… A Domer’s Tale
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I might be mildly obsessed with the LOTR films … It might not be obvious, but I’ve probably left some clues…
Anyway, after my adventures in Wellington, I left really early for a flight to Rotorua. 6 or 7am in Wellington is pretty dead in the city. I hopped a bus to the airport, where the outside was emblazoned with “THE MIDDLE OF MIDDLE EARTH” in an Elvish font. Ok, that was just a little too much and I was better able to empathize with my hostel concierge’s complaint that there’s more to New Zealand than Middle Earth. Then I walked inside and there was a massive Gollum swimming through the air after some fish, who were suspended over the coffee/donuts section of the lobby. But the part that was cool were the costumes. They had Fili and Kili’s costumes at the airport, as well as the costumes of their scale doubles.
I needn’t have arrived at the airport that early. My flight wasn’t until 10-ish and while in America it’s necessary to arrive several hours early for even a domestic flight, such was not the case here. I found my departure gate, realized there was no security, so went to the lobby and ordered breakfast to kill time and use free airport wifi. The flight itself was a puddle jumper, barely an hour long, and the passengers consisted of me and several men in business suits who were clearly going for a quick meeting.
I found a “bus”/public transportation into town and walked the three blocks to my hostel. After checking in and dumping my stuff, it was time to go catch the bus that would take me to the Hobbit Movie Set which is located on some private land about an hour away in Matamata. The Hobbitton Tour was *really* well organized – the bus had a number of stops between Rotorua and the site, and had protocols for backpackers who were passing through either north to Auckland or further south. They would even switch baggage depending on the backpacker’s intended destination. All in all, the hour-long ride there, back, the tour, and the free food at the end of the tour was totally worth the $120, especially when you consider the assistance they give backpackers.
And then it was time to tour the filming location. Holy smokes. So cool. Ok, not quite as cool as touring the Weta Workshop, but it was close. It really felt like the Shire, with the sun and bees buzzing happily through real flowers. Some people were actually humming/singing the hobbit theme out loud. *scoffs* What nerds.
I can see why Peter Jackson chose this site for the pastoral bliss of the Shire. They might have gone into it in some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, but it was nothing but rolling hills in any direction. They could film from any angle and not have to worry about hiding or erasing modern buildings in the background. Also, the site was hilly enough that they built about 30 individual hobbit hole doors for the background and it could look like twice that number. Unfortunately, all there was were the doors. If you opened one, there wouldn’t be anything but a few beams of lumber. Our tour guide told us that once a guest came through who was so disappointed there wasn’t a finished hobbit hole inside or a little kitchen where she could go cook eggs on a little hobbit-sized range that she burst into tears. I mean, yeah, I was mildly disappointed but I also know there’s such a thing as “movie magic”. (Remember, I’d held the actual Sting, the one Frodo uses to threaten Sam, and it was made out of rubber.)
I had been expecting something else out of the tour. If you go, do not expect to have some intimate time to wander the landscape and commune with the spirits of hobbits past. There were just too many people there. Our tour group consisted of one entire greyhound bus, so that was about 40 people? Then there were tour groups before and after us, lots of leapfrogging in line and keeping up because the staff had us go through at a faster clip than most of us were expecting. The guide said something like 2,000-3,000 people go through the site per day.
But on the upside, everyone was very polite and courteous. At Bag End, everyone could get their picture with the gate and nobody rushed anybody else. Many of us were traveling by ourselves so we all offered to take pictures for each other. Some people were even willing to share their sunscreen.
I did get my picture taken in front of Bag End. I had brought a Notre Dame tshirt but abandoned it at the last minute because it was navy blue and I didn’t want to sweat through it. (It was hot.*) I feel like a little bit of a Domer failure for willingly passing up an opportunity to represent, but I’ll get over it.
At the end of the tour, everyone was shunted through the Green Dragon, a human sized working pub, for a free pint and scone that was pretty good. (I’m something of a scone snob – it’s hard to find a scone recipe better than the family’s.) We were given roughly an hour to eat and do our business in the gift shop, which was, as one could expect, overpriced and full of things that you’re not sure need exist. Like shot glasses with Tauriel/Fili. Like .. whyyyy? (Or is it Kili? I can’t keep them straight.) Anyway, I bought postcards and pens for people and left it at that.
Then it was back to the bus and the guides sorted out which backpacker was going in which direction and where their luggage needed to go. Most of us napped on the way back to Rotorua. Dinner was at a random Chinese restaurant with a new friend from the tour visiting from Canada. After we split up, I went to some gift shops. Rotorua is a tiny town whose entire economy seems based on tourism. Much like Gettysburg, PA. I loaded up on gifts, watched the tail end of Clerks at the hostel, then went to bed for an early morning flight back to Wellington to fly straight to Melbourne. I had something like 45 minutes between landing in Wellington and flying to Melbourne. This time there was security because it was an international flight. I made it but it was a close thing….
If I had the time, I would like to go back to Rotorua (tourist site) and explore more of the environs. There was a giant sheep farm nearby that advertised wool, so of course I have to go by authentic Kiwi wool. More important is a living Maori village that I would LOVE to see because I think the Maori are a fascinating people. There’s also this site of a buried village, Te Wairoa, that used to be the site of one of the wonders of the natural world, the Pink and White Terraces, before a volcano erupted.
In conclusion. I’m glad I went on the tour, but I’m not sure I would do it again. It was definitely worth the price, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mildly disappointed I couldn’t sit and get life advice from Belladonna Took while watching the sheep graze. I think I preferred touring the Weta Workshop, but I’m very craftsy and the workshop is at that mythical Dream Job status. I can appreciate pastoral landscapes, but I’m not sure at what proximity or for how long. If I had known what else was around Rotorua, I would have spent another day there, but that just gives me a reason to go back. In the meantime, I can reverse engineer all the knitwear from all the costumes in Wellington that I thoroughly photodocumented, and find a Maori themed tattoo that doesn’t cross the line of cultural appropriation.
Up next: Melb’n!
*Brief note on the climate: Rotorua is about 2/3 of the way up the northern island of New Zealand, and the weather is much more stable than Wellington. Wellington is on a harbor with nothing between it and Antarctica except a lot of water. Rotorua has mountains and land blocking a lot of the Antarctic wind so the weather was more predictably summertime. It was at least 80 and sunny that day.