I put my alarm onto snooze several times this morning before I finally got out of bed around 8.30am, and was out of the hostel by 9.15am. I was going to get breakfast at the bus station, but the food looked crap so I just read my book until the bus arrived.
It took about an hour to get to Matamata, through farming country. This part of NZ is home to the biggest dairy and sheep farms in country; and Matamata and Cambridge are the biggest horse breeding centres. Apparently Mark Todd lives in Cambridge. I had about half an hour in Matamata before the tour, so got poached eggs for breakfast.
The tour buses are named after characters from LOTR – Frodo, Gandalf, Smeagol, Sam, etc. We were in Merry. There’s no Pippin as yet though – shame since he’s my favourite hobbit. The Alexander farm is about 15 minutes drive from Matamata, in rolling green countryside. The Hobbiton site itself is quite far from the road, away from prying eyes during filming, and for authenticity. Weirdly, the main road is called Buckland Road, and for all you LOTR dummies, Buckland is a place in Tolkien’s Shire.
We travelled along a road the NZ army built to the site, for all the filming trucks to use. We stopped above the site, and saw the parking area for all the vehicles during filming, the sites of the catering tent and the make-up tent, and also where they penned all the Hobbiton animals. They even brought in different sheep, because the Alexander sheep were considered unsuitable.
The filming site was partly demolished after instruction from Peter Jackson, but had to be delayed due to bad weather. It was then that someone came up with the idea of Hobbiton tours. It’s a shame because they’d already removed the mill, bridge, pub, and 20 hobbit holes, including Sam’s home at the end of the film. There are markers dotted around to tell you where certain pieces were built and where certain scenes were filmed.
We did get to see Sam’s first house, the remaining hobbit holes, the party field and tree (still with a piece of party ribbon and a pulley in – good going after seven years!), the lake, the remains of the oak tree they imported, the tree Gandalf was under when he let off the fireworks for the kids, and go inside Bag End. There are also photos taken during filming, and film stills, to help you visualise it.
It’s obviously nothing like in the film. It’s much more tightly packed than you imagine, and they had to return all the land to how it was before, and the hobbit holes are just white panels of wood built into the hill. I wish I’d watched the Hobbiton scenes before going, so I could picture it better, but I’ll be able to compare my photos with the film when I get home.
Apparently Elijah Wood’s grandparents came on the tour recently since they never visited him while he was out there. And they’ve had some proper LOTR freaks too: some just dressed up as hobbits, people dancing on the party field, and one guy who was dressed as a hobbit, didn’t want to leave, said he was home, and eventually took them until about 7pm to get him out of there. When he got back to Matamata, he said he was continuing on his journey, like Bilbo. Freaks!
We were back in Matamata by 2.30pm and my bus wasn’t coming until 5.30pm. So I wandered along Centennial Drive and around the shops. But that only took until 3.15pm. So I got some lunch and sat in the same cafe as earlier, reading and killing time. They closed at 5pm, so I just sat at the bus stop after that.
I was back in Hamilton by 6.30pm, and can’t say I really did anything with my evening. Read, drank tea, watched some TV. That’s about it.