach. I had a bit of a hard time getting Santo to actually trot, but that isn’t a bad thing, I guess! Better to not be able to get a horse to move faster than not be able to get a horse to stop.

I am really looking forward to attempting to gallop/canter along the beach, but I’m a little nervous too. Moving that quickly on something with a mind of its own without a seatbelt or restraint is a little bit intimidating! I’m sure it will be exciting.


Raglan: Top 5 Things to Do

Raglan is a small community located to the west of Hamilton and southwest of Auckland. Probably best known for the famous ‘left hand break’ on the surf beaches, Raglan also sports safe swimming beaches, boutique shopping, and some quality tramping tracks nearby. The people here are friendly, laid back, and proud of their town.


Map of Raglan

Did I mention laid back? Raglan is an artsy surf community full of fun people. Wondering what to do in this awesome little town? Check out my suggestions!


My Husband and I Ready to Surf!

Famous for it’s left hand break and consistent waves, Raglan is an amazing surf community. Situated on the west coast of New Zealand. Surfing on the Tasman sea is much warmer than the Pacific ocean on the other side of New Zealand. Water temperatures in the summer reach 20 C-24 C, which makes for pleasant surfing.

You can also purchase surfing items at the Online Surf Shop.

The beaches of New Zealand offer some of the most consistent surfing of anywhere in New Zealand, with the break at Manu Bay famous for allowing rides of up to 2km. Any day is a good surf day in New Zealand!

There are a number of surf beaches in New Zealand:

  1. Ngaranui Beach – Beach surf, consistent, great for beginner to intermediate surfers
  2. Manu Bay – Famous left hand break – longest and most consistent in the world! Surf break with rocky beach and rocks in the water so best for intermediate to experienced surfers.
  3. Whale Bay – surf break good for experienced surfers. Long paddle, with exposed rocks

There are also a number of awesome surf schools in the area. Andrew and I had an amazing time doing a five day surf course with Steve at Surf Safe, which we would highly recommend to anyone with enough time! He also does introductory courses, which are great for those just starting.


If you are looking for the Warehouse or McDonalds, you aren’t going to find what you are looking for in Raglan. If you want boutique artisan shops, surf shops, and good food from small cafes and chip shops, then look no further!


Surf Shops Everywhere

Pedestrian friendly, the central district of Raglan has many unique shops featuring work of local artists, fun clothes, crafty gifts, and surfing gear. There are, I believe, four surf shops in Raglan, as well as custom surf and long board shops for those looking for something made especially for them. It’s certainly worth spending an afternoon wandering around.

Harbour View: Good Food and Great Beer!

If you get tired or hungry on your shopping excursion, then look no further than the three bars, handful of cafes, or collection of other small restaurants to quench your thirst. Many of the local bars feature the BEvERages of the Good George Brewing Company, based in nearby Hamilton, NZ. Try the Old Mout Cider! It’s tasty!

Beach Time

River Swimming

What small town in New Zealand would be complete without the local watering hole? Lots of nearby amenities including picnic tables, toilets, change rooms, showers, a huge and awesome playground, as well as a small shop nearby with an assortment of snacks including ice cream.

Even Adults!
Fun Playground for Any Age

While crowded during the summer, it is almost always possible to find a spot on the soft sand and dip into the water for a quick cool off or a day in the sun.

Beach-side Picnic Tables

Ngaranui beach also features soft sand and, during the summer, a lifeguard patrolled swim area.

 Arts and Music

Raglan is an artsy town, with a high proportion of art galleries, local artisans, and festivals.

 The second Sunday of every month features the Raglan Creative Market, specializing in local crafts, art, and food. More information can be found at the following link: Raglan Market.

The YOT club is a normal stop for New Zealand musicians on National tours. The Orca, the Harbour View, the Raglan Club, and Valentes Cafe also feature live music most nights in the summer and weekend evenings year round.

