Day #3: Hobbiton Tour & on to Rotorua

After two nights in busy Hamilton, I pack up my things on yet another frigid day beneath grey clouds, and head east to visit the Hobbiton Movie Tour Set near Matamata. I can't wait to see The Shire, home to Frodo Baggins, Sam, Merry and Pippin. It's where it all began, where "The Fellowship of the Ring" was forged!

As I turn off the main Highway 1 onto Karapiro Road then onto Buckland Road, it converts to a narrow lane that looks to be one way, but is actually two way. Just a reminder to proceed with caution and beware of oncoming vehicles. As always, the surrounding scenery is pastoral. As the time nears 10 a.m., I get a bit worried because I haven't seen any signs for Hobbiton and I'm sure I should've reached it by now. After a stop near a farm with no one in sight, rain pouring down and heater blasting in the car, I decide to call just to let them know I'm on my way.

I speed down the road (not advised) and finally see a sign! I have just enough time to relieve my bladder and meet up with the rest of my fellow travelers.

Finally made it to Hobbiton!

My tour group of eight gathers on a diesel bus, awaiting our guide. Walking stick in hand and geared up for the cold and rain, our guide steps into the bus and welcomes us in a friendly, no nonsense voice that sports the now-familiar brisk New Zealand accent. I just love it.

As we make our way to the interior of the pastureland where the tour set has been rebuilt, our guide shares with us the timeline of when Director Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema first discovered the Alexander farm in 1998 and when construction began in 1999. It took nine months to complete under strict security. Actual filming began in December 1999 and continued for three months.

Did you know that sheep are generally known as sheep? But when making a distinction between male and female, a male is known as a ram, and a female is called a ewe. Gotta love wikipedia!

We pass through a couple of gates and are privy to relaxed herds of sheep and recently born lambs. We're told that after a period of drought, the heavy rains just a few weeks ago had apparently given the physiological okay for pregnant ewes to give birth, now resulting in many adorable lambs next to watchful mothers. In the air, their cries can periodically be heard trying to locate their mothers.

Once we reach the "inner sanctum" just before entering The Shire, we're prepped to stay with the group since it's a large area, and there are other groups as well. We then walk over a slight hill and round a bush, and The Shire magically comes to life just as I've seen it onscreen! So this is Middle-Earth...So Very COOL.

This beautiful radiating pine is the reason this location was selected for The Shire. Unlike radiating pines seen in many pastures, this one is unusual in that it's a perfectly rounded tree, which is like having two seed pods similar to human twins.

Our guide is a fountain of dates, stats, history and movie lore. She had pored over every frame of the "Lord of the Rings" movie, and is able to refer to various scenes throughout the tour; as in, "If you remember the scene in which..., then you'll recall this..."

Everything is, of course, in miniature! The place bustles with activity as crews maintain the location to look like hobbits are at home, though mysteriously absent.

Our guide shares the extreme detail that Director Peter Jackson demanded in every scene. For even just a two-second showing in the film, everything had to be perfect.

I feel like I could just walk right in. However, only one of the doors in all The Shire actually opens to reveal...well, you'll have to visit for yourself to find out!

A view from the other side looking down upon The Shire. Our tour began near the pond in the distance.

Toward the left of the radiating pine. See the chimney at the bottom left? And the hanging clothes further down the hill? Maybe it's siesta time for the hobbits...

The Green Dragon Inn where Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin partake of drink in the first and last of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The first, while still innocent and naive, the last after a weary and transformative journey.

Isn't this the coolest!? The details of the structure are just what Director Peter Jackson desired. A beverage—choice of two traditional ales, cider or handcrafted ginger beer—are included with the tour. It's a nice stopover after walking the grounds.

Attention to even the small things is impressive.

More awesomeness! There's even a menu and the Green Dragon is available for private functions after hours. I was about to poke a fresh baked pastry on the counter until I realized it was real and available for purchase.

A miniature stable to rest visiting miniature horses! Aren't the windows neat? There's a lazy hobbit nearby because the stable needs a thorough cleaning.

