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.
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.
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.
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.
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!