After a much-needed lie-in (who am I kidding, we overslept) we headed out to Matamata town centre. A pretty little town, even with its slightly cheesey “Welcome to Hobbiton” sign, we warmed to it straight away. Compared to the towns of the north, the ones we’re coming across now seem much more inviting and less purely industrial. There we parked up and popped into the Visitors’ centre, to book our tour to the Hobbiton set. Luckily we’d just caught a tour, so we had ten minutes to grab a sandwich for breakfast before the coach left for the farm where Hobbiton was set.
Of all the attractions in the north island, Hobbiton was one of those we’d considered dropping. The tour guides say it’s nice but as a working sheep farm it wasn’t anything great. I beg to differ — the set was absolutely gorgeous! Acres and acres of rolling green hills provide the backdrop to a very recognisable area of land.
Sadly due to contract issues a lot of the set has been demolished, but the majority of hobbit holes are still present, albeit only their plywood facades. Our tour guide was excellent — a sprightly man in his 70s who clearly loved his job. He filled us in on the details of the scouting out of the set, the construction, logistics (3 2-course meals a day for up to 400 people; own sewerage system), filming, and ultimately the demolition. Fortuitously, bad weather meant tha half way through the destruction they had to stop — and at that point the farmers were able to step in and get the contractual agreements to run the place as an attraction.
Still, further legal restrictions mean they can’t rebuild the set — yet. They’re in constant wrangling to get permission — it’s mainly a copyright issue with New Line. Apparently the farmers are in good contact with Peter Jackson and he’s more than happy for them to turn it into a re-made set.
Some of the views out of the hobbit holes were simply stunning. You can totally understand why it was chosen as the set. One can’t help imagining that JRR had exactly this location in mind when he was writing the books, it’s just too perfect.
After our tour we drove down to Lake Taupo, the largest lake on the islands in the centre of the north island. Here we’re going to stay for a couple of days; tomorrow we’re going to walk the Tongariro Crossing between the two active volcanoes on the island (one is which is Mount Doom). It’s a 17km walk over fairly rough terrain so we’re going to be knackered. Worst of all we’re being picked up by a coach at 6:15am tomorrow, which is really the scary bit!