 There’s almost always something happening in Raglan! If there aren’t any events or festivals, there are still about eight different small art galleries featuring the work of local area artists.


The Whaingaroa region, near Raglan, features a variety of walks ranging in difficulty.

Bridal Veil Falls

The Bridal Veil falls track (I mentioned it in a previous post here), is an easy track, suitable for wheelchairs and prams up to the top of the falls. The path to the bottom of the falls is slightly more challenging, featuring approximately 200 stairs down to the base of the falls.

In Raglan itself, there is the Wharves Walk, a historical heritage trail through Raglan. More information can be found in the brochure available at the link here.

For more strenuous walks, check out the Mount Karioi tracks. These trails take around two to three hours for a fit walker and climb 756m from the carpark to the summit. There are incredible views from the top of Raglan, the coast, and the cliffs nearby. More information on these tracks is located here.


Surfing: Getting Started!

I have been practicing (and practicing and practicing some more!) surfing in an attempt to learn as much as possible in the two and a half months that my husband and I are in a surf town that has consistent waves, good weather, and a good, safe beach. I have been surfing at Ngaranui beach, near Raglan, New Zealand. The surf beaches at Raglan are well known for their consistently good waves, including the famous ‘left hand break’. Don’t expect to be riding these waves for awhile if you are a beginner though!

You can purchase surfing items at the Online Surf Shop to help you get started on your surfing adventure! They offer a wide range of surf apparel and equipment to satisfy beginner to advanced surfers.

Andrew Ready to Ride the Waves

Having a surf coach has made a huge difference in our initial development as surfers. If you are in Raglan, I would highly recommend Steve at Surf Safe. He is very professional and thorough. He is catching small mistakes and correcting them before they become habits, even if it is as simple as moving my foot two centimeters further right on the board when I am standing up. He also has a good eye for judging waves that only comes with experience, which means I am able to catch more waves and get more practice with his help. While it is technically possible to just rent a board and learn on your own, if you can afford lessons, I highly recommend doing so. You will learn not only surfing skills, but also safety and surfing etiquette.

Without further ado, I present you with: How to Surf. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email or comment on the post and I’ll do my best to help you.


Realistically, to go surfing, you need a surfboard and yourself. However, to make it safer, more fun, and more enjoyable, there is some additional equipment that you might want to consider taking with you.


Me and My Surfboard

Soft top, hard top, foam, fiberglass, and a variety of lengths from 10 feet to 5 feet. So what board to choose? As a beginner, the wider the better. A soft top foam board also offers more buoyancy and is a little bit more forgiving if it happens to hit you in the back of the head after you fall off. Repeatedly. Once you have mastered the largest, widest board that you can lay your hands on, slowly start progressing down in both width and length. The shorter a board is, the easier it will be to turn.


In cold waters this is practically a must for surfing for any length of time. However, one should be worn even in warm waters if possible. In addition to warmth, a wetsuit protects your body from scrapes on the sand, provides extra flotation, and protects you from marine animals such as jellyfish.


A leash will ensure that, when you fall off of your surfboard, the board will stay near you instead of careening off. This protects not only you, but also those who are around you.


Surfing takes place at the beach and on the water, where the sun and sand act as lenses to reflect the UV rays of the sun. This can make the sun more intense, resulting in you getting a sunburn more quickly. To make sure that you can surf for many days instead of enjoying one day and then hiding from the sun for the next four, apply sunscreen to anywhere that is not covered by your wetsuit.


For particularly sunny days or locations like New Zealand where the sun is harsh, it can be worth investing in either a surf hat or a floating tilley hat. These both feature straps around the chin that make them difficult to lose in even the hardest falls.


Surfing is hungry (and thirsty!) work. Make sure you bring along some water and a few healthy snacks for your day on the surf! If you are surfing a lot or just learning you will probably find yourself eating more than usual.

When to go

Safety is key!

Always make sure that someone knows where you are going and when you will return.

