It's also meant that Kiwis have spent years being teased about having hairy feet, jokes involving creepy little dudes who obsess about rings and the threats of Orc-ish behavior at parties (ok, I made that last one up). But let me tell you know, it's not true, and I have the photos to prove it!
On a slightly less irate note, one of my New Zealand wishes (A family Christmas / A day at the beach / Visiting Hobbiton / Cuddling my new nephew) came through thanks to my Dad volunteering to pop over to Matamata's answer to DisneyWorld - the Hobbiton Movie set. And yes, I realise I was perpetuating the hairy footed stereotype, but my fluttering tourist heart couldn't bear the thought of missing out on one of New Zealand's newest attractions - not to mention exploring the Lord of the Rings & Hobbit connections - stories I've loved since I was a kid.
|My Sister & Dad (Dad duly disguised as a tourist with a London cap...)|
After navigating the back roads 15 minutes out of Matamata, you grab your ticket (prebooking at Christmas and New Years is absolutely essential - I booked our tickets almost as soon as I'd booked my flights!) and hop on a short coach ride through the working sheep and cattle farm.
After a cheeky spiel by the bus driver, the guide for the tour disembarked our group (of around 40 people) and took us around the winding site pathways. It's a super busy but efficient operation - think smaller scale Disney world - and there is SO much to see. Perfect replicas of 30+ character filled hobbit home facades dot the curving landscape, smoke curls from the chimneys and the vegetable gardens heave with real fruit, vegetables and flowers.
The set was rebuilt in 2011 for the feature films "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again". It is now a permanent attraction complete with hobbit holes, gardens, bridge, Mill and The Green Dragon™ Inn.
We were simply amazed by the technical trickery; think wood chip, paint and yoghurt moss on the 'weathered' fences, beautifully constructed props laid in front of the hobbit holes according to the trade of the 'inhabiting' family and 3D house facades carved into the gently curving hill mounds.
With boundless photo opportunities (there are a couple of stops the guides specifically offer to take your photo in and around the fabulous doorways) make sure you come with a fully charged camera (and selfie stick if that's how you roll - just know we can't be friends ok?) and a lot of patience for dealing with the other tourists in your group. The hobbit homes all vary in scale - from fullsize to hobbit size to allow for the many perspective tricks needed for filming.
Then, then you reach the crest of the hill, and the ultimate highlight - Bag End, Bilbo and Frodo's home.
The oak tree overlooking Bag End was cut down and brought in from near Matamata. Each branch was numbered and chopped, then transported and bolted together on top of Bag End (weighing 26 tonne). Artificial leaves were imported from Taiwan and individually wired onto the dead tree.
Our guide also told us that Peter Jackson not being satisfied with the colour of the leaves had them repainted - from gantries. He also employed someone to walk to the washing lines every morning to create dewy trails in the grass. What a crazy legend.
It. Was. So. Cool. My preciousssssssss
|The party field all dressed for celebration.|
Originally constructed to only last a few weeks for filming (the New Zealand Department for Conservations are super conservative) when the neighbours started asking for tours, the owners began taking people around the mostly taken down site and came to the realization that they could be sitting on a tourist goldmine. When the hobbit homes went back up for filming the Hobbit movies, the Alexanders agreed on condition that the sets were constructed to last for 50 years. Simply genius.
"When tourists come here they don’t quite know what to expect," says Russell Alexander, the farm owner. "They have no idea how big it is, and the detail - I suppose for want of a better word - it actually blows them away, what’s involved in making a major movie."
"You can’t help but be proud of this place … and maintaining it there’s obviously a huge sense of responsibility. But you also have to have huge passion. If you haven’t got passion it doesn’t work to keep this place and keep the business."
The Alexander family farm was scouted serendipitously by Peter Jackson and locations scouts searching by helicopter for a gently undulating countryside closely resembled that of the 'Shire’ in the popular classics by J.R.R Tolkien. Can you image getting that knock on the door? Rumour also has it that the owner was going to say no as he hadn't heard of the Lord of the Rings books, but his wife (who had) nudged him rather sharply.
Nearing the end of our tour, and the rolling in of storm clouds we made for the Green Dragon tavern - originally just a facade, the owners have developed it into a real working pub where you're shouted a complimentary drink by your guide.
|Cue the cheesiest photo I've ever taken in the history of blogging, but possibly the most satisfying, round doorways and all.|
How cool is it? I'll let my companions <note the LOTR reference right there> demonstrate how much they enjoyed. It's a little on the pricey side as tourist experiences ever are, but definitely brilliant for what it is.
Just be careful, they seem to like to farming tourists in Maramata ;)