Matamata – here be Hobbits

Saturday 18th May, 2013

After a day of rest on Friday with rellies in Hamilton we were back on the road today. We started at a football match where Connor was goalkeeper (it finished 1-1) and then joined in with the post-game bakery run. We said goodbye to the Shands for now and headed off towards Rotorua.

But first, the little Waikato town of Matamata.

Matamata used to be a rural farming town that wouldn’t have been on anyone’s itinerary. It’s still a rural farming town but since the Lord of the Rings films it has become an integral part of any trip to New Zealand, because it’s home to the set of Hobbiton. Ben and I love the books and films, but it’s not the main reason we came to NZ. We came for the beautiful landscapes that the films showcase! There are a number of different ‘Lord of the Rings’ themed activities you can do in NZ, and this seemed to be one that we should definitely do.

Of all those activities this was the one we feared might be the most disappointing: it wasn’t cheap ($80 each) and there’s too much scope for gimmicks and merchandise. But we were delighted to find that far from having costumed hobbits or any other tacky gimmicks the whole Matamata experience was absolutely wonderful.

Tours leave the car park every 30 minutes and begin with a short bus ride down to the set. We timed our tour perfectly – there were only four of us + our guide (Freddie from Nottingham – who kept us entertained with his own backstory as well as tales from filming), which meant we got to take some sneaky pics of us posing inside some of the hobbit holes 🙂

Hobbit sized Welbies
Hobbit sized Welbies
Man-sized Welbies
Human-sized Welbies

Hobbiton is situated in a slightly secluded valley of hillocks and as soon as Peter Jackson saw the rolling countryside, untouched by 20th century clutter, the large established pine tree and the lake he knew that he had found the perfect location for Hobbiton.  However, it wasn’t entirely straightforward for him and his crew to actually persuade the farmer that owned the land to let them use it.

After his initial enquiries were rebuffed, Peter Jackson turned up on the doorstep to try and persuade the farmer. He knocked on the door, and when the door was opened, he received a fairly terse, but positive, response. It later turned out that the family had been watching rugby so didn’t want to spend time arguing with the filmaker!

The Party Tree, The Green Dragon and Hobbiton
The Party Tree, The Green Dragon and Hobbiton

The tour started by taking us along the route that Gandalf follows when he first arrives in Hobbiton in the Fellowship of the Ring. We then meandered our way round a number of different hobbit holes – some ‘hobbit’ size and some ‘normal’ size. The set is incredibly beautiful – it feels like a perfect little retirement village. None of the holes have any real internal structure but they have now been registered as legitimate dwellings (so that may change..?).

The gardens are kept perfect by a small team of gardeners employed year round to keep the set looking just as it was in the films. The level of attention to detail is extraordinary – Freddie told us stories of how the lichen on the wooden fence posts is painted on to look as if it has been there for years, and how one person’s job was to ensure every chimney was burning at just the right time, and how the 200,000 fake leaves on the Oak tree of Bag End were repainted (by hand) because their original colour didn’t look right on film.

Obviously Hobbits get post too
Weathered post box, fake lichen fenceposts, beautifully tended garden

We gradually made our way up to Bag End, taking too many photos (see our entire set of pictures on Flickr) along the way, and then headed back down the hill to the Party Tree (which can be hired out for real parties of course). Next, we crossed over a bridge attached to a water-mill and on to The Green Dragon pub for a free half-pint of ale (or ginger beer). This didn’t feel like such a novelty to us, as they have re-created a typical British pub with a roaring fire, dark wood interior and resident cat. But if we ever have the fortune to live close to a similar pub back in the UK it’ll definitely become our local.

In all we were on the set for around 2-3 hours, the weather was indecisive – one moment it was bucketing it down, the next glorious sunshine, resulting in a perfect rainbow over Hobbiton!

After finishing our drinks it was back on the bus to the car park and a quick loop around the gift shop – the only tacky bit of the tour with overpriced tat that was easily resisted. Then it was back on the road to Rotorua (and a nervous night for Bradford City supporters, with the League Two playoff final marking our second visit to Wembley of the season).

Distance travelled: 130km

Total distance travelled: 21,387km