Air New Zealand International Lounge at Auckland (AKL) Review

After a fun few days exploring Auckland and the surrounding area, we were getting ready for the next major segment of our round the world trip back to the US from Sydney. But before making our way from Auckland to Sydney, we checked out the Air New Zealand International Lounge at Auckland Airport (AKL). Here’s a review of our early morning visit to the lounge, which was refurbished in 2015. 

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Access to the Air New Zealand International Lounge

You can get access to the Air New Zealand International Lounge if you are: Airpoints Elite, Gold, Elite Partner and Koru members or if you are a business class passengers departing on Air New Zealand flights. Since we had booked Air New Zealand tickets with Aeroplan miles, we had access to the lounge.

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Getting to the lounge

After finishing up a five day stay at the Hilton Auckland, we made our way back to the Auckland Airport very early in the morning to return our rental vehicle to Avis before our flight over to Sydney. The lounge opens up at 4:30am and we were arriving just after opening.

Auckland Airport.

We were supposed to fly the Air New Zealand Dreamliner over to Sydney but due to 787 engine issues our aircraft was swapped for a leased Hi Fly A340, which had an old Emirates cabin on the inside.

We still went through the check-in procedure for Air New Zealand though, which meant we were able to utilize the special check-in areas for premium passengers.

Air New Zealand premium check-in.

We were the only ones in the check-in area when we arrived (around 4:45am) and it was one of the sleekest and nicest check-in areas I’ve seen for business class check-in.

Air New Zealand premium check-in.

The Air New Zealand agent had us sit down in a little private section while he arranged for our bags to be checked and printed out our boarding pass. The seats were comfortable and even had wireless charging for our phones built into the side table.

Air New Zealand premium check-in.
Air New Zealand premium check-in.

After our luggage was taken care of, we were escorted to the fast track security line which we got through very quickly since there were hardly any other passengers in line. And then we navigated our way to the Air New Zealand International lounge.

Auckland airport map.

After you get through security and customs, It’s pretty easy to find the lounge as you wind your way around the duty free shops and up the escalator to the lounge. There should be a couple of signs to guide you along the way.

Auckland airport map.
Entrance to the Air New Zealand lounge.

We were among the first passengers to show up at the lounge and it was pretty empty for the first 20 to 30 minutes that we visited, although it did start to fill up pretty quickly after that.

As we first strolled through the lounge, I thought the aesthetics were very impressive. I could tell that there was a lot of seating and lots of different types of seats as the lounge has a capacity at 375 guests.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

Some of the seats do have New Zealand outlets, you just have to be on the lookout for them.

Power outlets.

It’s a very modern vibe throughout the lounge and really just well-done.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.
Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.
Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.
Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.
Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

I really liked these benches built into the wall with some artwork and mood lighting.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.
Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

I also really liked these chaise lounge seats that came with a decent amount of privacy and small tables.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

The chaise lounge at the very end of the row would have been perfect for a nap/re-charging.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

They have some areas that can function more like work stations, too.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

We then made our way toward the very back of the lounge to check out an area that had some tarmac views and a lot of comfy seating. This area opens up as a covered outdoor terrace (with a retractable roof) which is an impressive feature though it remained closed during our visit. There’s also a fireplace so that the room can be opened up during the colder months.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

Some of the seating was pretty interesting like these suspended chairs

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

This area definitely had an Amex Centurion vibe going on with all of the greenery hanging on the wall.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

There wasn’t much going on outside given how early we were but the lounge really does has some great views for plane spotting.

Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.
Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.
Air New Zealand International Lounge seating.

The lounge had a pretty decent breakfast selection to choose from, which was set up in front of an impressive assembly of monitors. There’s also a theater area which I didn’t get a photograph of.

Air New Zealand International Lounge dining area.

They had a self-serve pancake machine along with all of the fixings for your pancakes. I believe that during busier times they have a chef who can prepare cooked to order meals but there was not a chef during our visit.

Air New Zealand International Lounge dining area.
Air New Zealand International Lounge dining area.

There was a variety of bread and a toaster available.

Air New Zealand International Lounge dining area.

They had a variety of yogurts and fruit salads set up, as well.

Air New Zealand International Lounge dining area.
Air New Zealand International Lounge dining area.
Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.

They also had some whole fruits.

Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.
Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.

They also had a decent selection of pastries.

Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.
Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.
Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.

As for the hot items, they had scrambled eggs with chives, roast potatoes, and Italian breakfast sausages, all of which were pretty satisfying though the potatoes were by far the best item to me.

Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.
Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.
Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.

The also had some other dish with mushrooms and chickpeas but I didn’t try it out.

Air New Zealand International Lounge breakfast.

Overall, the food selections were pretty decent as was the quality of the food. I wouldn’t say it was the best I’ve had at a business class lounge but still quality enough to do the trick.

There’s a sleek cocktail/espresso bar area and in the morning it was mostly set up for water glasses and the ordering station for coffees.

Air New Zealand International Lounge bar.

One of my favorite parts to the lounge was the self-order tablet where you can customize your coffee order exactly as you’d like — you can even choose to have it in the lounge or take-a-way.

Air New Zealand International Lounge espresso bar.

Simply select your style of drink and then input your name and then the tablet will tell you when to expect your order.

Air New Zealand International Lounge espresso bar.

The line to the tablet was short when I ordered but when we got ready to leave, the line started to get pretty long.

Air New Zealand International Lounge espresso bar.

