Day 170: Hobbits And The City

Wed. 30th January 2013

Says it all reallyRight from our arrival in New Zealand, there has been a Lord of the Rings theme and so it is appropriate that on our last full day here we visit Hobbiton. This set, built on a working farm, is a little way out of the small town of Matamata. We learn that the location was picked by Peter Jackson because it fit with the description of Hobbiton in the books and because it is all set in a slight dip in the ground and no man made structures are visible.

Bag End - But no sign of Bilbo or FrodoFor the Lord of the Rings films, the set was only temporary and was broken down after filming had finished. It was only for the Hobbit films that it was rebuilt to look exactly as before – down to replacing the oak tree on top of Bag End with an artificial replica made from moulds taken from the original which had died in between the films. (Not only did the leaves have to be individually attached, but they also had to be painted twice as they had faded in the sunlight prior to the start of filming.) We aren’t sure whether it was the farm or the film company that realised that there was a great business to be had from arranging tours.

You can see why Peter Jackson chose the locationThe set is set back from the road (to help maintain confidentiality) and even on the drive out from the entrance we can see why it was chosen – gently rolling hills dotted with large trees. We are fortunate to be on the first tour of the day and so we get an unrestricted view as we get off the coach and walked down the lane where Gandalf rode on his wagon and was met by Frodo at the start of the first film. Then we come through and past the first of the 44 hobbit holes (some of which have never appeared on film) and get our first view of Bag End with its green painted door and the oak tree above it. As we walked round we got to see the big Party Tree where Bilbo celebrated his eleventy-first birthday along with other locations used in the films (like Rosie & Sam Gamgee’s house/hole and having a beer in the Green Dragon Inn).

Looking back from the Green Dragon at the mill and the bridgeThe attention to detail was incredible (or bonkers). For example:

  • Every day for 2 weeks before start of filming someone went up to hang up and then remove washing from the clothes lines so that there would be visible tracks and hence an air of reality on film;
  • The doors are made in different sizes to enhance the perspective when filming;
  • The flowers and vegetables are (and were) real – but some were treated with growth hormones so that they would make the hobbits look smaller in the film;
  • The hobbit holes themselves go about 2m back into the hill so that they can have flowers and ornaments visible through the (leaded) windows.

The old and the new down by Auckland harbourAnd so it was on to Auckland our final stop in New Zealand. Auckland is the largest city in the islands and home to 1.5m out of a total NZ population of only 4.5m. With its sprawling suburbs and proper motorways it felt like a place apart from the rest of the country. Needless to say, there was more than enough to do to fill the short amount of time that we had there.

Skytower standing tall over the city towersOur first stop was the Skytower which provided great views out over the city and the hills and bays that surrounded it. Here we could not only have done the Skywalk around the outside of the tower or we could have Skyjumped and abseiled from the top. In the end we did neither – partly because of time and money and partly because we had done similar things in Sydney. Afterwards we walked down through the city centre to the harbour and then back up the park to the art gallery where there was a Rock and Roll photography exhibition. We spent a very happy hour here admiring the photos both for their depictions of people and for the composition and technical aspects of the photographs. Plenty of scope for improvement in our photos!

With Dan and Naell on top of Mount EdenIn Auckland, we are staying with Naell and Dan who are friends and former colleagues of mine from RM. They had a long standing ambition to emigrate to New Zealand and are now getting themselves established here. All through our stay in NZ, they provided a stream of hint and tips based on their experience of touring the country. These had all been really useful and we spent most of the evening sharing experiences and swapping stories of the places that we had visited. In particular, they had had a similarly great experience when wine tasting in Blenheim – one of the real highlights of our time here.

Looking out over the volcano crater at Eden ParkThey also took us out on a ‘tiki’ tour – showing us some of their favourite places in Auckland. We really appreciated having the locals view and we learned so much more about the city than we would have been able to find by ourselves in the limited time we had available. Sights we saw included:

  • The Auckland Domain (park) with the impressive building housing the War Museum perched on a hill which we had noticed earlier from the top of Skytower;
  • Mount Eden with its volcanic crater and views out over the city centre;
  • Mission Bay where we stopped to watch the yachts out on the bay and then went for Fish & Chips which we ate pondering the ‘dormant’ volcano of Rangitoto;
  • Through the trendy ‘Viaduct’ district and out over the Harbour Bridge where we looped around to Devonport and Ponsonby for a view of the city from the other side of the bay.

Auckland at nightWhat a treat for us and a great way to end our time in New Zealand. Thank you so much, Naell and Dan. We really enjoyed and appreciated your hospitality. It was brilliant to be able to meet up with you on the other side of the world. Good luck as you build your new lives down under.

Thanks also to New Zealand (and all the friendly Kiwis). We have really enjoyed our time here – the days have flown by. As ever, we wish we had more time. In particular, we should have spent more time in North Island as there are large stretches of it that we just haven’t touched.

This entry was posted in New Zealand, RTW Trip and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *