Summer in New Zealand, with the 4.5 million residents celebrating in the way we in the USA celebrate 4th of July with camping, picnics, swimming, beaches, and fireworks, was a very odd way for us Americans to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve!
But this is the warmest season in the Southern Hemisphere, while we have winter above the equator. All the facilities and grounds in New Zealand are clean with no litter. People are friendly and helpful, and so happy to welcome tourists with the native Maori words Kia Oro!
We really enjoyed our two night Homestay at City Escape B&B in the pretty Kaimai Mountains. Phil and Alison Jones were our hosts. We had a private apartment over the garage: clean, lovely, modern and much larger than we needed. It has a great private balcony overlooking the lovely landscape of their garden, swimming pool, exercise equipment, chickens, sheep, dog, cats (outside only) many flowers and trees. Alison brought us snacks and fruit when we arrived and a big, delicious breakfast in the mornings. They are gracious hosts on this large estate. We highly recommend this wonderful Bed and Breakfast in the quiet countryside, but note it is about 25 minutes from a town, restaurants, and supplies, so eat before you arrive or bring your groceries.
The closest town to our City Escape B&B is Matamata, formerly a quiet little agriculture village. Today this is a thriving tourist town thanks to the largest attraction and business in New Zealand: Hobbiton Movie Set, where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed. The Director, Writer, and Producer Peter Jackson is a native of Wellington, NZ, and he had his scouts fly all over New Zealand to determine the best location to replicate accurately J.R.R.Tolken’s The Hobbit. The Kaimai Mountain Range on the North Island fit, and the setting chosen was the vast and hilly sheep farm belonging to The Alexander Family of Matamata. Now even the I-Site, or Tourist Information Center, looks like a Hobbit building.
Matamata locals embraced the fact that Hollywood was coming to town and did all in their power to supply the needs and help in every way. The company was to create the temporary set and take it down when the filming was complete after a few months, which was the typical Hollywood custom. But it didn’t happen that way. Before the set was struck there were torrential rains. People wanted to see the remains of the set, which inspired the Russel Alexander to petition the film studios to keep the remaining set of Hobbiton. and reconstruct it in permanent materials to create a tourist attraction. Hollywood had never granted permission for a set to be kept, so lawyers spent years getting the proper paperwork.
Tours begin at the Shire’s Rest where you’ll find the ticket office, gift store and café about 10 minutes’ drive outside Matamata. The views of rolling green hills dotted with thousands of sheep and cattle along the way are stunning. At Shire’s Rest, since no one is allowed to wander Hobbiton on their own, you will board a Hobbiton bus, and your guide will take you on foot all around the adorable, fabled, little 11th Century village of Middle Earth. The setting is a picturesque valley amidst tall pastoral hillsides with hundreds of sheep grazing nearby.
The village is complete with thirty-seven little Hobbit Holes, each with a business necessary to the everyday life of the little people. (You can imagine that you ARE one of the villagers as are the other tourists because the village is miniature and real but not actually inhabited.) You see the home of the baker, one for the butcher, one for the pottery maker, a seamstress, etc. Each house has its little garden, flowers, window box, curtains. Behind each little fence in front of the home the details are fascinating and each home has different features and decor. Several of the houses are one fourth size, some are half size, and some are full size for the little villagers, since cameras were placed at different distances when the set was filmed. The imagination of the creators and care for detail thrilled us. Even the clothing hanging on the line beside several houses was diminutive in size.
When we got to the large home of Bilbo Baggins at the top of Hobbiton we saw the big tree which is prominent in the films. This is the only unreal tree in Hobbiton set and was masterfully created and put together by amazing artists. The huge real tree under which Bilbo’s 111th birthday party takes place in the center of the village in the movie is there for your mind’s eye to recreate all the festive movie scenes that took place here.
At the end of the tour we stopped at the Green Dragon Inn to have a drink from their list of specialties made locally. Some are alcoholic and some are not, and your selection is a tasty treat included in your tour. You can reserve a banquet tour instead of a normal one and then enjoy a special theme dinner in the Banquet Hall of the Green Dragon. The really fun visit to Hobbiton in Middle Earth exercises imagination and also body. The two hour tours require walking and some hill climbing. The set covers 12 acres with the pond and mill house. Hobbiton Movie Set is a must see, even if you have not viewed the movies that were filmed here…You will really want to see the trilogies afterwards!
About the Author:
Bonnie Neely, a professional journalist for over 30 years, has worked extensively in educational television in which she has been project coordinator, researcher, and scriptwriter. She has also been a columnist for various newspapers and magazines as well as a producer/scriptwriter for the Discovery Channel. Furthermore Bonnie is one of the “Top Book Reviewers” for Amazon.com. She founded Real Travel Adventures and built it into a leading travel blog.