I went with a decaf cappuccino, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Air New Zealand International Lounge coffee bar.
Air New Zealand International Lounge coffee bar.

They had a few juices to choose from like apple juice, orange juice, and tomato juice.

Air New Zealand International Lounge fruit juices.

There was also a coffee maker.

Air New Zealand International Lounge coffee.

And a decent selection of beers and sparkling wine to choose from.

Air New Zealand International Lounge drinks.
Air New Zealand International Lounge soda machine.
Air New Zealand International Lounge glassware.
Air New Zealand International Lounge magazine selection.

The bathrooms were nice and clean.

Air New Zealand International Lounge bathroom.

There are showers at the lounge, but I didn’t get a photo of them.

Air New Zealand International Lounge bathroom.

Where the **** is my wallet?

After getting all of my photos for the lounge and then enjoying the decaf cappuccino, we were getting ready to head to the gate… until I realized that I didn’t have my wallet in my pocket. I searched all through my bags and still couldn’t find it and that’s when it clicked that I’d left it in the Avis rental car.

At that point, I didn’t feel like I’d have enough time to run back to the rental car desks and make it back to the gate for departure. Since we had a somewhat tight connection in Sydney for our award flight on Virgin Atlantic to LAX, I didn’t want to risk missing that flight at all.

So we made our way to the gate and then had agents call the Avis desk to see if they could get it. But nobody would pick up the phone. We even called some of the nearby stores and they said nobody was attending the Avis desk.

This was the beginning of one of the most frustrating experiences I’d ever had with a rental car company, as it would take about six weeks to get my wallet back. I literally contacted every department within Avis over that time multiple times but Avis kept dropping the ball over and over again by doing things like cancelling my case file or assigning people to my case who were on sabbatical. It was downright infuriating at times.

Luckily, one worker in New Zealand finally took the initiative and sent it over on her own accord which I was extremely thankful for. When I received my wallet, all cards and cash were still intact, so I’ll give them props for that.

I definitely learned my lesson to make a complete sweep of every rental car before I turn it in. I think I’ll also be avoiding Avis in the future whenever I can.

Emirates first class?

Although it didn’t feel too great to be boarding a plane with a missing wallet, we were able to experience what I’m pretty sure is the old Emirates first class on an A340. The crew was ran by all Hi Fly crew members except for one Air New Zealand flight attendant.

The old Emirates first class.

My string of great luck was still going strong and it turns out that my seat didn’t work so I had to get bumped to business class. I got some vouchers out of it so I didn’t mind — I was just happy that our flight was going to be on time and that we’d be able to experience Virgin Australia for the first time.

Final word

The Air New Zealand International Lounge is a solid lounge. Aesthetically speaking, it’s beautiful and modern with plenty of different types of ways to relax depending on what you need to get done. the breakfast line-up was solid though not extraordinary in any way but I really loved the self-order coffee bar. My ultimate test for a good lounge is if it’s worth arriving early for and I would say that this is a lounge arriving a little early for.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour Review (Ultimate Guide)

I have seen some pretty cool movie set tours like the Harry Potter Warner Bros. studio tour in London and the Hobbiton Movie Set tour ranks up there with the best. In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. I will cover things like ticket prices and tours and also give you a detailed review of what the experience is like.

What is the Hobbiton Movie Set?

The Hobbiton Movie Set is a hilly farmland in Waikato, New Zealand where scenes featuring “Hobbiton” of the Shire were filmed for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit film series. The site now offers several different tours and experiences that allow fans to enjoy the movie set in memorable ways, such as guided tours and festive banquets.

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Booking the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Below I will go into the details for all of the prices for the different tours.

One thing I will say right off the bat is that you need to book your tickets as soon as possible because the spots will fill up very quickly. This is especially true if you want to do one of the special tours that involve a lunch or banquet. This is not an attraction that you want to wait until the last minute to book!

There are four main different tours that you can choose from. Note that the prices will be increasing for all of the tours as of April 2020.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

This is the main tour that most people will do. It takes you through the major sites like the Hobbit Holes and Green Dragon Inn and takes about two hours (I’ll go into detail on this tour below). 

You can choose to be picked up from three different locations:

  • The Shire’s Rest (the tour’s main location)
  • Matamata i-SITE
  • The Hobbiton™ Movie Set Shop, 1235 Fenton St, Rotorua (more expensive)

The tours from The Shire’s Rest depart every 10 minutes so there are many of these tours every single day. When you go to book a tour you will have a selection of different time slots to choose from and you should see if there are limited spaces for certain slots.

Daily Hobbiton Movie Set Tour list and times

Here are the prices for the tour: 

(All prices below are in New Zealand dollars. For your reference, you can click on a price below and see the US dollar equivalent. 84 New Zealand dollars is ~$55 USD as of 12/19.)

  • Adult (17 years and over): $84.00, $89.00 from 1 April 2020
  • Youth (9-16 years): $42.00, $44.00 from 1 April 2020 
  • Child (0-8 years): Children are FREE but must have ticket allocated prior to arrival and be accompanied by a full paying adult.
  • Tours depart daily from 9am until 3.30pm.

If you are going to be late for your tour I suggest that you contact them immediately. They will work with you to try to get you into the soonest tour but keep in mind that if other tours are all sold out they might not be able to get you in that day.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour + Lunch

This is the tour that I wish I would have done. If you want to make your tour experience a little bit more memorable without paying a whole lot of extra money, I think this tour option is perfect. There are only three timeslots though and these tours need to be booked very far in advance to secure your preferred time slot.

Here are the prices:

  • Adult (17 years and over): $120.00, $125.00 from 1 April 2020
  • Youth (9-16 years): $78.00, $80.00 from 1 April 2020 
  • Child (0-8 years): Children are FREE but must have ticket allocated prior to arrival and be accompanied by a full paying adult.


  • 10.05am departure begins with tour followed by lunch at 11.35am
  • 12.05pm departure begins with tour followed by lunch at 1.35pm
  • 1.25pm departure begins with lunch followed by tour at 2.25pm

Hobbiton Movie Set Evening Banquet Tours

The Hobbiton Movie Set Evening Banquet Tour is probably the coolest way to explore the Shire because it is a tour that takes place at dusk. Also, you get to enjoy the banquet at the Green Dragon which is a unique experience.

I think I would enjoy this tour but there is something special about visiting the Shire during the daytime when the sun is out shining brightly and this tour may not offer you that same type of experience.  

Here are the prices:

  • Adult (17 years and over): $195.00, $199.00 from 1 April 2020
  • Youth (9-16 years): $152.50, $162.00 from 1 April 2020 
  • Child (5-8 years): $100, $104.00 from 1 April 2020. Children must be accompanied by a full paying adult- Must also have a ticket allocated. 
  • Infant (0-4 years):  Infants must be accompanied by a full paying adult- Must also have a ticket allocated.

Private Tour

The private tour is very expensive but it is probably the best option for the diehard fans and I will explain why below.

Here are the prices:

  • Private tour (up to 4 people): $750.00
  • Additional Adult (17yrs+): $84.00
  • Additional Youth (9-16yrs): $42.00
  • Additional Child (0-8yrs): Free with full paying adult

Please note: From 1 April 2020 Private Tour departures will be $1,000.00 for maximum six adults or equivalent.

Tour packages

Because the movie set tour is a couple of hours away from Auckland, New Zealand and semi-close to other attractions, a lot of people like to package together tours and spend an entire day hitting up multiple spots.

This can be an efficient use of both time and money so it is definitely something to consider. One of the popular tourist packages you can do is what is known as the trilogy and it offers the following tours:

  • 45 minute Tour of Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Waitomo
  • 2 hour tour of Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo
  • 2 hour Tour of Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata
  • 4.5 hours exclusive guided tour of Te Puia; Maori welcome ceremony and cultural performance & Māori Feast (traditional indigenous dinner), Rotorua

The Trilogy Package Prices

  • Adult $342
  • Child $171
  • Family $924 (2 adults and 2 children; extra child add $171)

Don’t forget — watch the movies!

Once you book your tickets, I recommend that you re-watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy and also the Hobbit movies so that everything is fresh on your mind. And obviously if you have not seen the movies, you need to get on that ASAP!

Getting to the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Here is the address of the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour:

501 Buckland Road, Matamata 3472, New Zealand

Below are the approximate time frames it will take you to get to the movie set from major destinations:

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Auckland, New Zealand: 2 hours
  • Wellington, New Zealand: 6 hours

We stayed at the Hilton Auckland Hotel and so we were about a two hour drive away from the movie set, which we made in a rental car. 

The drive to the movie set from Auckland was very beautiful!

You will pass through many rolling green hills and beautiful farm landscapes. It reminded me a lot of driving through California when all of the hills are nice and green and full life.

Driving in New Zealand
Driving to the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour.

Your GPS will probably take you right to the location but you will also notice several signs pointing you in the right direction as you approach the movie set. If you don’t want to drive there, you can look into getting transferred there.

Also, there are farm stays in the local area so you could stay in something like a B&B for a night and enjoy a nice complimentary dinner and breakfast. 

Hobbiton Movie Set Tourist Farm sign

Arriving at the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

There are pretty large parking lots at the Hobbiton Movie Set so you shouldn’t have an issue finding a parking spot when you arrive. 

Parking lot at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

The first thing that you need to do when you arrive is to snap a photo of you underneath the Hobbiton Movie Set sign. It is a picture perfect sign and there is a little walkway that will take you right to the sign. 

Man standing under Hobbiton movie set sign

The Shire’s Rest

When you arrive, you will need to check in to receive your tickets if you booked online and you will want to head to The Shire’s Rest to do this. Simply follow the signs to the Shires Rest Ticketing Centre where you can get that done. When we arrived, there was only a short line to deal with. Keep in mind that they request you to check in 15 minutes prior to your scheduled tour time.

Ticketing area Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Shires Rest Ticketing Centre.
Ticketing area Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

If you have arrived early then you might want to spend some time at the nearby Shire’s Rest Cafe or Garden Bar. The Garden Bar offers a nice shady spot to grab a bite and craft beer before or after your tour and it’s perfect for summer days.

You can also order ice cream and milkshakes or thick shakes for around five to seven New Zealand dollars from the ice cream shop. If you really have a sweet tooth consider going with the Hobbit Crunch which is a fancy sundae that you will surely enjoy.

List of ice creams at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

You can also explore the gift shop. However, a lot of visitors like to save the gift shop until the end of the tour so you might want to go that route. I will talk more about the gift shop below.

Getting ready for your tour

As the time approaches for your tour, you will want to line up where the sign indicates your tour will be taking off. I would suggest lining up about five minutes before your scheduled tour time.