No Beef & Ale or Cold Pork Pie for me. This is my lunch back at The Shires Rest Cafe where I checked in for the tour. I think it's actually a kid's meal (note the candy and boxed raisins at bottom left). I sat outside in the chill air as the sun broke through the clouds making for a warm afternoon. I feel so at peace, and yet my surroundings are so surreal.

While eating lunch on the deck of the cafe, this is one of the views I get to enjoy—seriously. There's no other word than "pastoral" to describe this scene. Okay, maybe idyllic. At the same time, I picture the "Road Runner" cartoons of my youth and the Acme machine that Wile E. Coyote constructs to pluck grazing sheep from their serene surroundings.

These friendly guys are penned, available to feed and ready to eat at the check-in area—I mean, they're ready to do the eating! Excuse my ignorance, but I had no idea lanolin is a natural excretion from sheep's skin. I vigorously scratched the ewe's side since she seemed to enjoy it and came away with...ugh...tacky, sticky fingers. Lightbulb moment (after seeing the jar of lanolin in the store's shelves)! According to Wikipedia, lanolin is "a yellow wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals." I'm so happy sheep have waterproofing, especially in this freezing weather!

 A parting shot from the area surrounding the Hobbiton Movie Set. Oh, here's another one—absolutely picturesque!

A parting shot from the area surrounding the Hobbiton Movie Set. Oh, here's another one—absolutely picturesque!

If you have a kiwimaps North Island Complete Drivers Atlas and don't get caught up in the scenery, you'll easily be able to find Hobbiton Movie Tour set (though remember, there's no signage on the way to the site). Rather than fuss with getting tickets later, I opted to purchase them online (you might want to do this during the busy summer season). If you prefer not to drive to the location on your own, the Hobbiton website has transportation packages from either the Matamata i-Site or Rotorua.

Tour check in is in the store on the first floor, where they've also got souvenirs of the Hobbiton Movie Set, woolen products, Tolkien books and apparel. As mentioned, you can pick up a quick bite to eat at The Shires Rest Cafe right above the store. And if you'd like to experience a farm stay, you can ask about that too.

I regrettably tear myself away from the peaceful locale of Hobbiton. I don't want to leave, but it's time to push on toward Rotorua, a place that's literally a hot bed of activity. The drive takes about 1.5 hours and I take my time since Hobbiton was the last of my scheduled tours for this portion of the trip.

Passing through North Island's pasturelands, forests and small towns is pleasurable in the company of my iPod. Every straightaway is perfect for getting lost in the kickin' beat of any Keith Urban tune; curvy roads padded with horses and cows tempt Jason Aldean's "The Truth" (my #1 favorite country song) for some reason; and when other vehicles start crowding my space, I need Rodney Atkins' "Take A Back Road." Although, every road here is like a back road since there aren't too many vehicles until you get to a big city like Auckland or Wellington.

Before I know it, I breathe in the odor...of something. It reminds me of someplace I've been, but where? Driving in to Rotorua isn't too bad; the roads are very nicely spaced and it's fairly easy to find my accommodations for the next three nights: Accolade Lodge Motel (for my review on the Accolade, click here). Steam rises up from a park in the middle of town, there's even more steam rising from a forest...then it dawns on me. Rotorua is known for its thermal activities and attractions. And that odor is sulphur, which reminds me of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island. I wonder if I'll get used to the smell—it's certainly not overwhelming, but it's there. And actually, by the time I leave Rotorua, I realize I can't even smell it anymore.

Cute 'n quaint Accolade Lodge Motel, my home for the next three nights in Rotorua on Victoria Street.

Rotorua has a LOT of hotels and motels along the main strips of the town. There are a few, Accolade among them, situated in neighborhoods like this one. It's nice because the roads aren't busy. Right across the street in the other direction is Rotorua Central Mall with a food court. If you walk out of the mall on the other side, you'll hit the town that's great for pedestrians.

The best sunset throughout my entire New Zealand trip. Who knew it would be the one and only I'd be able to photograph?

Stick with me as I continue my discovery of New Zealand's lovely North Island. Sign up for upcoming blog entries and please share if you like this as well. Cheers!