February 9th, 2010...
It was a hot Kiwi summer's day as we pulled up to The Shire's Rest café, which is the ticket office, gift shop and restaurant for Hobbiton Tours. One of the über-fan Red Carpet Tours was there too, and being the LOTR and linguistics dorks we are, we heard a couple of them speaking Sindarin. (That's one of Tolkien's two Elf languages. Google "elfling" if you're interested.)
From the café we boarded an old bouncy Japanese bussince NZ has a huge market of second-hand Japanese vehicles, most Kiwi tour buses and a lot of the off-brand rental cars are used JP vehiclesto head down to the Hobbiton set itself.
The rippling hills of New Zealand's North Island (and a whole host of sheep) hide the Hobbiton set from distant viewing. The bus passed the small temporary movie HQ in a trailerso small because the only Hobbit movie work being done at the time was the greens (grass, trees and landscaping).
Parking up, the bus disgorged its somewhat sweaty occupants underneath a tree. We headed up the path next to the tree, and there it was, the hill with the white Hobbit-hole façades just sitting there, surrounded by sheep.
And the sheep were what made it so bizarre. Since Hobbiton is to Hobbit scale, it seemed like the sheep were GIANT MARAUDING CREATURES twice the size of a person as they grazed shoulder height to the doors of some of the Hobbit-holes.
Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday Party Tree was as tall as it seemed in the movies (and we hope, despite looking a little elderly itself when we visited, that it's still there!), next to the millpond, which of course lacked its mill and stone bridge. There were a couple of coloured markers there for the guide to point to and say "the mill was there, and the bridge there".
Since the actual set dressings (façades, gardens, greens) were pulled down after the Lord of the Rings movies finished and there were no internal fittings to the Hobbit-holes, we had to use our imagination as we wandered around the hill, poking our noses into the slightly-excavated round holes.
Until, of course, we got to Bag End, which had to be hollowed out so that the door could open in a couple of scenes. External only, mind: Gandalf, for instance, would start pushing the door open up in Matamata, and then CUT! The other side of the door was shot at an entirely different time back at Lord of the Rings HQ in Wellington, five hundred kilometres away.
And then, after what we recall being about half an hour hanging around like a Hobbit, we trundled back up in the bus and had a restorative cake at the café. Like a Hobbit.
[Photos: John Walton]