Lines for Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Depending on the type of tour that you booked, you might be getting transported via a bus or a van. In our case, we did the bus tour.

Group getting on bus at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

After lining up we boarded the bus and found our seats which were in a 2-2 lay out.

Bus at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Once we got going, they played some special footage related to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and also provided us with some insightful content about the production of the movies, the 12-acres that was used for Hobbiton, and some other really cool and interesting facts.

I don’t want to give everything away but you will find out some little tidbits about the movie that you probably did not already know.

The drive through the Alexander family sheep farm over to the movie set is also an extremely scenic drive. You will wind through some beautiful rolling green pasture land dotted with sheep living a good life. 

Rolling pastures at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

The bus ride from the arrival area to the actual movie set took a total of 15 minutes. 

Once everybody exits the bus you will meet up at the first sign and they will go over some of the information that you need to know about the tour. Basically they just told us to stay together and to not venture into any of the areas without permission.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Group walking at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Welcome to Hobbiton sign

The Tour

The way that the tour works is that you will travel as a group and your group will stop at several different Hobbit Holes throughout Hobbiton. At each stop, you will be able to check out the areas and get photos while learning some cool facts about each little site.

Group walking at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

The biggest drawback to this tour is that they move along too efficiently.

Basically if you are in the back of the line you will feel rushed from the group behind you coming up.

It’s a very awkward experience when you are trying to get a photo and you have 30 tourists glaring at you as they impatiently wait for you to leave so that their tour guide can start showing them the site.

Therefore, if you are a true Lord of the Rings fan and you want to savor this experience, you probably want to consider a private tour. Yes, they will be much more expensive but you will be able to enjoy the sights without any pressure from the crowds.

Spoiler alert

If you don’t already know, you will find out that these little Hobbit Holes are not actually real little houses with rooms and lively corridors to explore. Some of them open up to a small area that is similar to a closet but most are just facades.

But still, it can be really fun to explore the exterior of the Hobbit Holes and the entire community.

One thing that fascinated me about the different Hobbit Holes was all of the details. Everything from the windows to the doorhandles are extremely intricate and it is really fun to explore them from up close. It really feels as if little hobbits are living inside behind those doors.

Hobbit hole at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Hobbit hole at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Hobbit hole at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

It’s really cool to see some of the sights like the detailed clothes drying out on the clothes lines.

Clothes on line at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Clothes on line at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Also the landscaping with all of the colorful flowers is pretty immaculate and a sight to see. When we visited in February, there were tons of butterflies fluttering around and it was a very magical experience.

Hobbit hole at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Your tour guide will point out the residences of the most notable hobbits.

Bilbo Baggins home at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Bilbo Baggins home.

One of the coolest things to see are all of the live plants and produce that they produce on site. 

Hobbit hole at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Hobbit hole at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Garden at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

You can even find batches of raw honey.

Jars of honey

I also appreciated the attention to detail in things like the “street signs.”

Each time you stop at a little Hobbit Hole you should have enough time to get some photos and to pose in front of them. Like I mentioned though, this is much easier to do if you are at the front of the group because you will not feel as much pressure to move along quickly.

Man at hobbit hole Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Man at hobbit hole Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Group at hobbit hole Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

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Your tour should stop at at least one Hobbit Hole that they will allow you to step inside of and get some photos. And when I say step inside of, that literally means just taking like one step inside of the Hobbit Hole. 

Make sure you are listening to your tour guide because during our tour some of the tourists entered in one of the Hobbit Holes that was NOT meant to be entered in. This caused a little bit of commotion so just be mindful of this.

The tour will wind up and down the hillsides as you hit up the different sites. The walking required is not overly strenuous, but I would definitely bring some walking friendly shoes. 

The pathways are not wheelchair friendly but there are options for those who can’t complete all the walking.

Also, you are permitted to bring strollers on the tour but many of the pathways are cobblestone or bumpy and they also can be quite narrow so bringing a stroller can be a task.

Hobbit holes Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Cottage on the water

Green Dragon Inn

Eventually you will wind up at the tavern at the end of the tour, known as the Green Dragon Inn.

The Green Dragon Inn
The Green Dragon Inn.

According to the official Hobbiton website, “The Green Dragon Inn was the meeting place for all residents of Hobbiton, who would gather in the warm surroundings of the bar to chatter about the day’s events.” 

The Green Dragon Inn
The Green Dragon Inn.
Inside The Green Dragon Inn

The Green Dragon Inn is a really cool spot where you can enjoy some grub or even some drinks from the Hobbit Southfarthing range, which I believe is brewed right on location.

Here are some drinks that you might be interested in trying:

  • Girdley Fine Grain, Amber Ale
  • Sackville Cider, Apple Cider
  • Oatbarton Brew, Traditional English Ale
  • Frogmorton Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic)
Inside The Green Dragon Inn
Inside The Green Dragon Inn

Once you find yourself a drink, head over to the fireplace and relax in a nice comfy seat.

Inside The Green Dragon Inn
Inside The Green Dragon Inn

If you have also booked a lunch tour then this is where you will depart from the other group to enjoy the lunch buffet served in the Party Marquee. The Party Marquee is adjacent to The Green Dragon Inn, with the garden bar seating overlooking the Hobbiton Movie Set.

In our case, we only did the standard movie set tour so we then headed back to the gift shop. The entire tour lasted about two hours.

