“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.”
(J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit)
Hobbiton. The Shire. To many people, many tourists, New Zealand is first of all the country of the Lord of the Rings. The country of Mordor, Rivendell, Orcs and… Hobbits. Thus Hobbiton seems like a must-do while in New Zealand. Hobbiton is the place where Peter Jackson set up his Shire when he filmed the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The set was not meant to last, for the houses were built in polystyrene. After the filming, some remains were even homes for sheep! But in 2011, everything was rebuilt for the Hobbit trilogy. And this time, in wood and concrete. Peter Jackson must have smelled the (money) potential of such a place. And the Hobbiton Movie Set was born, welcoming in high season over 2000 visitors a day.
I’ve been kind of resisting to go, for the tour is pretty expensive: 75NZ$, transport not included, and let me tell you that the set is nowhere near anything – not even Matamata… Until the day I found out that Florent (aka Monsieur Wellington) posted on Facebook a note that sounded pretty much like this: ‘Hého I’d love to go see some Hobbits, but don’t feel like going alone, who wanna join?’ Well, I didn’t need much to say yes and embark myself on a road trip with this South West Frenchie towards Hobbiton, Rotorua and Taupo.
GETTING TO THE SHIRE HITCH HIKING & RENTING A MICRO CAR
But let’s go back to our Hobbits. First of all, we met in Tauranga and needed to get to Rotorua, some 65km from there, where we planned to hire the car which will help us get to the Shire. That’s how we met a lovely German couple: Johanna and John, whom host, Alyson, has offered to drive us to Rotorua for free! Johanna is a fluent French speaker, while my German is still so basic (‘Ich bin acht und zwanzig Jahre alt!’) During the ride, we all discover a mutual interest for blogging (Ok, that’s pretty common for travellers). Everyone takes out his mascot for a legendary picture!
Well arrived in Rotorua, we discover our Hobbit-car at the Rent A Dent agency. We burst in laughter while meeting our Kia with the tiniest boot ever: the boot is so small that Monster barely fits in. We settle ourselves at the Funky Green Voyager hostel, and we jump into the car: we have our Hobbit-meeting at 14:30 in The Shire!
WELCOME TO THE HOBBIT’S LAND
In the surroundings of Matamata, everything is green rolling hills and white sheep. No doubt, that’s definitely the land of The Shire. From the front desk, a bus drives us towards Hobbiton, which is actually a private property of a farmer’s family, the Alexander’s, who possess loads of lands and sheep in the region.
Hobbiton is only accessible through guided tours, to preserve the site and also welcoming as many people as possible in one day without the place being too crowded. Our tour guide is very nice and funny and is filling us up with many anecdotes. I’m behaving like a straight-A student by answering all of his questions (‘Who’s living in the Hobbit hole under that tree?’ ‘Bilbo & Frodo!’)
Everything’s well clocked and the tour groups follow one another but do not hurt each other. Minutes are limited in front of every Hobbit’s hole. Whatever, with Flo we’re like terrible kids, frolicking around, shooting loads of pictures, opening doors, touching every single object. Basically, we’re overwhelmed with joy.
Each of the 44 Hobbit’s hole is singular and unique, there are small tiny details everywhere. Stack shelves behind windows, chimneys that are actually smoking, scarecrows, gardens, knickknacks,… We can witness the amazing job of the production designers and decorators for the setting is delicate and subtle. Nothing is left to chance. The veggie garden has real vegetables. This lady is hanging up real Hobbit’s clothes on drying lines.
However, the little houses are all… Empty. There are only the facades, nothing behind the doors for the interiors’ scenes were shot in a studio in Wellington.
As for the huge tree over Bilbo’s house, it was replanted here and every single leave was imported from Taiwan as fake hand-painted leaves and attached to the branches. When the time came to shoot The Hobbit, which happens to take place some 60 years before Lord of the Rings, the leaves had bleached out. So the crew had to paint it again and make it look younger than the previous ones. This is just one story amongst others that shows how Peter Jackson felt invested in making the Tolkien’s Shire come true.
GRABBING A DRINK AT THE GREEN DRAGON INN
The tour is ending at the Green Dragon Inn, the Hobbit’s pub. Here, we’re allowed to have one drink for free, a beer or a cider and it’s even possible to try on some Hobbit clothes! The place is huge and could easily welcome hundreds of guests. I found out later that it’s possible to book it for private tours, evening banquet tours and even weddings! How awesome would it be to have this place for you and your friends for a crazy-let’s-dance-dressed-up-as-hobbits-night!
Our breaks at the Dragon Inn is clocked, though, no more than 10 minutes to drink and wander around. That’s really a shame for the place is cosy and that’s exactly the kind of place you would like to hang out at the end of the afternoon with a good book and a carrot cake. We drag our feet reluctantly towards the exit. We would have really loved to stay more to fool around in the Hobbit’s land.
We spent our ride back dwelling on about the little anecdotes we liked, the details that caught our attention and we still can’t believe we walked on the same ground as Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen or Elijah Wood. When we arrived in Rotorua, our eyes are still twinkling with stars.
We end up spending the evening at the Rotorua’s Night Market, eating like crazies, for that’s exactly what we like in life (we’re both French, don’t forget about that). This little market is the perfect occasion to taste worldwide range of food, from Chile to France, passing by India or Malaysia. There’s even a little gig and we’re completely under the spell of the lady singer.
Thus ends my first day of adventures with Flo, and I’m well satisfied by our unexpected duo: our stomachs have a lot in common…! Tomorrow we’re going to wander around the geothermic curiosities of Wai-O-Tapu, can’t wait to make more New Zealander discoveries for as said Ian McKellen (Gandalf) :
‘How can New Zealand not bewitch anyone who visits?’
LET’S GO THERE! :
Rent A Dent, 39 Fairy Springs, Rotorua
Funky Green Voyager Backpackers (BBH), 4 Union Street, Rotorua
Hobbiton, 501 Buckland Road, Hinuera
Night Market, Tutanekai Street, Rotorua, every Thursday night starting 17:00
BONUS: On our way back to Rotorua, we encountered this lady Pukeko bird with jewellery and high heels…