Ever wonder what walking in dreams are like?
It’s nothing like Inception and more like Middle Earth. Yes, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Middle Earth.
Travelling to New Zealand is like a dream in more ways than just Lord of the Rings. The entire land is breathtaking and immediately you realize why New Zealand brands itself “100% Pure”. The first thing you’ll notice is the freshness. Wherever you go, whatever you see, everything you smell, it exudes freshness.
For my trip, I flew through Auckland, and took the Nakedbus to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region where I stayed with friends of a friend. First you need to know that New Zealand still has a lot of room for expansion in their public transportation. I chose to rent a car which was the best decision for me. However, keep in mind that if you come from the majority of the world where driving occurs on the right hand side of the road, then it’s a challenge and something you seriously need to think about because New Zealand is one of the few countries that drive on the leftside.
This is challenging even for an experienced driver and while I was really afraid at first, the thing I told myself was, “it’s just driving, you know how to drive!” Once in the car, I realized that everything had to be a very conscience decision, just because I knew how to drive didn’t mean I could go about on that type of auto pilot we do at home. There were two things I found that were absolutely necessary for success in not crashing. First was adjusting my thinking to having excess car on the left side of me, not the right, which helped prohibit my scraping other vehicles. Second, was actually telling myself every time I made a right hand turn, “you are crossing traffic into the far lane”. Tips will differ from person to person, but these are just the two that I found helped me. Other than that, it’s just driving.
Ok, now into the fun stuff – what does Middle Earth look like and how do I get there!? In the North Island the main Lord of the Rings attraction is Hobbiton, located just outside of Matamata. From Tauranga, the movie set is about a 45 minute drive inland, or about 2 hours south of Auckland, near the centre of the island in the Waikato region. The roads are really well maintained and something I wasn’t expecting was driving through their mountain range, the Kaimai. I come from canyon driving in Colorado, and didn’t think twice about the windy roads at first, but everything is amazingly windy like making ‘s curves’ and ‘u-turns’ and switch backs all the time! Otherwise the scenery is gorgeous. You’ll drive through the lush forests, where I encourage you to forget the Air Con and roll your windows down to take in the crisp air and sounds of 100% Pure. Once you make it through the mountains it’s pretty much open road including some farm land as you draw nearer to the set location.
I’ll be honest and say that upon driving up, you might look around and go, “wait, is that it?” If it’s not the wet season, the landscape might look a bit brown and dry. Plus the Shire’s Rest and ticketing centre are just one building, on the side of the road with a sign. But no worries! You simply purchase your tickets, souvenirs, or enjoy a Hobbit style snack there and your tour will commence by a bus ride through part of the Alexanders’ 1,250 acre working sheep and beef farmlands.
The road to the set was built by the New Zealand Army and is 1.5 kilometres long. The set was also initially built with non-permanent structures, so upon the second filming use for The Hobbit Trilogy, permanent materials were used. Initially the set was never intended to remain, and was contracted to be deconstructed within 6 months after filming, however harsh rains created muddy roads and delayed the process, and during that time, people started wanting to visit the Shire so there was a new contract established and thus we have tours of Hobbiton today.
Upon commencing your tour will be the time you truly start to feel like you’re in a dream world. The first thing you see getting off the bus is a “Welcome to Hobbiton” sign and then you walk through Gandolf’s Cutting, the location where you see him riding the wagon into Hobbiton in the first, Fellowship of the Ring movie. In total you will visit all 44 Hobbit holes, and although all of them are just façades, a few doors do open and are used as storage since the Shire is also a working garden. Of the few that open, there are two that you can step inside to take pictures as if you actually live in the Hobbit Hole yourself!
Your guide will take you through all of the Shire sharing special details about filming. Things like how they used angle to make Hobbits look so short, which hole is Samwise’s and why Sir Peter Jackson picked the Alexanders’ farm back in 1998. Plus, gasp, the tree over Bilbo’s hole is a total farce for The Hobbit Triology! The oak needed to look years younger and smaller so it was built out of steel and silicon, and can you imagine, the leaves are artificial and imported from Taiwan and wired on! Plus, they are painted the color that Sir Peter Jackson wanted. The first time, the color was just off, and were painted a second time to a “better green”. You’ll also hear how the sunset in one of the films, is actually a sunrise in reverse because the view faces East and not West where it needed to be.
The Shire is surreal. It’s lush and green even when the rest of the land is brown and dry. Walking through it you feel like a Hobbit should pop out at any time, but alas, this does not happen. Once you make it through all the holes, you walk around the open space where Bilbo’s big birthday bash occurs and over look the Mill and Green Dragon Inn which you come to shortly. After walking by the Mill and over the bridge, at the Green Dragon you receive a traditional ale complimentary, either a cider or gingerbeer brewed especially for Hobbiton. Enjoy the drink by the fire, and if you’re hungry, grab a traditional Hobbit fare like a beef & ale pie.
Sadly, here is where the tour ends and we must wake up from dreamland. Be sure to spend some time in The Shire Store when you arrive back at the Shire’s Rest before you leave for Lord of the Rings exclusive mementos. Overall, it’s an experience not to be missed and only 1 of few sites in the North Island.