The gift shop

There are a lot of interesting items to purchase at the gift shop. You will find all sorts of different collectibles, books, and some decoration items like the maps of Middle Earth which I thought were pretty awesome.

Maps at Gift shop

For something like a map you would be paying about NZ$35.

They also had some awesome figurines of different characters and those were more expensive — usually ranging around NZ$100-NZ$300.

Figurines in case

Some of the items cannot be purchased at the store but they are on display and available at websites that will be shown on the display.

They also had a lot of standard gift shop items like candies and various types of sweets. You could also venture into the café and purchase sandwiches for around $6.50 and beverages like iced coffee or milk for around 3 to NZ$5.

Food at gift shop

If you wanted something more substantial you could order a meal like eggs Benedict for $16.50, second breakfast for $19.50, or a Lamb burger for around $18.

Food menu at gift shop

There are several picnic tables for you to enjoy your meal outside and on a nice day it can be an extremely pleasant experience.

Picnic tables outside gift shop

But there are also tables located indoors just in case the weather does not cooperate.

Indoor seating at gift shop

Lord of the Rings tours

If you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy there are other tours that you can do that will take you to various destinations and locations used in the films. Some of these tours can be up to two weeks in length so you can live your fandom for days on end!

Here are some companies to look at:

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour Review (Ultimate Guide) FAQ

Can I wander around by myself?

No, the tours are all guided and require visitors to be supervised. This is probably in the best interest of everyone.

Are drones allowed?

Drones are not allowed during the normal tour hours. You can contact the site owners to inquire about after our drone usage but there is no guarantee they will allow it.

Do tours still take place when it rains?

Yes, they will continue with tours in the rain. They will supply you with umbrellas but this is one reason why you want to bring quality closed toed shoes with you on this trip (or a poncho).

Can we go inside the Hobbit Holes?

You will likely only be allowed to step inside of one Hobbit Hole. And keep in mind there will only be a small closet-like area behind the door.

How long are the tours?

The standard movie set tour is approximately two hours and about 30 minutes of that is travel time to and from the movie set.

Can I take photos?

Yes, you can take as many photos as you would like just make sure they are not for commercial use. I brought out my professional DSLR camera and had no issues with photos.

What do I need to bring with me?

You don’t need to bring anything special with you on this tour. But you would probably be good with a small backpack where you can hold things like sunscreen, a jacket if you don’t need to be wearing it, water bottles, etc. As mentioned above, I would consider a rain poncho if I were visiting when rain was expected.

Final word

Overall, the movie set tour is a must see destination for any fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Hobbit movies. You will no doubt be floored by the amount of details in the Hobbit Holes and surrounding areas. But while I loved the tour I do think that a private tour would be much more enjoyable for a diehard fan even with the price tag of $1,000. 

US Getting More Nonstop Flights to New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve visited but when it comes to getting there on miles and points, it’s one of the most difficult places to reach. I usually advise people to not rely on nonstop flights to get to New Zealand since there are so few offered but that trend is starting to change a bit. United/Air New Zealand just announced that Air New Zealand will begin nonstop flights 3X weekly between Auckland (AKL) and Chicago (ORD) beginning Nov. 30, 2018.

US Nonstop flights to New Zealand

The US currently only has limited nonstop options to New Zealand:

  • SFO-AKL: United and Air New Zealand
  • LAX-AKL: American and Air New Zealand
  • IAH-AKL: Air New Zealand

The new nonstop between New Zealand and Chicago will be a 15 hour and 5 min flight from AKL to ORD and a 16 hour and 20 min flight down to New Zealand. The total flight distance will be 8,184 miles, which is definitely an ultra long haul flight but surprisingly not even close the longest flight in the world, as Auckland-Doha comes in at 17:40 to 18:20 hours!

Now that the Midwest will have service at a hub airport in Chicago, this will make connecting from eastern regions of the US a lot easier.

The new Air Zealand route will be serviced by their Dreamliner. Air New Zealand’s Dreamliner has a herringbone configuration which is very similar (if not the same) as what Virgin Atlantic has in its Dreamliner. I’m personally not a fan of this configuration at all since there is little to no storage/counter space and you’re not facing the windows. However, I was very impressed by the Air New Zealand check-in experience and lounge at AKL.

Air New Zealand Lounge at AKL.

I recently booked a flight with Air New Zealand on their Dreamliner (787-9) but due to engine issues our aircraft was swapped for an old A340. I technically received an upgrade since my Air New Zealand business ticket was bumped to first class on that A340 but the product was way outdated and I ended up being moved to business class since my seat wouldn’t work!

Anyway, it’s great to see more nonstop flights to New Zealand, as United also announced that beginning in April 2019, they will operate year-round flights between SFO and AKL so again we might see inventory get a little better on awards down to the land of the Kiwis.

Air New Zealand Offers “Aurora Tour”

Air New Zealand recently offered passengers the “chance of a lifetime” to see the Southern Hemisphere’s version of the aurora known as the “southern lights.” Led by Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin, this was the first aurora-viewing charter flight out of New Zealand and the first of its kind that I’d ever heard of.

The flight took passengers from the town of Dunedin located on New Zealand’s South Island close to 9pm and flew them on a 767 all the way down near the edge of Antarctica. The total experience was an eight-hour journey. Economy tickets went for $1,400 and business class went for $2,800.

