“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
Today was a very fun day as we paid a visit to Hobbiton; part of the set for ‘The Hobbit’ and a replica of the one used in ‘Lord of the Rings’. After setting the alarm for 9:00, getting up and having a quick McDonalds hash brown breakfast (yum), we wandered over to the tourist information centre to pay for and collect our tickets. At $75 each, it had seemed a little bit steep when we were planning to go but now we were getting ready to go, all the excitement made it seem like barely anything at all.
After a short wait, everybody piled onto the Hobbiton Bus, took our seats and waited to leave. There was music playing, Coldplay of all things, and I was quite surprised that they weren’t playing something more magical to set the scene a bit and to get people all excited for the tour. It just seemed a little bit odd. There wasn’t too long to ponder this though as the driver climbed on the bus, started it up and off we went. We’d managed to get the front seats again, as we seem to quite a lot at the moment, and so it meant that we had some really great views of the countryside as we travelled along. The driver told us a few little bits about the area on the way and it was interesting to find out that prior to the filming of Lord of the Rings, auditions had been held at Matamata college. Around 800 people had turned up from the age of 12 months right the way to 86 years but only 7 people were selected to be extras in the film. I suppose it shows how much care they took to create it and make sure it was right but compared to the extra agencies I’ve been a part of at home, it was incredibly picky!
As we arrived at Shire’s Rest, a little area with a cafe and a shop, the driver swapped with another and a guide joined us as we set off through the gate and onto a farm. Hobbiton is built on the Alexander family farm, a working sheep and cattle farm and so as we made our way to the set we were able to see some of the 13,000 sheep in the area. Apparently during the filming of Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson didn’t want to use any of the ones there as they were just too white so he opted to import some with black faces instead. Again, it may seem quite strange but even when making films in uni, I understand how you want everything to be perfect and so I could totally understand the lengths that they went to. I mean, he also had the road through the farm built for him by the New Zealand Army so I can’t quite relate to that but the other things I can. There’s no point setting out to make an amazing film and then ignore bits is there? Nope, not at all.
A short while later we turned off the road and entered a little car park at the very start of the Hobbiton entrance where we all leapt off the bus and walked over to the first point. We were all given a little talk about not leaving the paths or disappearing off, the usual tour rules, and then off we went, into the world of the hobbits. It was quite strange wandering around in somewhere I’d never been before and yet felt so familiar. The first recognisable place was Gandalf’s Cutting; it had been in the first Hobbit film, and the first and third of the Lord of the Rings films. It was the first ‘proper’ place I remembered and so when the guide told us more about how it was filmed, I hung onto their every word. Obviously, with Frodo being a hobbit and Gandalf being a wizard, there’s quite a size difference and so when they pass through the area in the horse and cart, a bit of camera magic had to be used to make it work. By sitting Frodo at the back some five metres away from Gandalf in the front, an anamorphic lens was used to make it look as though they were sat side by side. The end result really is fantastic and you could be mistaken for thinking there really was a true height difference. I remember wondering how it was done when I first watched the films ages and ages ago and although I’d had an inkling, it was good to know exactly how the effect was achieved. That’s part of the reason why the Hobbiton tour was so good; you learn lots of interesting things which just add to your Middle Earth experience.
After we’d walked past the place where Gandalf set off fireworks at the start of the Fellowship of the Ring, everybody gathered around a little pond and waited to hear what movie secrets our guide had next. It was a really pretty little place and you could really see why that area was chosen. With the green rolling hills dotted with bright, colourful flowers and the carefully painted doors with their well pruned gardens, it was certainly a place you could imagining living and in my opinion, the perfect representation of a world I’d imagined so many times. The only thing perhaps spoiling it just a little bit, was the guy who thought it was acceptable to just stick his Go Pro on a stick right in front of you and swing it about but, you know, some things have to be overlooked. I decided to try and just block him out of focus on other things instead and it really wasn’t hard to do with all the interesting facts we were learning about. For example, my particular favourite concerned the trees in the orchard. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’ these trees were specifically plum, a fact which came from a single line in the book. Not wanting to annoy any dedicated fans, Peter Jackson knew that he’d have to use plum trees but there was a bit of a problem; their size. Perspective is very important in these films due to the hobbits being so very small and other people, like Gandalf, being very tall. Plum trees would have been far too tiny to show these things and so instead, apple and pear trees were planted but to avoid the inevitable dedicated fan backlash the leaves and fruit were picked off and plumb replacements hand wired on. It’s crazy to think just how much attention to detail there was, even more so when I think the trees were shown for about 3 seconds. Crazy. Still, it definitely shows just how keen everybody involved was to get it absolutely right and I think with the success of the films, it certainly paid off.
A couple of photo stops later and after pretending to be a rather large wizard perched outside a hobbit hole, we arrived at what can only be described as the best place in the whole of Hobbiton; Bag end. The home of Bilbo Baggins, it was definitely the most recognisable hobbit hole of all and after having on recently watched the films, it was really quite exciting to see. It felt just like we’d accidentally come across it and I half expected a little Bilbo to come toddling out, telling us all to go away! I have to say the “No admittance unless on party business” was my favourite bit. Everyone has felt like that at some point and I think a sign like that would really help! Annoyingly, we didn’t have too long to take photos with it being such a big group and of course the guy with the Go Pro but that didn’t matter too much and if you turned around and saw the view, it didn’t matter at all. It was spectacular and looked over the whole of Hobbiton including the Green Dragon Inn in the distance. You could completely understand why all the hobbits were so jealous of where Bilbo lived; I was and it wasn’t even real!
