My hostess in Rotorua was just a bit horrified that we were planning to go to that pricey kitchy tourist trap called Hobbiton.
I tried my best to explain.
My kids and I love the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, sure. But what we REALLY love are the hundreds of hours of special features that Peter Jackson has included with the DVD’s.
My kids will ask if they can play a computer game or watch a movie and I’ll say no. But if they then say, “what about an hour of special features?” I can’t resist. We’ve watched the movies themselves two or three times but every hour of the special features, (except maybe the very first hour with a guy sitting in a chair talking about Tolkien’s life) has been repeated over and over and over for more years than some of them have been alive at our house.
Peter Jackson is a Kiwi. He loves new Zealand. Like, really, really, really loves it. There are so many hours shown of location scouting, explaining how and why each location is perfect for the directing team’s visions, and then showing how each part of a scene comes together…. well. You can’t help but fall in love with the land.
I know for sure that New Zealand has been top on our list for travel because of those movies. Not because the movies are famous – but because all those special features let you in through the eyes of a local who sees more in it than any tourist possibly could. I’m pretty sure at least a quarter of the tourists in New Zealand are there for the same reason.
To be honest, I was expecting a kitchy tourist attraction. We boarded a tour bus for the hour long ride to the middle of nowhere, through the rolling farmland of the central north part of the island. And you pull up, never having passed a stoplight, and park with about fifty other tour busses and cars at the Shire’s Rest visitor center.
You can’t wander on your own. The tour busses pick up a guide then take one group at a time over the hill and drops you off in Hobbiton. There were probably a thousand people there at the same time we were. We all shuffled along the paths in our neat little lines.
But it didn’t matter. It was magic. The other thing we love about the special features is seeing the extremely high levels of craftsmanship that went into every aspect of building sets and costumes and every prop imaginable.
Just imagine, a weaver is hired to create a tapestry that takes her three months of full time work and it is only shown on camera for a few seconds at a time. That’s how these movies were created. Entire crafts industries like potters and weavers and knitters were brought back to life through the creation of those movies.
I was expecting run down dusty old sets. Not so. There was an army of gardeners keeping vegetable gardens and dooryard flowers in just the right state of comfortable “always been there” perfection. Set pieces are regularly kept up, repaired, or replaced as needed.
And the landscape is just – Hobbiton. It just is.
And as an added bonus, it is full of hillocks and the paths curve just right so that you can wait until just the perfect moment to snap the photo and it looks like you had the place to yourself.
The tour guide was entertaining enough, and had enough information to keep me interested. It was cool to point out the various scales that different Hobbit holes were built at and what purpose those scales played in the films
Every mailbox amongst the 44 hobbit holes in The Shire is different and says something about the personality of the resident hobbit.
If you peered into the windows you could see items on shelves. There was smoke coming out of the chimneys. The place was lush and green – meaning they watered it daily. There was quite the demarkation between the dry gold-brown pastures of the working farm, and the tourist “trap.”
I suspect the whole tour schedule was running a bit behind – we didn’t get to step in and peek into any of the hobbit holes.
We did get to take a picture though. Or a few. Or waaaaay more than a few in my case.
And guess what. I WANT a hobbit hole.
The tour winds it’s way up and down and around the hills of the little dell and finally down to the Green Dragon. I waited and waited to get this shot of just part of the Inn without lots and lots of people with umbrellas (which the tour provided) covering the place.
Again, the craftsmanship – for what they knew would end up being a well used tourist attraction. The wood is carved. The purse hooks on the womens bathroom stalls were hand wrought iron leaves.
Each tourist is efficiently shuffled through and given either beer, cider, or ginger beer.
The beer is apparently custom brewed and only served at Hobbiton.
And they got hundreds of people through very quickly. I was impressed by the logistics of the place. It is well run for a kitchy tourist attraction. I heard our guide talking about evening tours where they include a banquet at the Inn. Next time (and there WILL be a next time) I’ll pay the extra for that tour simply because they only allow that one group on the grounds during the evening so you can wander the paths as you like.
Tourist trap? Sure, why not.
Worth it? Absolutely!