Personally, I don’t think I’d pay that much for this type of experience and it’s not because I don’t think the northern lights are fascinating. I’ve actually had the experience of viewing them both from the ground and seeing them from an airplane, and I can say from experience the latter does not compare to the former.

When I viewed the lights on an Iceland Air flight from Boston to Reykjavik, it was an exciting experience but could hardly compare to my time spent in Norway chasing the lights.

Northern lights over north Norway.
Northern lights over north Norway.

The main reason is that it’s not easy for your eyes to adjust to the light in order to get a great view of them. I actually had to throw a jacket over my head and suction myself to the plane window to even get a slight glance at the northern lights (lights from the wings still interfered with my view).

And even then, I only saw the faintest shade of green and it mostly looked like a large cloud, although as you can see from the image below my Canon 6D did a great job of capturing the color my eye couldn’t.

The northern lights from a plane.

Some passengers on this expeditionary flight weren’t thrilled by what they saw with the naked eye. According to, one passenger stated:

“Was pretty disappointing. Unless you had a three thousand dollar camera couldn’t take a pic of anything. Could barely see it with your eyes, didn’t get told any of this before the flight either. Was guttered when after 5 hours on a plane it just looked like a cloud. Honestly felt it was a massive let down,” the commenter, identified as MrSafetyCatch, said.

And that doesn’t surprise me considering how faint the aurora is to the naked eye, especially from a plane. It’s possible that Air New Zealand may have done something to enhance the experience like blackout the lights in the cabin and that could’ve helped some, but I’m not aware that they did. 

The other issue is that if you don’t have a DSLR or even if you do but don’t know how to properly use one, it would be difficult to get quality photographs of the lights. I consider myself to be pretty experienced with low light settings, and it was tough for me to get any photos of the aurora from a plane that were worth anything, so I could imagine how poor many photos turned out from people taking photos with lower-end point and shoot or camera phones.

The fact that some paid at least $1,400 for an 8 hour economy ride to capture subpar images of the aurora had to sting for some.

While I wouldn’t do it, I could see how this could be worthwhile for some. If you just really wanted to see the aurora for the sake of seeing them or to check that off your bucket list, then I could see how this would be enticing. Or if you’re skilled enough in photography, this could be worth it as well, since you could come away with some stunning shots like the time lapse below.

Considering how difficult it could be for many people to get to Norway or Alaska from New Zealand, this could also be one of the more practical options for many to see the lights.

While you can see the aurora from the southern tip of New Zealand you’re still only near 45º south which would put you in a similar location as being in the northern US, which definitely is not ideal since you typically need strong solar storms in order to see the lights at that latitude. Plus, in many instances you only get a view of the lights along the horizon.

This type of tour is still a cool concept, however, and one that I was not familiar with. I think the cost of the ticket is still too high for me considering that I could probably fly roundtrip to Tromsø, Norway in economy for that price. But I think it could be worth it for some people, as long as they’re made aware of what to expect.

H/T: Smithsonian.

The Best Ways to Use Miles and Points to Get to New Zealand

My number one bit of advice to someone planning on making it to New Zealand on miles and points would be to plan as far in advance as possible and to stay as open-minded as you can about taking longer routes through other continents, such as Asia. Yes, that means more flying time but it will also make your booking experience much easier given the difficulty involved with getting to New Zealand on award flights. With that said, here are the best ways to use miles and points to get to New Zealand.

Limited direct flights 

The first thing to be mindful of is that there are only a handful of direct flights to New Zealand from the United States.

These include:

  • Houston (IAH) to Auckland (AKL) – Air New Zealand
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Auckland (AKL) – Air New Zealand and American Airlines
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Auckland (AKL) – United and Air New Zealand

Unfortunately, award spots on these flights are extremely hard to find. This is why you need to be open to routing through Asia or Australia to get to New Zealand.

Economy vs business class 

If you want to get to New Zealand in economy, it’s not very difficult to find flights. In fact, your experience with finding award tickets will be much more pleasant than looking for business class routes.

However, if you want to get to New Zealand in business class or first class (at the saver level), you’re going to have to really plan ahead (7 months plus) and be open-minded about jumping on longer routes. Instead of flying directly to the home of the Kiwis, more than likely you’ll be routing through Australia or Asia (or both) so that your final route might end up looking like: US -> Asia -> Australia -> New Zealand. That might not sound like fun, but because you’ll be in business class it should be a lot more bearable. 


  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 75,000
  • Business class: 120,000

United Airlines

My preferred method of getting to New Zealand would be to book a roundtrip with ANA miles on United Airlines since they don’t pass on fuel surcharges and your total fees would be minimal. The problem is the abysmal open award space. At the time of this article, April 2017 had one of the best months for availability and for Saver business class seats and you can see how limited it was to Sydney in April/May in the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 5.33.48 PM

When I searched for availability from the US to Auckland with United on Aeroplan’s website, I found a lot of United award availability for flights 5+ months out and decent availability for flights only a couple of months out but it wasn’t the kind of availability I liked. The major issue with these flights is that the business class redemptions were mostly mixed-class fares, often with economy being the longest leg. If you search long and hard enough (for flights 6-7+ months out) you might be able to find itineraries with business class for the long-haul legs but it’s probably still going to come down to getting a little bit lucky. 

