The first stop in the campervan was Hobbiton in Matamata. Mark didn't even want to stop anywhere for food because he was so excited to see Bilbo Baggins' stomping grounds!
Matamata was really easy to find and you'll definitely know you're in the right place. The entire town has embraced LOTRs; the iSite visitor center is a hobbit house, which is where we got our tickets for Hobbiton, not to mention the town square sign says Middle Earth in big, bold letters and Matamata in smaller subscript. The whole process was really easy and they offer a bus straight from the iSite so we only had to wait about 30 minutes.
I was in desperate need for "hot food," and I didn't really care what it was - only that it was hot. We popped into a small bakery within walking distance to the bus pick-up and got some yummy sausage rolls (hand pies), quiche, and New Zealand's iconic Flat White coffee. It hit the spot and we were both really happy that we had time to eat!
Once we were on the bus, our bus driver provided a quick rundown of the land around us and the town of Matamata. He was really nice and very knowledgeable. Mark and I were sitting right up front so it was nice to be able to hear him and learn a little more about NZ.
Then, when we made it to the "Hobbiton Farm," we switched to a different bus and headed to the Shire. At the bus transfer stop, you'll have a brief chance to go to the only gift shop available so make sure to use your time wisely!!
Mark explains his Hobbiton experience with a brief sentence, "It was like walking in a dream." He was so incredibly excited to be there! Seriously, I would have never imagined that he could ever get so giddy. It's probably the most excited I've ever seen him! He really thinks that they do great job maintaining the grounds and giving the tour guides the information they need to do the movies great justice.
**The portion of this entry regarding the actual tour is written by Mark, the giddy child-like man that loves LOTRs.**
The sign above is where the bus will drop you off and the beginning of your tour. Any fan of the LOTR trilogy will recognize the path as this is where Gandalf first enters the Shire with an expansive, panning shot showing beautiful Hobbiton for the first time.
Through clever filmography and piecing separate shots together, this is also the spot where Gandalf is greeted by young Frodo Baggins just moments before. A few steps in I had to do a double-take, then a walkabout, to confirm I was in fact standing in this greeting location "A wizard is never late, Bilbo Baggins, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means too."
Each Hobbit house has been permanently built into the countryside. In order to achieve appropriate size ratios between Hobbits and the actual actors portraying them, these houses are built to scale percentages: 50%, 75% and 100% size ratios. Meaning when a person portraying a Hobbit is standing next to a 100% scaled house everything looks normal. When Gandalf (Ian McEllen) stands next to a 100% scaled Hobbit House everything looks normal. However, when Frodo (Elijah Wood) is filmed he has to appear next to a 50% scaled house to make it look normal.
The Shire is actually small, but still glorious. Peter Jackson was brilliant in filming different scenes together to make it look much more expansive than it actually is. The grounds have a full-time staff of professionally trained gardeners, landscapers, horticulturalists, etc. Even without fancy CGI everything looked like they stopped filming only days prior. Even the laundry was real; extra small of course!
There are proud moments in my life and reading J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" in Hobbiton, at Bilbo Baggins house, will permanently rank high on my accomplishments list. If I had my way I would have sat down on Bilbo's bench for the picture, but I was still happy. The large tree over Bilbo Baggins house on top of The Hill is actually fake. It is made of steel and plaster and fiberglass and looks completely natural. The leaves are individually attached by wire...hundreds of thousands of them! Even fake leaves fall in high winds and thanks to my long arms I was able to reach over the fence and grab a few of them. I now have an authentic Hobbiton bookmark!
"What's that!?" "This my friend is a pint."
The final stop of the tour took us to the Green Dragon Inn. At the bar you had your choice of cider, light beer or dark beer. The traditional brews were made in Southfarthing Range in Frankton, New Zealand and marketed specifically for Hobbiton. I enjoyed the girdley fine grain, amber ale in front of a roaring fireplace.
The hostess with the mostest was kind enough to step aside and snap a picture for us! I think because we were respectful (meaning we followed him, listened to him, and didn't run around doing our own thing), he noticed and he only snapped a photo for us. The barrels in the background are the same barrels used during the filming.
** Okay, Kassie's turn again!**
After the tour, we jumped back in the campervan and headed towards Waitoma Caves. We knew we wouldn't make it there in time for a tour, but we wanted to be there for the first tour of the morning. Along the way, in Otorohanga, we found a fish and chips joint. You could pick from the fish cooler and they'd cook it for your or you could pick from the menu. We decided to get the "Fisherman's Catch" because it was recommended by the lovely lady taking our order. The best part about the entire meal was when they brought it out of the kitchen wrapped in newspaper. That's one way to get takeaway...
After getting back on the road, we drove into Waitoma and it was incredibly dark! We weren't sure where we were going to stay so we just drove until we found a scenic lookout. What was scenic about it? Well, at the time we had no idea! It was just a place we could park and sleep.
The stars were the most amazing thing I've ever seen! It was like one of those fake, Photoshopped sky photos you see in Google Images. I, literally, have no words that will actually explain how amazing the sky was. Because we felt like we could touch the Milky Way, we sat outside in our camping chairs, stared at the sky, and drank our Hobbit beer (only sold at Hobbiton) that was brewed in Frankton, NZ (I'm from Frankton, Indiana... how cool is that?!).
Over the course of the evening, we saw 6 shooting stars, each more amazing than the last, and made tactful decisions about where we were going to pee. Lets just say a headlamp and strategic planning was involved!!
Remember that scenic lookout that I was talking about? Well, imagine waking up and seeing the postcard that is a photo above!! There was fog rolling through the hills, smoke coming out of chimneys, and the sunrise was breathtaking. We had made it through our first freezing night and we could even see the ocean in the distance... oh, this is the life!