Ok, I think you’ve been teased long enough. As regular followers (and anyone who’s watched the headstand slideshow) will know, I’m in New Zealand now. And what are the three things New Zealand is famous for? Answer; Rugby, sheep, and Lord Of The Rings. Now I’m not into rugby, and being vegan I don’t have much to do with sheep, so that leaves…
Hobbiton is near a place called Matamata, which proved to be a good ten hour trip from Paihia where we were (via the Naked Bus, which isn’tthe most convenient service… but it’s cheap!). We got in quite late and pretty much just crashed out for the night as there isn’t much else to do really.
I was ludicrously excited about going to Hobbiton, so despite the long journey the day before I was up and at ’em early the next day, ready to go.
The tour picks up from the Matamata i-site (tourist information), which they’ve done a grand job of making over as a Hobbit hole/hut.
We booked the 11am tour, thinking it would be quite a civilised time to go, but not so late that it would be packed. We needn’t have worried, apart from us there were just three other people on the bus.
The driver gave us some interesting little tid-bits of information on the way up there; like the fact that one thousand people came to the local school to apply to be extras – the oldest was eighty something and the youngest was twenty-odd months – and when filming was done and people were out of their contracts, just seven people came forward to say they had parts in the film. They now refer to themselves as ‘The Chosen Ones’.
It got exciting as we drove out to the farm. The land got decidedly more hobbity, and you started to get the feeling that, if you looked close enough, you might just see a Hobbit.
Unfortunately none appeared on our way up there, but there were signs that gave us some hope. Like this one for example.
The bus dropped us off at the Shire’s Rest, which is a slightly disappointing tin shed at the top of a hill. Here we had out ten/fifteen minutes to wait until the tour proper began.
Just enough time for a loo break, so souvenir shopping, and for the anticipation to build.
Pretty soon our tour bus arrived, emptied out the last tour, loaded up with our lot (there were about twelve of us by now), and off we went!
We were driven down to Hobbiton along the road they’d put in especially to get the crew to the set. The map they’d give us had on things like catering and animal kingdom, and our bus driver and guide pointed each one out, but in reality there was nothing there, as filming was (obviously) over by now.
Still, it didn’t matter too much, as we weren’t there to see trucks and boxes, we were there to see Hobbit holes. And we got our first glimpse of The Shire as we went round the back of a hill, which got us ludicrously excited (again!).
The tour proper starts with a walk through what they call Gandalf’s Cutting, the road down which Gandalf and Frodo ride on a horse and cart at the start of the first movie.
Our Guide Freddy, a fellow Englishman who’d been in the job for about two weeks (and originally applied for a job as a sheep shearer, can you believe), told us how they used an icelandic pony and a small cart to film in the narrow passageway, and how they used forced perspective to give the illusion of Frodo being much smaller than Gandalf.
They would ride Sir Ian McKellan through first, filming his half of the conversation, and then they would ride Elijah Wood through filming his half, but sitting him about for foot further back in the cart. Then, when the two bits of film were married together in post production, it gave the illusion of a difference in size. This was in fact done a lot throughout the film, and meant that they could use real people for a lot of the shots and not rely heavily on CGI.
Anyway, you come out of the cutting and immediately you’re surrounded by about half a dozen hobbit holes. Honestly, you don’t know where to look. Happily, you’re soon let loose to go around and take photos (in the immediate vicinity that is).
To be honest with you, I took so many pictures of hobbit holes I’ve no idea which appeared when, so if you’ve been and spot that they’re out of order then forgive me. I was just too excited to take notes.
From our first hobbit hole encounter we were then led up to another section of The Shire, getting our first proper glimpse along the way of Bag End.
We were taken up past a bunch of hobbit holes we weren’t allowed to get near, as they might need to come back and do some pick-up shots for the last two Hobbit moves which they’re still working on now,
onto a path up the hill, from where we got our first look proper at the whole layout of Hobbiton.
From here you could see the party tree, and the lake, and in the distance the Green Dragon pub. But we did not tarry! Partly because we would be seeing all those places up close very shortly, but mostly because we were on the path to Bag End!
First we stopped and got our photos taken in one of the hobbit holes (which was nothing more than a small shed inside),
and then there we were; Biblo and Frodo’s house.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed up the path to the front door, but Freddy told us lots of interesting stories about the filming of Lord Of The Rings.
For example, the scene in the first film where Bilbo and Gandalf are sat on a bench outside Bag End watching the sun set had to be shot in the morning as the sun doesn’t set in the direction in which they are facing, but rather behind them. And they had to do it twice because of a 20th century barn in the background no one noticed the first time.
Also, the tree on top of Bag End was cut down and transported there from Matamata, each limb numbered and then bolted back onto the trunk on site. The leaves were imported from Taiwan, wired onto the branches, and then painted an different green because Peter Jackson didn’t like the colour they were.
It sounds like a lot of unnecessary hard work, but it’s that attention to detail that made the films what they are.
Of course, Bag End is where I had to do my fiftieth headstand!
You can’t really see in the picture, but I wore a special badge to honour the occasion.
Well you don’t turn fifty every day do you? ..lol..
No time to waste, we were off back down the hill again, this time off to the Party Field and the Party Tree.
It’s a lovely space to be in. You feel like you could hang out there all day. Freddy told us that people actually get married under the party tree. They dress up as Sam and Rosie, the priest dresses up like Gandalf, and they do the whole thing right there. They even have their reception afterwards at the Green Dragon, which you can see across the lake.
And y’know what, if you’d just told me about that without my being there I’d have thought, “Man, how tacky.” But now I’ve been there… 😉
The Green Dragon was our next destination. We followed the path round the lake, and came at the pub over the bridge by the mill.
The interior was awesome. Just so detailed and so well done.
They had a real fire going, and while we warmed our cockles Freddy shouted us all to a beer from the bar in real Hobbit sized tankards.
This isn’t the original Green Dragon. I mean, none of the construction is the original, as they were all made out of plywood and polystyrene in the first three movies, and only rebuilt in wood and stone for the next three. But more then that, the original pub was burnt to the ground deliberately when they were filming Frodo’s nightmare vision in Lothlorian, when he saw The Shire sacked, and all his friends and family enslaved.
Lucky for us the rebuild had finished just a few weeks before. Unlucky for us they only allow tours to hang around for about fifteen minutes before you’re on your way again. I had thought we’d get a chance to sit down and have a bite to eat, but no such luck (there’s food, but you have to wolf it down).
We finished off our circuit round the lake, where you got to see some very choice real estate,
by coming back to where we had started in the beginning.
A few more shots then it was back on the bus, and back up to the Shire’s Rest for a well earned cup of tea and a bowl of wedges.
The whole thing took two or three hours in total (I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking at my watch much so I don’t know for certain), and was really great value for money I reckon. You got to see pretty much everything, you got some great photos, and the little details Freddy gave us on the tour really made the thing come to life for us.
If you’re in New Zealand I thoroughly recommend giving it a go. I promise you won’t regret it. And if you can’t make it there any time soon, here’s a few more hobbit holes for you to enjoy, starting with Sam Gamges’s house, followed by a few shots of the many many little details and touches that make Hobbiton so special.