When it comes to travel in New Zealand, it's not too bad if you're exploring the island you're residing in. However, domestic travel can add up if you're hopping over the Cook Strait - by plane or ferry. As quick as the flights are, it's no Southwest Airlines, so sometimes we have to get creative. When a flash 24 hour domestic sale popped up, I put my thinking cap on and got to work! An hour later, I had booked 3 flights for 2 people and booked our bus and tour fare for Hobbiton in Matamata. I was feeling pret-ty satisfied with my handy work (and so was Heath). All we had to do was wait a few weeks and we'd be playing in the Shire and making heaps of friends back home nice 'n' jealous.
The week-of the trip I had to get our Backpacker hostel accommodation booked, and after a little more research I found one right in the middle of town in Rotorua with great reviews. (I really rely on reviews when it comes to accommodation, so be sure to read up!) Saturday morning hits, and we're out the door at 6:30 a.m. (about 10 minutes later than we hoped). When we arrived at the airport we were told that we missed our cut-off to board the plane...seriously?! It was still sitting on the tarmac and we had 5 minutes to spare! Granted I didn't realize that if you check in online, that means you need to be there by a certain time. So, a few tears and $200 later, we were on the next flight to Wellington for our layover. (Yes, I'm an emotional person and I put a LOT of effort into making this as cost effective as possible. Paying that extra $100 per person to go 80 miles in 35 minutes really ticked me off.) But I put it behind me and didn't let it ruin the rest of the day or weekend.
Upon arriving in Wellington, we planned to go get a yummy breakfast. Wellington has more cafes, bars, and restaurants per capita than New York City, and are a self-proclaimed foodie capital... and, I just love Wellington! We knew of a cute little cafe near the Weta Cave - the home of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy creative hub - so we enjoyed a lovely brekkie and some flat whites, aka cafe au lait, before heading back to the airport. Not long after did we find out that our flight to Rotoura was actually delayed due to weather (oh, so common in NZ) which started to put us in jeopardy of making our Hobbiton bus ride! Again, another thing I had planned so well (or so I thought) to be able to have enough time between the flight and getting to the bus stop. We took a gamble and relied on positive thoughts as it was out of our hands.
Alas! We made it just in time and within an hour, we were at the Shire's Rest. As soon as we were on the farm property, we started to hear all sorts of stories about how Sir Peter Jackson and his creative team came to find the land that would become The Shire. All they needed was a few rolling hills and their creative touch, and you'd never believe you were literally in the middle of nowhere. Pretty fitting being that it's called Middle-Earth, right? The bus continued to weave us through the property where we were dropped off to start our two hour tour on foot. With a friendly and knowledgeable guide, we learned about the intricacies of building the set from scratch and the theory behind what Peter Jackson was envisioning. You'd be as amazed and dumbfounded as we were if you heard about the time and manpower that went into things like the types of trees they chose and why, and then learning how many SECONDS it was actually caught on film. We wove in and out throughout the 44 Hobbit holes and got to take plenty of pictures along the way.
We had quite an eclectic group in our tour. People from all over the world (even the US and Canada!), so it was really fun to see how we all reacted differently to the information we absorbed. Some were uber fans, and others hadn't even seen one of the six movies or read one of the books! There was no denying the awe and appreciation for the beautiful community Peter Jackson and his team built. If the Hobbit holes hadn't been just for show on the outside - as the indoor scenes in the movies are filmed elsewhere in Wellington - Heath and I would have easily moved right in! It truly was a community, made even more inviting by the lush greenery and bright varieties of flowers and vegetables growing EVERYWHERE.
As we neared the end of the tour, we made our last stop at The Green Dragon, the local pub in the movies. We were offered a complimentary beer, cider, or ginger beer in the cutest mugs and sat in the hobbit chairs and reflected on all the memories that were likely made in this room. It felt pretty surreal to know how many people were part of the creating, building and decorating of this whole place, and then the many actors who had been sitting in those very seats. Or, that Sir Ian McKellen, Gandalf, has stood where we were in front of Bilbo and Frodo's house!
Many Kiwis wouldn't be quick to offer Hobbiton as a place to visit when travelling in New Zealand, and I doubt many have even visited themselves. But as Americans who enjoyed the 6 monumental movies, we saw it as our duty to ensure we experienced Hobbiton. While getting there was less than favorable, we are more than happy that we made it happen, and made a few friends jealous in the process. We'll have these memories for years to come, and the iconic "no acceptance, except on party business" sign posted on Bilbo's front gate that Heath is making a face at as a souvenir. You can bet that one will be framed and hung proudly in our home.
We hope that if New Zealand is on your list of places to visit, you make Hobbiton a stop on your itinerary. It's an easy half-day adventure and you'll get heaps of great pictures like we did.