Thus, while getting to New Zealand via United with ANA miles would be terrific,  I definitely recommend expanding your searches to routings via Australia and Asia that involve other partners. Awards seats in business class may still be a little hard to come by but by getting creative with your routes and combining alliance partners, you should eventually be able to piece something together.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand offers the most routes from the United States to New Zealand but the problem is that the award availability is very limited and historically has been. You might get lucky and come across some good availability here and there but for the most part I wouldn’t count on there to be open seats on Air New Zealand.

ANA (plus Asian airline partners)

Using ANA to book ANA plus Asian airline partner airlines to get to New Zealand can be a great option but will obviously require you to connect through Asian airports to get there and back. A lot of the routing through Asia include partners: Singapore Airlines, Asiana, Air China, and Thai Airways. For example, take a look at this sample itinerary from IAH to AKL utilizing ANA and Air China. 

Routing through Asia is probably the easiest way to find awards to New Zealand.

One of the issues for business class redemptions is that the business class fares are often mixed with economy on long segments. For example, most of the routes involving Singapore Airlines options included a long economy leg from Singapore to Sydney or Auckland. The key again is try to book as far in advance as possible, search routing options day-by-day, and experiment with routes through Japan, China, Southeast Asia, etc. If you are relentless with your efforts, you should eventually be able to piece together an all-business class itinerary. 

ANA routing rules regarding connections are a little complex so if you want to try to learn more about them check our this article. If all of that seems a bit over your head, you can just play around with the search function on ANA’s website and try to find connecting flights that work for you based on what they provide.

The total fees at about $465 for a roundtrip is a little high, but you can’t forget that you’re getting an awesome redemption rate of 120,000 for your roundtrip, or if you book with ANA’s own metal, just 105,000!

Stop over and open jaw possibilities

Don’t forget that you’re allowed a stopover and open-jaw with ANA as well. If you’re routing through Asia, it might make sense to book your stopover there in a place like Tokyo or Beijing to help break up your flights. 

Many people who make the trip all the way down to New Zealand like to combine their trip with a trip to Australia or perhaps an exotic destination like French Polynesia.

If you wanted to include a stopover in Sydney you could do the following:

  • Outbound: SFO -> AUK
  • Inbound: AUK -> SYD [stopover] -> SFO

Or, if you wanted to hit up Australia and still make your trip even more exotic by stoping over in a place like French Polynesia you could go with the following:

  • Outbound: SFO -> AUK
  • Inbound: SYD [open jaw] -> Tahiti (PPT) [stopover] -> SFO

You’d have to take care of your flight from AUK to SYD and your fees might be a little higher since your flights might not include just United, but for 120,000 miles, getting to New Zealand, Australia, and French Polynesia is superb, even if you have to shell out a little in fees.

Alaskan Airlines

Alaskan Airlines offers great redemption rates to a number of destinations around the globe and New Zealand is one of those places. As usual, the rates differ depending on the partner, so here are a few of the best ways to use Alaskan miles to get to New Zealand.

Cathay Pacific B777-300
Cathay Pacific is a great use of Alaskan Miles to New Zealand, Photo by Alvin Law.


  • 85,000 in economy
  • 110,000 in business class

The 110,000 is business class roundtrip to New Zealand (via Australia) and sounds exceptional, right? The problem is that almost all of the search results you find for business class redemptions will be mixed-class cabins, with the long legs from the States being in economy or at best premium economy. Unfortunately, much like Air New Zealand, business class award availability with Qantas is one of the hardest to come by. Every once in a while they roll out with more open dates but for the most part if you want to find open business class seats, you’ll have to do a lot of searching and will probably struggle to find suitable options for a roundtrip (though it can be done).

However, if you’re interested in economy you should be able to find plenty of open seats; it’s just that the deal isn’t quite so sweet at 85,000 miles roundtrip.

Fiji Airways

  • 80,000 in economy
  • 110,000 in business class

Fiji Airways offers more outstanding rates to get to New Zealand but it’s got the same issues as Qantas in terms of very limited business class availability. I searched for months on Alaskan’s website and only found a couple of days with open business class seating but others have had more luck finding business clas availability (via Fiji). Much like Qantas, economy had wide-open dates, however.

Korean Air

  • 85,000 in economy
  • 125,000 in business class

Booking business and/or first class on Korean Air’s metal with partner miles is extremely difficult because they have been known to limit their inventory to partners, sometimes with only one business class seat. I searched through months on Delta and Alaska’s website and only found a seat here and there for business class and economy wasn’t much better. Therefore, while the redemption rate with Alaskan miles is tempting, this isn’t a very practical option for getting to New Zealand for the time being.

Cathay Pacific

  • 80,000 in economy
  • 120,000 in business class

You’ll need to search for award availability with British Airways or Japan Airlines since Alaska often doesn’t show Cathay Pacific award availability. A quick search for availability about 7 months out showed many open business class seats (sometimes up to 5 seats open) between Hong Kong and Auckland and so you’d just need to find Cathay Pacific flights from departure points in the US (SFO or LAX).

The product level on Cathay Pacific and redemption rates make it one of the best ways to get New Zealand and definitely one of the best ways to use Alaskan miles. While award availability is not phenomenal it’s still better than many of the other options for getting to New Zealand, so if you have Alaskan miles then consider Cathay Pacific as a primary choice.

Remember, Alaskan Airlines has a very generous stopover policy allowing one stopover on one-ways and two stopovers on roundtrips. A route through Asia to Oceania is a perfect time to take advantage of these!