Don’t surf alone! Especially when you are just learning. Take someone with you for at least a few months, if not a few years. A surfing buddy makes things more fun anyways!

Alright, now that I am done with the warnings, there is some other information that is useful for knowing when to go surfing.


Sitting out Back in the Waves
Sitting out Back in the Waves

The most dangerous time at any beach to swim is within three hours of low tide. The best surfing at any given beach is generally in the three hours leading up to high tide. Tide charts for your preferred beach can be found in a local Farmer’s Almanac or by a simple internet search. If in doubt, ask a local! If it is a popular surf beach, then most people nearby will likely have an idea of where to find tide information.


 Weather will affect the surfing at any given beach just as much as the tides. In order to assess whether it is a good day to surf or not, it is helpful to look at weather forecasts and, if available, surf reports for your chosen beach.

An example of a surf report is shown here.

Example Surf Report via Magic Seaweed

It is much more detailed than most. Ideally, one would aim for a minimum 10 second period (the amount of time between waves) and approximately 2-3 foot waves for learning.

A shorter period makes it difficult to catch a wave properly as the surfer is being constantly pounded. Taller waves might seem tempting, but they can result in an inexperienced surfer simply nosediving into the bottom of the wave and being pushed under, sometimes as far as the bottom of the ocean (unfortunately, I learned this the hard way!).

A longer period results in more powerful waves: anything over 15 seconds has been known to snap boards in half!


Onshore winds will push the waves in, making them slightly bigger and choppier. While it is quite possible to surf with an onshore wind, the waves aren’t as nice.

Offshore winds will push against the waves, holding them up as they break and making them easier and better to surf.

Strong winds should be avoided if at all possible.

On the beach

Successful Surf Lesson
Successful Surf Lesson

Warm up

Surfing is a sport and, like all sports, it is important to do a proper warm up prior to starting to avoid injury! Don’t worry about looking silly; it is much better to possibly look a bit silly than end up with an injury that keeps you from surfing!

 You might have a favourite warm up from previous sports experience, but if not, here’s a basic one.
  1. Begin by jogging away from your surfboard for approximately 30-45 seconds. Stop and jog backwards for about half the distance back to your board. Turn around and for the remaining distance jog forwards while alternating kicking your heels up to your glutes and bringing your knees up high.
  2. Roll your head, stretching the neck in all directions. Bring the ear to one shoulder, then the other. Bring the chin to the chest, then tilt the head back.
  3. Roll the shoulders, then move the arms forwards in small circles, slowly increasing the circle size. Repeat moving the arms backwards in circles.
  4. Stretch your sides by standing straight, then reaching one arm over your head and sliding your other arm down your side towards your knees. Repeat on the other side.
  5. Stretch your hamstrings by putting one leg forwards slightly, then pulling the toes upwards as you bend forward to touch the toe of the outstretched foot.
  6. Standing on one leg, roll your ankle in all directions. Repeat with the other leg. Walk on tiptoe for 10 paces, then walk on your heels for another 10.
  7. Twist at your hips, warming up the back.

If in doubt, it is possible to ask at any nearby gym for them to show you a basic warm up routine. There might be a small fee. Youtube can also be a good option if you haven’t done a warm up before.

Practice on the Sand

It is a great idea to practice standing up on your board and getting a feel for it while it is on solid ground. If you can form the muscle memory and some of the balance prior to taking your board out on the water, your body will generally do as you trained it to, allowing you a better ability to focus on staying on the board itself.

There are several different methods (14, I think) to go from laying on the board to standing on the board. It might take some experimentation to find one that works best for you, so don’t get discouraged! I was getting a little bit frustrated that my husband was progressing a lot faster than I was. I was then shown a different method for standing up that suited me better and made tonnes of progress in just one session on the waves. DON’T GIVE UP!

Begin by determining if you are natural or goofy footed. The easiest way is to have a friend gently shove you from behind when you aren’t expecting it. If your right foot comes forward on instinct, you are a goofy foot; if it is the left foot, then you are a natural foot. This is the foot that you will want at the front when you stand up on the board and what we will call your ‘lead leg’.

