Flashback Friday!

I recently discovered all my travel souvenirs from my 6 months travelling through West Coast USA, New Zealand and Australia back in 2007. In amongst the postcards, flyers and CDs of my pictures was my journal. I kept a sort of diary of some of the places and experiences I had, mainly film locations with an idea of one day starting a blog. So I thought I’d post them now I do indeed have a travel blog up and running.

Rather than rewrite them I quite like the freshness of my 27 year old self’s perspective, so here’s the first – my unabridged account of my trip to Matmata, the location used as Hobbiton in Peter Jackson’s stunning Lord of the Rings trilogy (and subsequent Hobbit films)

Close encounters of the Hobbit kind 25th March 2007

Okay, I admit it; one of the major influences in me going to New Zealand was the Lord of the Rings. Who could blame me – the locations used in the films are gorgeous – stunning – awe inspiring. The chance to visit Middle Earth is too great to pass up. Which is how I ended up being the only one on a bus out of Rotorua driven by a very nice bloke called Danny, bound for Hobbiton…

           The pickup was set for 8.15am outside the visitor centre. I was told I’d recognise the bus easily – and I did, it was the only one with Hobbiton and hobbit holes livery on its sides. With a joyful heart and my inner geek excited I walked towards it to be met by a 40ish guy with an ex-biker look about him who called me a ‘hobbit’ and welcomed me aboard.

          After a few stops at the other pickup points it turned out that I would be the only one on this trip – but not to worry as I’d be meeting a coach load from a nearer location to go around the place. Reassured that I wasn’t the only LOTR obsessive in the country I had a pleasant journey with Danny – who constantly referred to me and his past passenger as ‘hobbits’, German hobbits, Japanese hobbits, rather sweet really.

          Had some commentary – “that was where Peter Jackson lived, road was built by the army” etc… Finally arrived at ‘Shire’s Rest’ apparently a modernised former farm building – now visitors centre of some sorts. One of the Alexander family (Owners of the farm) was with at pen full of sheep and his little daughter of 2 or 3 years old, a few dogs as well. Danny introduced me, he seemed to get on well with the bloke – I popped in to use the loo (discovering to my delight that looked like a hobbit hole – even the toilet roll holder, class!).

          While we waited for the coach to arrive, we fed the sheep – or his ‘girlfriends’ – typical Kiwi joke of course. Met my first sheep in NZ! Hurrah! Very greedy. Lovely fleece though.

          My coach arrived with approximately 18 other hobbits on board, of a mix of nationalities. Then the tour began (leaving Danny behind for the moment). I had a fear of it being well, not being very good and having paid $85 (£30) I hoped that it would be worth it.

          First stop “this is the car park used by the crew and hospitality – look at the photo board – see that gate?” “Yes?” “Well that’s there (picture shows gate near tents and vans etc.)” Now middle of a field and nothing much else. Oh dear.

          But not to fear, over the crest of a hill we came to our first glimpse…behold the ‘Hobbiton film set sign’. Behold the party tree, lake and look, hobbit holes! White wooden frames stood out against the green grass, seemed in good nick, but apparently the original frames had been replaced with treated wood to give them some stability.

How Hobbiton survives as it does today is a long story but basically it was all due to be pulled out, some of it was like Sam and Rosie’s house, but bad weather stopped the heavy machinery. While they waited for better weather people started turning up at the farm to visit the set. Hmm, thought the Alexander’s, we could make some dollars out of this, and went they into long negotiations with New Line Cinema. Cut a long story short – they could sure up the existing set but not add to them in anyway –no plants etc. or their license would be takeaway. Only wildflowers have been allowed to be sown at the site of Sam’s house. So what we get today is a sterile but evocative ‘set’ which with a bit of imagination is Hobbiton.

          The tour leader was very good, kept us with him even when he pointed to obscure parts of the landscape and said ‘in that place they filmed….’ And we’d go ‘ahh’ and take a photo of a tree or something. Did get lots of photos – including one of me inside Bilbo Baggins home, very cool. Heard tales of Peter Jackson’s legendary obsession with detail – no matter what it was, money was no object! And of course, this is where such a scene happened – but it was really filmed in front of a green screen in Wellington!

          Oh, and the stunt sheep and ducks! Had to have the right black faced sheep and British ducks! Seems they went along way to find somewhere that basically looks like Wales, seriously. Which I suppose is true to Tolkien’s inspiration.

          Anyway, got dropped of at the ‘Shire’s Rest’ to meet up with Danny again and have a free lunch and a good cup of tea hurrah! Bought postcards from the various selection of Hobbiton souvenirs and bid farewell to Hobbiton.

          The drive back was great, big discussion about Peter Jackson and his fall out with New Line about money and ‘The Hobbit’ movie. Told tales of actors who where and actors who nearly where – Sean Connery as Gandalf! Was sad to say goodbye to Danny as he very kindly dropped me off at the Zorb centre*. I’d had a very good morning; my inner geek had been satisfied. I had walked in the footsteps of Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, not to mention Gandalf. All that’s left now is to go home and annoy the hell out of folks by re-watching the films and going ‘been there’!

NB – lots was mentioned by Danny about the filmed ‘scouring of the shire’, which didn’t make the final edit of ‘The Return of the King’ which Christopher ‘Sauron’ Lee was miffed about. Something interesting to look into.

NBB – also Germans are the most common ‘hobbit’. 3 in 10 that go on Danny’s bus, and of the other 7 Brits, Danes, Swedes and other northern Europeans, Japanese. Curious…

*Zorbing – another bucket list experience. Get in large inflatable ball, add a bucket of water and bounce down a hill…

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