New Zealand Diaries #5 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

New Zealand part 3: Hobbiton!

31 Dec. We will celebrate NYE in NZ! And do it a whole day ahead of our friends and neighbors. We leave our lovely hotel early around 0930 or 1000. We decide on the scenic path to Matamata and Hobbiton. It’s a long drive in a good car. The car is smart: rain-sensing windshield wipers, the proximity sensor/beeping, blind spot car detection with a LED on the side mirrors, and an over-the-line detector which caused the steering wheel to vibrate a little. Fancy! I am adjusting to left-side driving, and by the end of the day I am fairly comfortable with 100 kph on narrow windy roads with no shoulder. Kelly is navigating and is doing his usual swearing at the GPS.

The landscape is wondrous. Hills, lakes, plains, curvy roads, tree canopies, sheep, beef cattle. The bridges all have names, as do the culverts. Keeps the drive interesting. A store sign off the road advertises “hot pies and coconuts”–what better example of UK plus Hawaii? A sign next to the beach says that the limit is “50 cockles per person per day”. Cockles! Boarding kennel and cattery–a common sign.

We have lunch in Te Aroha–linguistically the same as aloha? We find the Ironique Cafe–recycled iron fittings all over. Several items labeled GF. The food was delicious. I had a parmesan/pear/walnut/bacon salad, and Kelly had a Mediterranean lamb salad. GF brownie for dessert, and Monteith’s bottled pear cider to drink–not as good as on tap, of course. Nice little town! Then we head to Matamata and through to Hobbiton! The Shire’s Rest is at the entry to the farm where Hobbiton lies. Big building with a cafe upstairs and a shop on the ground floor (not first floor–that’s another English-y thing). We spend a good deal of money, though the loot wasn’t as spectacular as we hoped. I get a beautiful cape of possum/merino wool. The possums are a nasty invasive species so they trap them and mix their hair with wool.

We finally get two bottles of L&P soda to try, since we like the L&P chocolate bar. It’s lemony (the L part) and has mineral water from the town of Paeroa (the P part). It is tasty. At 14:45 we line up for the 15:00 tour. The line-up hut has four queues with chalkboards denoting which tour time for which line. A tour guide, Christy, takes our tickets. He is a great guide. A large older bus rolls up and we all pile in. A 10 minute drive takes us the gates of Middle Earth. The bus driver delivers trivia–most of it we know from watching the extras on the DVDs. It is beautiful and sunny and mid-70s. At the entrance gate there is a shack with perhaps 100 umbrellas. About 5 of the 40 of us grab them for sun protection. Ground rules for Hobbiton: don’t cross the ropes. Don’t touch anything behind a rope. Stay in sight of your group. The guide asks where folks are from (all over the world) and who has seen the movies (most). And then we cross into Middle Earth.

This would have made our whole trip by itself. We were walking through Hobbiton! We saw Bag End and had a pint in the Green Dragon! The first steps are through the curvy cut where Bilbo runs, contract in hand, shouting that he is off on an adventure. Hobbit holes all over, a small pond, a bigger lake, live gardens, clothes on the line, miniature wood piles. The tree over Bag End is entirely fake: 10,000 leaves from Thailand (or was it Taiwan? Sorry!) shipped to NZ and attached by hand. Other trees are real. They planted apple and pear trees to be the right shape and size, but in the books they are plum. So just pre-filming all the fruit and leaves were removed and fake plum leaves attached. The trees survived and are fruiting. The native trees were covered with beech sheathing to look more English.

The party tree is real and ENORMOUS. The original LOTR set was temporary, the Hobbit set was made to be permanent. The Green Dragon was specifically made flammable the first time for the Scouring of the Shire scene. One hobbit hole is thatched, but no one knew how to thatch a home, so a thatcher from England was flown down. Only two holes have any real depth behind the door. One is where the Black Rider asks “Baggins” and the hobbit and barking dog flee inside their house. They imported British sheep since the Kiwi ones didn’t look right. The only modern building in sight was a hay barn which was painted to look like a tree. They imported an eagle to make sure that the numerous rats and mice they had on set didn’t get free and get into the neighboring Kiwi reserve.

Sam and Rosie’s home! With flowers all over! The road into Hobbiton had to be built strong to withstand 150 large trucks a day. The beer for Bilbo’s party was specially made 1% alcoholic beer. The food tent served up 2-course breakfast, 3-course lunch, and 3-course dinner for actors and crew. There are different sized holes for different actors. A whole set of hobbit holes over a ridge was made as backup and never used in the films. We’ve seen hobbit holes that aren’t in the movie!

The laundry on the line was taken in each evening and put up by crew each morning for months before filming so that the footpaths looked natural. The wooden fences were repeatedly covered in a mix of yogurt and stain to age it–the yogurt encourages stuff to grow on the wood. The scene where Bilbo and Gandalf smoke in front of Bag End at sunset was perfect except that it faced east. So it was filmed at sunrise.

Eventually we get to the Green Dragon Inn. The first pint of beer or cider or pop is free with your ticket, but you can purchase food and further drink. Ceramic mugs, round windows, a roaring fire (at 75 degrees!), gorgeous artistry. This wasn’t in the movie, this interior was built later for the tourists. There are a few costume bits but nothing that excited us enough to try on. We spend about 20 minutes here before heading out. Overall it was an hour tour that was very much worth the time and money! We chat with our guide and note that we’ve now had a pint at the Bird & Baby where Tolkien’s writers group met, and a pint at the Green Dragon. Christy asks the usual questions and it turns out he’s an SFF reader. Kelly hands him a business card. When we get back to the Shire’s Rest, we run to the car and grab a Blade book to give to him. Kelly signs it and Christy is just floored. He had been showing off the card to another guide. Feels good!

After Hobbiton we ended up at Rotorua for the evening. A city of hot springs, it smells rather sulfury. Not really bad, just a little eggy. Room is OK but there is a spa tub in the bathroom! We walk downtown for dinner and end up on Eat Streat, a pedestrian mall with tons of restaurants. Our choice for dinner was Solace Cafe, eating outside on the sidewalk. It’s really crowded with the NYE party in the park a block away. Lots of folks dressed up. Great people watching. Maori wardens walking around–we know that’s what they were because their bright safety vests said so. Dinner was the fish special–local fish called hapuku? Delicious! With 3 fried shrimp (prawns) on salad. The poor waiters are slammed with all the people eating out.

Walking along Lake Rotorua, we see black swans, gulls, pigeons. People already claiming benches for fireworks at 2100. Music on a stage, carnival rides. Stop at a grocery store for dessert. I get gouda cheese with plum jam, Kelly has Tim Tams. He looooves the orange flavor ones. Fill hot tub and soak. We hear the 2100 fireworks in the distance, but are sound asleep for the midnight ones.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4


I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.