Yes, The Lord of the Rings films delivered an enormous surge of travelers to New Zealand in the early 2000s. But tourism here has been booming since the 1980s—for a very good reason.

Some would blame the hobbits. When you consider the popularity of this modest little island, it’s easy to assume it’s all the fault of those hairy-footed characters that so famously rove New Zealand’s wilds. Even Elijah Wood, The Hobbit himself, once declared: “There’s a real purity in New Zealand that doesn’t exist in the States. It’s actually not an easy thing to find in our world anymore.”

So why not attribute the country’s fame to a huge film franchise and some mind-bendingly beautiful scenery? Ever since the first The Lord of the Rings film was released in 2001, tourists have been flocking to New Zealand to experience Middle-earth, to see if the real place could possibly match up to the beautiful images on screen.

Spoiler alert: It could.