 Standing Pop Up

This method is great for those who have pretty good balance and good upper body strength.

 1. Begin with lying on the board, facing the shore (when you are on the water), with your toes at the back edge of the board. Notice the chicken wing position of the arms, hands positioned below the armpits and gripping the rails of the board. This is a good position for simply riding waves into shore while lying down and is the starting position. 

2. Assume you have paddled hard to catch the wave and you feel it beginning to lift you (we will get to this in the water). Plant your hands firmly in the chicken wing position on top of the board. Push yourself up, bringing your back foot (or trailing leg) to the middle of the board approximately where your knee was.

 3. This is where the upper body strength comes into play. Simultaneously push up hard with your hands, swinging your leading leg to the centre of the board between where your hands just vacated. This will bring you into a standing position. At the same time, plant your back foot.

Stand up! Great! Now stay on the board. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that your knees are bent, your hips are forward, and your front arm is pointing where you want to go. Also look where you want to go, not at your friends, the board, or the water. Looking at the water will generally result in you falling in the water (again, from experience). The back arm should be slightly bent and pointing out to the side. This allows you to adjust your balance; think a tightrope walker with their arms outstretched.

Practice a multiple times on the beach (or in your living room or on the bed). The more routine this feels, the more natural it will happen when you are on the water.

Kneeling Stand Up

This method is great while learning as it allows you to break things down a bit more. It is also good for those with less upper body strength.

1. The start position is the same with all stand up methods. Start with your toes at the back of the board and your hands planted firmly on the board in the ‘chicken wing’ position.

2. Push up on the board, bringing your the knee of your trailing leg forward. Your toes should be approximately in the centre of the board, located about where your knee had been.

3. Bring your leading leg forward, positioning it between your hands. YOUR HANDS SHOULD BE ON THE BOARD STILL. Lifting your hands off will result in increased instability and make it much more likely for you to take an unexpected swim instead of standing up.

4. Stand up! Keep the knees bent and the body pointed forwards. Same as before, front hand should be pointing where you are going, which is also where you should be looking.

 In the water

Once you have practiced your stand up method of choice until you could do it in your sleep, it’s time to get wet! Again, safety first. Look at the beach. Assess hazards, such as rocks or dangerous currents. If at all possible, ask a local since you might not be able to see those rocks that are visible at low tide and are lurking just below the surface at high tide. If it is a lifeguard patrolled beach, make sure that you stay out of the swim area.

 For the first few times out, you will be riding whitewash waves. These are the waves that have already broken and are great for beginners. Until you are comfortable riding these in to shore and are getting a good long ride off of them consistently, leave the green unbroken waves alone. Trust me, you aren’t ready for them yet!

Controlling the board

It is important to know how to control your board in the water. Be aggressive. Point the board nose first into the waves, place a hand on the back of the board and one in the middle of the board. Push down slightly on the back to lift the nose over the wave and use the hand in the middle to keep the board from spinning out of control. To begin, you should be in water no more than shoulder deep.

 When you need to turn your board, after you have fallen off, for example, always turn so that your back is to the waves. This will prevent the board from hitting you in the face while you are turning it if a wave catches you off guard.

Rip Currents

Rip currents sound dangerous and they definitely can be, especially if you are unprepared.

 Life Saving Victoria has some good information about how to identify and escape a rip current.

 Generally, if there is an area of the beach where it is calm, with waves breaking on either side, then this is likely where a rip current is flowing. These tend to be strongest at low tide, which is part of why low tide is considered to be the most dangerous time to be in the water.

Rip currents can also be beneficial while surfing as they tend not to extend far from the beach. They can be used to get ‘out the back’ past the breaking waves, allowing more advanced surfers to catch green waves without getting pounded by the whitewash.