United Airlines 

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles:  Chase Ultimate Rewards, Chase cards, SPG (2:1)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 140,000

As stated, award availability for (saver) business class to New Zealand on United is not great and you’ll need to book far in advance if you want to even have a chance to snag redemptions with business class seats between the US and Australia/New Zealand. On the other hand, if you’re searching for economy flights, you should be able to find plenty of flights 6+ months out and decent availability for flights under 6 months out.

The same logic applies from the ANA bookings: you want to explore routing options with Star Alliance partners through Asia and Australia to New Zealand. United will not allow you to route through Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, to New Zealand (or Australia), so you’ll be primarily looking at bookings through Asia with Star Alliance partners, such as ANA, Singapore, etc.

Another routing rule for United to be aware of is that when routing from North America to the South Pacific, you can only have 3 connections, which means 4 total segments one-way. So keep that in mind when piecing together your routes through Asia. 

United allows one stopover on roundtrips although there appears to be some changes rolling out

Delta Airlines

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, American Express Delta cards, SPG

Virgin Australia

  • Business class: 160,000
Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER in LAX (VH-VPH)
Photo by wilco737

Delta has some pretty horrible redemptions to Australia and New Zealand and the lowest I found when I searched was 300,000 miles roundtrip. However, Delta has access to non-SkyTeam partner Virgin Australia which has the largest inventory of business class awards to Australia even in peak times and no fuel surcharges. You may have to route through cities like Brisbane or Melbourne but you should be able to connect to New Zealand with Virgin Australia or SkyTeam member China Airlines. These routes are as low as 160,000 round trip and the business class product looks pretty great on Virgin Australia.

My issue is that I wasn’t able to find these awards on Delta’s site but it’s good knowing that this option is at least offered on occasion and/or that you have the possibility of tracking down these awards.

Another option for getting there with Delta but via Asia is China Eastern. 

Singapore Airlines

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thankyou points, SPG

Singapore Airlines is a bit of a pricey option for getting to New Zealand but it still makes the list since it’s a transfer partner to the major reward programs (and thus easy to accumulate miles for) and it offers one of the best business class and economy products out of any airline.

Photo by Bruno Geiger

Singapore airlines with online 15% discount factored in

  • Economy: 85,000
  • Business class: 170,000

Singapore’s award booking still confuses me, however, when it comes to getting to New Zealand. First, when I input routes from the West Coast to New Zealand, like SFO -> AUK, I get an error message that states:

The Origin and Destination you have selected constitutes a backtrack routing. Backtracking is not permitted except as required by routing restrictions. Backtracking occurs when a journey does not continue in the same direction as that in which it was begun.

I don’t know why their system defaults to that. To work around that error, I searched for award availability in segments, SFO -> SIN and SIN -> AUK.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 9.50.26 AM
Singapore showing 110, miles needed from SIN to AUK

The rate that pops up for SIN -> AUK (seen above)  is 110,000 in business class, which is the amount stated on the award chart for Zone 9 Australia “excluding New Zealand.” So that doesn’t makes sense to me but I guess that is the requirement for getting to New Zealand.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 9.44.42 AM

The biggest issue with Singapore Airlines (besides fuel surcharges sometimes) is that availability can be terrible. For business class, though, it’s not always that bad and I found a decent amount of open seats for the SIN to AUK segment for dates about 6 to 7 months out. The segments from SFO and LAX to SIN (via oneway or connecting Asian flights) can be a little harder to obtain but with enough flexibility and planning, you should be able to find something. And as usual, economy redemptions are much easier to find.

Remember, you’re given one complimentary stopover when you book a Saver roundtrip on Singapore Airlines.

Star Alliance partners

  • Economy: 110,000
  • Business class: 195,000 

The redemption rates on partner awards are much worse than on Singapore’s own metal. Thus, I personally would avoid trying to book Star Alliance partners with Singapore and try to do such bookings with ANA, United, Aeroplan, etc.

American Airlines 

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, Citi credit cards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 160,000

Unfortunately, American doesn’t allow you to transit 3rd regions subject to exceptions and North America to South Pacific (Australia and New Zealand) is not given an exception. This means that routing through the Middle East with Qatar and Etihad or through Asia with airlines like Cathay Pacific will cost you additional miles. Therefore, I’m leaving them and others off the list.

American + Qantas

American Airlines runs a direct flight to Auckland from LAX but as you’d probably expect it’s very difficult to find open seats on that flight. However, if you route your flights through Australia and take American Airlines from LAX -> SYD you can find some pretty good business class SAAver availability at times, although you’ll need to searching for about 9 to 10 months out. Check out the SAAver seats below for business class from LAX -> AUK flying American to Sydney and then Qantas to Auckland.

Great business class availability about 10 months out.

Also, although American Airlines does not allow stopovers, the fees are very reasonable and for the roundtrip business class seats found above, you’d be paying about $73 in total fees!

Only $73 in fees!

You could also try to find other Qantas routes that depart from the United States but as already stated when it comes to business class, those can be pretty difficult to find. However, there are routes from LAX, SFO, and DFW you could at least look into.

Final Word 

Getting to New Zealand with miles and points in economy is not very difficult with sufficient planning but getting there in business class requires: 1) ample planning often 7-10 months out; 2) relentless searching; and 3) flexibility with routing connections through different regions of Asia and/or Australia. If you can handle those three things, you should be able to eventually put together routing to New Zealand; otherwise, you might just have to get lucky and come across sporadic award space. 

Cover photo byDarren Puttock via Flickr