I woke up extra early to make sure I made the quarter past eight departure. I should have been bleary-eyed tired but I felt like a kid on Christmas Day awaiting to see what stood under the Christmas tree. The bus ride was surprisingly long but as we got closer to the farm in Matamata I began to notice the rolling green farm hills that defined the Shire. Even without the long awaited Hobbiton the sheep filled hills were worth visiting regardless. Hobbiton sits on a relatively small piece of land tucked into the 1250 acre sheep farm that Sir Peter Jackson chose to use as his adaption for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire. After a short walk through some shrubbery I stood at the far end of Hobbiton in view of all the hobbit holes that make up The Shire. After all these years of watching the movies, being a dedicated fan, and even reading The Hobbit, I was finally standing in the place where it all began. The fee to get here was hefty and kind of extortion but this initial sight alone washed all that away. How could I come to New Zealand and especially being within a reasonable drive of the site and not pay it a visit? It would be shameful to all LOTR fans everywhere. I stepped into nerd nirvana. Before the actual tour began we were given some back story on the acquisition and initial construction of this land. Peter Jackson having flown over New Zealand hunting down his prized location settled on the Alexander farm in September 1998. Since the actual spot on the farm was in the middle of all this sheep and cow farmland, he needed to construct a road to bring all the equipment, people, and costumes necessary to make Hobbiton a reality. The New Zealand army provided machinery to create the 1.5 km road and initial set development. For quiet farmland, this created quite a ruckus and people began to wonder. The Alexanders told anyone with a curiosity that the Army was training and doing exercises. The whole crew tried to keep it hush hush but after a few too many beers at nearby pubs the word got out. Peter Jackson even put in a no fly zone over the area. Construction began in March 1999 with LOTR filming lasting 3 months. The entire set was torn down after filming before being rebuilt and reconstructed for The Hobbit, a process that lasted two years for only a mere 12 days of shooting. Hobbiton has a total of 39 hobbit holes composed of varying sizes to create the appearance that Gandalf was a giant while the hobbits were the tiniest of characters. I took so many pictures of all the hobbit holes and the land below as we climbed upwards to the highest point at Bag End, the home of Bilbo Baggins and Frodo. Of all the holes we saw, we could only step into one. The entrance was deep enough just to open up the circular wooden door. Most of the hobbit hole doors cannot be opened since all that lays behind it is dirt and the hill itself in which it was built into. Peter Jackson required so much detail to go into making The Shire as real as Tolkien told it. For the second most read book in the world (after the Bible), he had a lot of fans to hold up to including himself. Everything was treated to create the aged appearance of Old England. Peter Jackson was bloody mad when making these films. For a three second shot, he had all the white sheep on the farm moved and shipped in black sheep from England to perfect the image of The Shire. Not until later did he find out that those same black sheep lived on the South Island. If that wasn’t mental enough, he did one better by constructing his own tree to sit atop Bag End. He cut down an oak tree near Matamata into many pieces and assembled it back together after transporting it to the farm. This still amazes me; he then brought in artificial leaves from Taiwan and had them individually painted and then wired to the tree since a dead tree can’t grow leaves anymore. For The Hobbit, the tree had to be replaced with an artificial tree which stands there to this day. The money shot of the entire tour was obviously Bag End, which is where the most scenes of Hobbiton were filmed. Standing next to the sign that says “No Admittance except on party business” with the ajar hobbit hole in the background became an all-timer for me. From this vantage point I could look down at the party gardens and the live party tree planted prominently in the center of Hobbiton. We toured even more hobbit holes while learning more secrets from the movies. A constant chatter from the frogs of the ponds dominated the sound waves. To rid this problem while filming, Jackson had all of them temporarily removed so that all the actors’ lines could be heard. To finish, I crossed the bridge to The Green Dragon Inn for a complimentary ginger beer. The Shire store sold all types of expensive memorabilia including the One Ring. The tour lasted only 2.5 hours (I could have stayed there all day) but what a glorious time it was. Beat to pieces I slept the entire ride back to Rotorua. I got back to the hostel needing to cook something to eat. I rounded up a variety ingredients from the nearby Asian/Middle Eastern shop and set out on a culinary adventure. With the okra, spinach, onions, carrots, pasta sauce, and eggs, I had stumbled across one of the best things I have ever made. While preparing my meal I struck up a conversation with a Slovakian couple. I mainly brought up some of the things I saw while in their home of Bratislava and various other sights in Europe that only someone around that area would be familiar with. During my walk around the rest of the Rotorua lakefront seeing the thermal springs and pools, I ran into them and walked along with them for a short while before trying to find my way back to the hostel. Confused of my whereabouts, I got lost and found myself at my original hostel. Reception gave me directions and before I could make any progress a large Maori man approached me. If you were bored by my details about Hobbiton, fear not, you won’t want to miss this. Like most Maori he was a big built guy. He stopped and asked me if I could give him a ride. As you know, I have no car here and I told him likewise. No, he said, he meant that he would like me to drive his car. That line completely threw me off. Why would I need to drive a perfectly capable person’s car for him while he sat in the passenger’s seat? He was an odd character but I was willing to entertain the idea since I had hitch hiked before and wanted to hear him out. He told me his driver’s license had been pulled when speeding and needed to meet someone to sell off an iPhone. The whole situation was out of whack but since I would be driving and we would be staying within the city, I felt comfortable helping the guy out. Don’t worry, since this got posted you know I survived the encounter, or maybe I am the crazed Maori himself writing this right now. Anywho, I drove around for the first time legally on the left side of the road in the direction he directed. After I parked the car, he got out toting a bag. I sat in the driver’s seat with my torso turned and my legs swung outside the open car door ready to make a run for it. With his bag hanging out at his side he paced outside a Chinese restaurant. For all I knew, he was about to rob the restaurant with the gun that he had stuffed into his bag and run back to the car with me as the getaway driver. He walked back to the car complaining that he couldn’t find the man he was supposed to meet. This Maori man was trying to sell the iPhone he had in his bag to pay off the repairs he needed to make for his shitty car. He told me to continue driving around to another place he might be able to find the guy. I told him out loud how ridiculous this request was. He may have been loony and quite aways out there but he seemed harmless. I was just happy to finally drive on the left side of the road which is surprisingly confusing especially through roundabouts (everything is ass backwards). We continued to make a couple more stops all in search of this Chinaman bus driver that he agreed to sell the iPhone to via Facebook. The vibes I was getting definitely felt more like a drug deal was going down. He wanted to continue to another stop but I said enough was enough and I parked the car. The more I learned about him, the more I found out he was that weird religious type, like someone you could find in a cult. He told me all about Latter Day Saints and his desire to see Utah one day. He even offered to let me drive his car around tomorrow to tour the area with him. I told him I had a bus that was leaving in the morning, which I did, but I had no reason to let him know what was going on. The sooner we went our separate ways, the better. Eventually I found myself at my hostel in disbelief of what just happened. I settled down in the kitchen to catch up on some things when I began talking to a German I had met while on the Hobbiton tour. Very cool guy. Since he had been to Thailand already for a month, he broke down his entire trip and gave me plenty of advice as to what to see while there. Not until I met him did I realize how little I knew about Thailand, a country I fascinated most about seeing in SE Asia. He told me what treks to do, where to ride an elephant, how to best celebrate the Full Moon Party, and which were good places to snorkel or scuba dive, among many other details. You pretty much have to avoid people to not make friends while on the road. Even a socially awkward person like me can meet people with ease. Cheers to my last night in Rotorua and to seeing the beautiful beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula the next few days!
Middle Earth Day 29: The Shire