On the board

Catching A Wave
Catching A Wave

Practice on the board is very similar to what has been practiced on land. Watch the waves and spend some time observing other surfers if there are any nearby. Look for larger waves that will be breaking just before they reach you. This judgement takes some time to develop. Generally speaking, you want about a bus-length of space between you and the wave when you start preparing for it. This will allow you enough time to get yourself lying on the board, pointing the right direction, and paddle enough to gain momentum, allowing you to catch the wave.

 Once you have spotted your wave, turn your board towards shore, perpendicular to the wave, and jump on. Position yourself as you practiced, with your toes at the back edge of the board.

Remember all those lengths of front crawl that you did in swim lessons? Time to put them to use! Paddle in a smooth, circular motion, reaching as far as you are able to and cupping the water with your hand. Strong, smooth strokes are your best bet. Paddle hard to gain momentum before the wave reaches you.

 When you feel the wave starting to lift the back of your board, paddle four hard, strong strokes to make sure that you are riding the wave. Then plant your hands in the ‘chicken wing’ position.

The first few times you catch a wave, it can be a good idea to simply lay on the board, getting a feel for it. Gripping the rails (the sides of the surfboard) and leaning slightly to one side or the other will allow you to turn the board from the prone position. This can be a useful skill to practice, especially at a busy beach! Getting yourself aimed away from other surfers or swimmers before you attempt to stand up is a very good idea.

 When you are ready to stand up, practice the stand up technique that you are familiar with from your work on the sand.  If you don’t want to stand up, don’t! It is perfectly acceptable to ride the board while lying down until you feel comfortable in the water.

Be prepared to inhale and swallow copious amounts of seawater! It will get up your nose and in your mouth and you will fall off. Don’t get discouraged!

 When you fall off, bring your arms up. Put one hand on top of your head and one on the back of your neck. Squeeze your elbows together. Hold your breath and wait patiently until your head breaks the surface of the water. Especially if you are wearing a wetsuit, this shouldn’t take longer than a few seconds. Positioning your hands in this manner when you fall accomplishes two things: it prevents the board from smacking you in the face and it protects your head and neck from the bottom of the ocean if you fell off in shallow water.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Like any new pursuit, you will fall, you will fail, and you will get back up and try again. With some practice…lots of practice…you will be surfing like a pro in no time!


Visiting Hobbiton: There and Back Again

Andrew chopping wood for the hobbits

Andrew and I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Hobbiton movie set recently; thanks to a very generous Christmas gift we were able to go for the evening tour, which included not just a tour through Hobbiton, but dinner at the Green Dragon Inn and then a starlit tour back amongst the hobbit holes.

The tour started by the town of Matamata and the path that Andrew and I took was not very well marked. We had absolutely no idea if we were going the right way or not, but thankfully we managed to find the right place. We checked in, then waited for the tour bus to take us to the actual movie set on the Alexander Farm, which is still a working farm.

Inside a hobbit hole

The drive itself was quite picturesque, through rolling hills with tonnes of sheep and not many signs of civilization. We got off at the parking lot where there was a sign welcoming us to Hobbiton. I was so excited I was literally bouncing as we walked through a tunnel of trees and out into our first views of Hobbiton. The entry way is the same small narrowing that Gandalf first drives through when he enters Hobbiton in the movies, and is the same small path that Bilbo runs out of when he goes on his adventure.

A beautiful hobbit home

It was fun being there and not only immersing ourselves in the fantasy world of Lord of the Rings, but also learning about some of the film-making techniques that they used. The sheer attention to detail and lengths that they went to while making those films is simply astounding.

Visiting Bilbo Baggins

For example, the tree above Bilbo’s house is actually an artificial oak tree. After they finished wiring all of the artificial leaves to it, they decided it didn’t quite look like the right shade of green…so they hired someone to go up and paint all of the leaves! They also wanted the paths through the Shire to look naturally worn, so they hired a few people to go hang out washing and take it down from the hobbit lines a few times a day and to meander to each other’s ‘houses’ so that the paths through Hobbiton look like the worn paths in a normal village.

