09.02.2015 Pt. I: Matamata, New Zealand
THIS WAS SUCH A GOOD DAY, SUCH A GOOD DAY, SUCH A G O O D DAY!!!
Hobbiton is a real place.
We started our day with a short walk to a nearby backpackers’ lodge, which was our pick-up location for the day’s tour. Just as we made it there, my bladder decided to protest and I was forced to find a restroom in the lodge. I ask the first person I see for directions — a sweet, bespectacled, light brown-haired girl — and she pointed me to the back of the entrance hall. When I walked out, feeling greatly relieved, the same friendly girl was still there, and I thought that since she knew her way around this lodge, she must have known where the usual pick-up location for this lodge’s occupants was (Niki and I were growing worried because it was already 10 minutes past our pick-up time and the bus was nowhere to be seen). It turned out that she was trying to figure out the same thing because she was on the same tour and booked for the same pick-up as us!
This friendly girl was Joana — born in 1996 just like Niki and I, from Essen, Germany, and had the cutest blazer ever. We’ve been friends ever since. For the first time ever, I thanked my bladder for having done the incredible — helping me befriend an amazing person.
Our bus came about 10 minutes later, and off we went for our 50-minute drive to Matamata. The first stop was the absolutely packed Shire Store, which included hand-crafted items from Weta Studios, exclusive Southfarthing beverages, cloaks from Stansborough Fibres, books and memorabilia from Hobbiton Movie Set! I bought a couple of LOTR collector coins, bookmarks, chocolate cookies in the shape of Bilbo Baggins’ foot and postcards for friends (focus was on Hannah because I knew she loved LOTR).
Next, we pulled into the most exciting bit of our journey: the real Middle-Earth. We visited the Hobbiton Movie Set (yes, the very hobbit holes!), the bucolic setting for The Shire that featured in the Peter Jackson directed films, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies. As we approached the location, we were in the middle of farmland and we wouldn’t have imagined that this was where Peter Jackson and his team brought Middle Earth to life. It was fantastic not only because everything felt so real one simply feels one is in another world, but also because no matter what direction looked towards, there were no tall buildings, roads, or power lines… only green hills and tall trees. The skyline is just white clouds floating by… The reason for this is due to Hobbiton being located in the middle of New Zealand and off the beaten path.
When Peter Jackson was scouting New Zealand’s North Island to find places to film The Lord of the Rings, he spotted the Alexander Farm during an aerial search of the North Island and thought it would be a perfect location for Hobbiton, one of the places in the Shire where Hobbits lived. After some negotiations and a lot of work, the farm was transformed. They began site construction in 1999, implementing incredible detail to make the set complete. Since then, it’s been a permanent attraction adorned with bridges, gardens, the Mill and other locations one might recognise from the set. Fascinating.
Entering the picturesque 1,250-acre Alexander Sheep Farm with spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges, we saw 37 hobbit holes waiting to be explored. We stepped inside the house of Bilbo Baggins and saw where Samwise Gamgee and Rosie Cotton lived. Some of the hobbit holes were big enough to explore while others were miniature in size. Outside the homes were everyday items from the lives of hobbits including cabbage gardens, smoked fish, honey pots, butterfly catchers, scarecrows and hobbit-sized shirts and pants hung on clotheslines left to dry.
Our guide, who was only a couple of years older than us, was absolutely hilarious and injected some form of humour into everything he said. He seemed to know all of Hobbiton’s secrets, and without him, we wouldn’t have found out that…
- The Party Tree was created with artificial leaves imported from Taiwan and individually wired onto the tree;
- The director didn’t like the landscape’s shade of green so he ordered for some trees to be spray-painted to the ‘correct’ shade of green;
- Frogs were removed from a nearby pound because their croaks kept making it into the film’s audio;
- Bag End is the only hobbit hole with an interior (in the entranceway) while all the other hobbit holes are blank inside;
- Somewhere between 600-800 Elven ears were produced for the films, or that an expert wig maker was hired for the film (some of the wigs cost $10,000);
- Pretty much everything You’d see in the film, costume-wise, was made from scratch, including the buttons;
- The dwarf costumes were made slightly larger so it looks like they were made by people with fat fingers, and also so they would still look realistic when they’re scaled down;
- For the dwarves’ shoes, they had the bigger actors wear size 22 shoes and the smaller actors wear size 18. In order to keep them from falling off, they actually had a smaller shoe built inside the large shoe;
- Currently, all the original costumes — like Gandalf’s — from the LOTR trilogy are locked up in storage and preserved, so they can’t be reused.
Upon completion of our tour, we were led to the Green Dragon Inn, which was featured in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy as the local meeting place for all the residents of Hobbiton. Fun fact: All the interior scenes for the films (i.e. like the ones in the Green Dragon Inn) were shot in studios in Wellington, but now the exact reproduction of the interior has been faithfully recreated at Hobbiton Movie Set. Here, we received one complimentary refreshment — I can’t remember for sure, but I think Niki and I received something which had ‘Apple’, ‘Ginger’ and ‘Ale’ in its name. I wasn’t too adventurous, but Niki was and she said that the drink tasted good!
At the Green Dragon Inn, some women managed to get hold of costumes similar to the ones used in the film and they pretended to act out a scene. Some chatting and photo-taking led us to find out that another group of young adults on the tour were actually Germans! It wasn’t too long before we were asked to board the bus to return to Rotorua, where we continued our day’s adventures and bode farewell to Joana (she had to get ready to leave for an overnight coach journey to Lake Taupo).
A tip! Joana told us that she had been taking overnight coaches/ trains to get from place to place so that she could spend her daylight hours exploring new places and not stuck in transport vehicles. She said it’s great for saving time and money, BUT she warned us that it could get tiring really quickly, so it wouldn’t be advisable to do that type of travelling back-to-back.
If You know me well, You’d know that I love thebucketlistfamily, and that my favourite video of theirs is the one I featured below. They’ve included Hobbiton (starts at 3:08) as one of their best moments in New Zealand, and I couldn’t agree more. I cannot recommend visiting Hobbiton enough. You’ll feel transported to another time and place and as soon as the tour ends, You’ll want to start it again, just like Niki, Joana and I did.