03/08/11 - Rotorua to Matamata
It was a long day. The drive from Rotorua up the Coromandel peninsula was enough to turn any happy traveler into a weary one. We, of course, decided to add a detour. It was an important trip. A pilgrimage, if you will. Katie was ready to see where she came from. Ready to meet her people. Ready to finally set foot on her sacred homeland… No, not Massachusetts, silly! I'm speaking of Hobbiton, of course!
Our adventure off the beaten path took us to a little town called Matamata. This happy place adopted the name of Hobbiton (at least their sign said as much), but we knew the truth: Matamata wasn’t the real Hobbiton. The real Hobbiton laid just 15 kilometers outside of town on a beautiful sheep farm with rolling hills. That’s where Katie and I were headed, and Matamata was the gateway to getting there.
During our New Zealand research we’d decided to skip this stop on the road, not because we weren’t interested in seeing Hobbiton (obviously we were), but because Hobbiton had been reduced to a mere whisper of what it once was. The original sets had been dismantled since the making of "The Lord of the Rings," leaving behind some sad, dark holes gaping upon a hillside.
This decision, however, we reached well before Peter Jackson and Co. unveiled the adaptation of “The Hobbit” into a feature film. Lo and behold, the very place where Hobbiton was created for the trilogy was now being brought back to life! And since we just happened to be cruising past that very spot on our way up north, there was no way we weren’t going to stop and take a look.
The Matamata visitor’s center was decked out in all sorts of wizardry (and not the tasteful kind, at that). It was abundantly clear that Hobbiton was this town’s one and only claim to fame, and they were milking it for all it was worth. But as they say, advertising pays, and we were living proof of that, eagerly dishing out a fair amount of dough for the chance to see a wee little village for wee little people.
Even though our feet were firmly planted in a small New Zealand town on the other side of the world, Hollywood was still wielding its unmerciful reach, stretching its long limbs across the ocean and plopping down nondisclosure agreements right in front of our faces. Yes, in order for us to enter the lichen covered gates of Hobbiton we had to sign on the dotted line, because Lord knows no one has ever set eyes on the set of Hobbiton before…ahem... Needless to say, we did what we had to do.
This all adds up to one thing my friends: I can’t tell any of you about our incredible visit to “Bag End.” I can’t even show you a picture! (though many were taken) But I can tell you a few things. For one, our guide was a sweet elderly chap by the name of Eric, and he adored me. What can I say? I’m very loveable. From the beginning of the tour to the end I was hopping at his heels firing questions at him like a jackrabbit. Even though he was hard of hearing, he was a veritable fount of knowledge (I just had to make sure I stood in front of him when I spoke).
He’s been guiding these tours since the very beginning, eight years ago, and was now on cloud nine seeing Hobbiton coming back to life once more. He loved the place like a home, constantly waxing poetic about the future. “The possibilities are endless,” he’d say time and time again while gazing out at the landscape. By the end of our tour I was just as thrilled with Hobbiton as he was, so I asked him, “If I stay in New Zealand can I become a Hobbiton guide like you?” He laughed, put his hands on my shoulders and replied, “It takes years of experience.” When we got off the bus I thanked him and he wrapped me in a big hug and said, “There’s a good girl,” as though he were my grandfather. He was a nice man, Eric, and I hope he gets a Hobbit hole of his own someday.
The other thing I can tell you is that with every Hobbiton tour comes a free sheep shearing demonstration! (I know, random, right? But you have to consider that this magical place resides on a working sheep farm. They’ve got to push their product.)
So, if you’re ever traveling through these parts and want to step into a living, breathing fantasy, I can’t say enough about the rare and unique experience of visiting Hobbiton. It’s no longer somewhere that lives in my imagination. It’s real! It exists. And I’d love to return to it someday. Not just for the landscape, either. It was wonderful seeing Katie at home amongst her people. With her kinsmen all around she felt comfortable enough to whip out those hairy feet of hers and even dance a jig! I was so proud.
In conclusion, our few hours spent off course were well worth it. We got to stretch our legs, smell the flowers, and sing a happy song under the party tree. Time well spent in Middle Earth.