Once everybody had taken their photos and were assembled up against the fence, it was time to listen to another really interesting filming fact regarding the oak tree on the hill above the hole. To me it just looked like a normal tree but in reality it could not be more fake. Incredible as it looked so realistic. Apparently, during the filming of Lord of the Rings, an oak tree was selected from just outside Matamata, chopped up, taken to the set and reassembled for filming. Unfortunately but somewhat expectedly, the leaves all died and began to fall off leaving a rather bare, sad looking trunk which wasn’t exactly the look they were going for. They ended up having to order 200,000 fake leaves from Taiwan and hand wire them on and once that was done, it was looking pretty great….but not for long. When the set designers came back to admire their handiwork a little while later, they found that their brilliant, healthy looking green leaves had faded away. Oh dear. To solve this problem, a woman was hired to sit in the tree everyday and paint them all one by one. Every single day. I mean, she must have been paid fairly well and it’s certainly a good job to put on your CV but it must have been such a monotonous job. Having said that, I quite like a set routine like that every now and again so it might not have been all that bad. Who knows, she might have though it was the best job ever…
However, the tree work wasn’t quite over yet. With the original LOTR set being demolished, when it came to filming The Hobbit, everything had to be rebuilt and unfortunately that included Mr. Oak. Deciding not to repeat the same problems as last time, the designers decided to build it completely from scratch and that included hand wiring another 200,000 leaves back onto the branches. It might have taken a lot of time to do, especially for only 6 seconds of screen time, but just as with the plum trees I think it was worth it as if you’ve read the books, it really is how you imagine it all to look. Really green, really friendly and really fun.
On the way down the hill, we stopped a couple of times to see some more holes and have a look inside one. There isn’t actually anything inside with them filming the interior in Wellington but it was still good fun, pretending to be hobbits. We then found ourselves in the party field with the best view of the hobbit houses. and were given a little bit of time to have a wander around by ourselves . I had a little go on the seesaw and I did feel a bit silly though I suppose you have to do these things, don’t you? A short while later, we re-grouped and made our way over to the inn for a lovely, complimentary drink, over the famous stone bridge, past the lake and into the cosy looking pub. We hadn’t been expecting one at all and so it was a lovely surprise, made even better by the fact that we got to enjoy it sat inside an actual replica of the inn used in the films. To me it was how every pub should be, snug, comfy, with a big roaring fire and tasty drinks in old fashioned mugs. I loved it. Both myself and Codie selected the delicious Sackville Cider but there were beer and ginger ale options as well and all of them are brewed exclusively for Hobbiton. We really were drinking proper Middle Earth drinks!
Cider supped, it was time for one last proper look at our surroundings before we had to leave. We had a couple of photos standing on the very familiar stone bridge which Gandalf and Frodo cross in the horse and cart and then attempted some panoramic pictures of the entire scene. There was not a chance I was going to leave without trying to capture as much of the beautiful scenery (and Smaug’s head poking through the bushes) as I could and I think we did alright with it. I hope so anyway! We then wandered back inside the Green Dragon inn to try on some of the clothes they had there though I think I came across as more of a thieving ragamuffin as opposed to a hobbit. Codie, on the other hand, definitely pulled the shepherd look off and it was hilarious. I’m so glad I’ve got pictures!
Now feeling pretty shattered after seeing so many things over the last few hours, we met up with the group and began the short walk back to the bus. The time had flown by and I was quite sad to be leaving, if not a little relieved to have a rest. My camera had just about survived being thumped by a poor man almost falling down the steps, we’d had a drink in the inn, visited Bag End and wandered around the well trodden paths of Hobbiton. What a wonderful afternoon it had been. As we clambered back on the bus I had a little look at whose name was on the side, since I’d forgotten on the way, and saw that it said ‘Kili’. Kill was one of the dwarves from The Hobbit who was on a mission to reach the Lonely Mountain and reclaim Erabor but sadly, he was killed during a rather large battle. It was quite cool to know which bus we’d got and I liked that a lot of attention had been put into making sure the trips were as hobbit-y as possible. Well worth the money in my opinion and I’d definitely go again without hesitation.
Back in Matamata and we hopped off the bus, tired but happy. We’d been taken back to the Shire’s Rest on the way back for a quick look in the gift shop and it had drained the last of my energy, trying to force myself not to buy anything. I would have loved a ‘No Admittance Unless On Party Business’ sign but everything was a bit pricey and I’m not sure it’d have made it back in one piece in my flimsy backpack. Grrrrrr. Codie says it wasn’t really overpriced when converted to GBP pounds and I suppose it wasn’t but $20 seems a lot when you’re watching your money! We did end up with some postcards and stamps though so I didn’t leave completely empty handed. That would have been a complete catastrophe! Anyway, when we arrived back in the little town I had another look around the I-site and bought myself a postcard whilst Codie wrote and posted his and then we left to film our time-lapse for our New Zealand film. We decided to out the camera next to the sign saying ‘Welcome to Hobbiton’ as we thought that it really summed up our experience of Matamata.I think it’ll look really good!
By the time we made it back to our cosy queen room in the hotel, we were both ready for a nice rest. It had been a fantastic day, I’d enjoyed every second of it and we’d been so lucky with the glorious weather but it was time to relax. Still feeling quite wrapped up in the hobbit world, we decided to watch the Fellowship of the Ring whilst eating our tasty noodle lunch but both of us ended up fast asleep and missing most of it. Oh dear. Later on, when we were both feeling a little bit more with it, we toddled off across the road to Countdown to get some more snacks before ending up back in bed. It had been such a long but fun day and just like a little excited child at Disneyland, the whole thing had tired us out. I’d definitely recommend a trip to Hobbiton to anyone visiting New Zealand, after all, if you’re visiting Middle Earth then you definitely can’t miss it!