October 26, 2016
Let me preface this section by saying that I am not by any means a Lord of the Rings fanatic. I've read the Hobbit (mostly because it's the easiest book to read) and some of Fellowship (on the flight to NZ). As far as the movies are concerned, Katie and I have both seen them more times than necessary. But even though our familiarity with Lord of the Rings isn't great, visiting Hobbiton was one of the coolest things we did on our trip.
Originally a family-owned sheep farm near Matamata, "Hobbiton" was selected by Peter Jackson's location scouts prior tothe filming of the first LOTR movie. Jackson's team came to an agreement with the family, who allowed Jackson to build the set of Hobbiton (temporarily) on their isolated farm. The set was built for a relatively short period of filming and then removed when they were finished.
Construction involved building an extremely convincing (but definitely artificial) settlement. Everything was constructed to appear as if it was used every day. Jackson even had actors walk from their "homes" to their clothes-lines several times a day so that natural paths would begin to wear into the grass. Despite all the effort that went into creating the set and making it appear authentic, it was demolished after the filming was complete.
You might be wondering what we actually saw, if the set was demolished. According to our guide, superfans of the series started digging to find out where the Hobbiton scenes had been filmed. Eventually they started showing up at the farm asking questions about the set. After a few hundred inquiries, Jackson and the farm owners came to an agreement. The set was rebuilt using the same blueprints (but more permanent materials), and the site was opened up as a tourist attraction.
Our tour involved an hour or two walking around Hobbiton in the daylight mostly on our own. Our guide provided interesting trivia about the filming process and pointed out where key scenes were shot. Eventually we made it to the top of the hill where Bilbo's home sat, and were able to snag some pretty great pictures.
There had been a little rain throughout our tour up until this point (pretty light and misty, nothing terrible). Right as we reached Bag End the clouds let through enough light to produce a giant rainbow as we looked out over Hobbiton. It was painfully cliché but definitely memorable.
From there we walked down the hill past several other hobbit holes, trading picture-taking duties with another couple along the way. Eventually we ended up crossing the stone bridge that led to the Green Dragon. The Green Dragon, a fully functional restaurant and pub, was immaculate on the inside. There were so many tiny details to add to its character and authenticity that I couldn't peel Katie's face off of her camera for 15 minutes plus.
Here we were given a free mug of draft Hobbiton beer, which apart from being a pretty cool novelty tasted excellent. After we finished our free beers we each paid the inconsequential $4 to try the other varieties they had available. Comfortable leather chairs and some weathered tables were scattered around for us to sit at while we drank, and a fire burned in the fireplace.
After a few beers/ciders, a curtain adjacent to the bar was pulled back to reveal a much bigger room. The larger room housed several large tables, each of which was covered corner-to-corner with old-world type foods, family style. Hog shanks, beef tenderloin, roast chicken, potatoes, roasted mushrooms, freshly baked bread and honey, etc. We sat down at a table with eight or so other people and dug in. The food was as awesome as it looks in the pictures, and honestly would be worth another trip to New Zealand just to experience again.
After the dinner was over we were issued some lanterns and ushered outside, where it had grown dark. Across the small valley all the hobbit holes were lit, and festive lanterns hanging in the trees were giving off light as well. We were given another hour or so to wander Hobbiton by lantern, and the tour ended at the party fields.