It was also quite fun seeing the hobbit holes of all different sizes so that the actors placed in front of them looked suitable smaller or larger depending on whether they were hobbit or wizard. I certainly felt distinctly hobbit sized in front of a few of them!

Andrew with the beer barrel

The tour led us through the Dell and then up into Hobbiton proper, where we climbed the hill to Bilbo’s house. I was very excited to see that little hobbit door, complete with the iconic “No admittance” sign. It’s one thing to visit a theme park where scenes have been re-created, or to see props from films (which are both neat experiences, don’t get me wrong); it is quite another to stand where those actors stood and to actually feel like I could have been in the shire with a hobbit just around the corner and to see where they actually filmed such wonderful films.

Trying stilts for the first time!

The tour then proceeded to the iconic field under the party tree, where Bilbo celebrated his birthday. It was also here that they imparted some little-known anecdotes about the film.

Like the fact that they filmed Bilbo’s birthday speech in one take and that Ian Holm did such a terrific job holding everyone rapt and nailing the performance that it wasn’t until they were back in the studio editing the clips that they noticed that the cake behind Bilbo was quite noticeably in flames. Apparently it was made of styrofoam, which isn’t a good combination with over one hundred candles! Instead of re-shooting the scene they did some clever clipping, zooming, and editing so that it isn’t visible unless you know exactly what to be looking for.

Playing on the see-saw at the Party Tree

Of course, we also got to have some fun at the party tree. I just had to get on the see-saw and a little girl was kind enough to join me. They also had stilts, which all of the adults were a bit hesitant to pick up at first, but upon some encouragement that it was alright and that we weren’t going to hurt sensitive props, most of us had a go at it. They take a lot more balance than I had thought! Andrew and I both managed to walk a few steps with them though.

Sandyman’s Mill

From the party tree and the house of Samwise Gamgee we proceeded across the bridge to Sandyman’s Mill and the Green Dragon Inn. The location is just so beautiful and picturesque. A local company has brewed ciders, beers, and ginger beer specifically for Hobbiton, which we got to enjoy from the Green Dragon while watching the sunset over Hobbiton. It was a really wonderful way to spend the evening.

Helping out the hobbits

After the sun set we were called inside to an amazing feast. In all the years that they have done the dinner and evening tour, they have never had a group be able to finish everything on the table. I believe them!!

Me feeling slight hobbit-sized by the bar

The meal was absolutely wonderful. They were really great about handling allergies as well. After they served the main feast, the head cook brought out a plate specifically for me that had been prepared for my specific allergy. Another lady at the table was allergic to lactose as well as gluten and her plate looked quite good as well! They then proceeded to tell me what else on the table would be safe for me to eat as well if I was still hungry after I finished my plate.

A sumptuous Hobbit feast!

They then left time for us to chat and explore the inn before they served dessert. I had asked another guest to take a picture of me beside the bar and the guide came past. He told me I wasn’t standing in the right spot for a good picture and that I should move further left…and then further still until I was standing behind the bar. He said that was the perfect place for a good picture and then offered to take the picture for me. Dessert could have easily have been an entire meal unto itself! Homemade cinnamon and honey yogurt, Pavlova with fresh picked fruit from the Shire gardens, and a brownie were my top picks.

Andrew and I by one of the hobbit holes at night

After we relaxed for a bit after dinner and dessert, our guides handed out lanterns for our walk back through Hobbiton. It was beautiful wandering through the village, illuminated by our lanterns and the porchlights of hobbits who have not returned home yet. It was very peaceful wandering around, listening to the frogs croak in the pond, and enjoying an after-dinner walk.

They wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to get at least one good picture of themselves in front of a hobbit hole after dark so they brought out movie lighting and had everything set up to get a good picture on almost any camera or phone.

It was truly a magical experience wandering through this fantasy world. Their customer service and attention to their customers was also exceptional and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening.