4 years ago

Smials & Smiles | Hobbiton, New Zealand

After bouncing around New Zealand for five weeks, it was finally time to hit Hobbiton!

Doubting I’d ever be back, I went with the pricey ($190 NZD) evening banquet option. This included a tour of Hobbiton followed by a great meal (and some tasty beers) at the Green Dragon Inn.

I changed the date of my visit a few times because I kept trying to catch good weather to hike the Tongariro Crossing. However, my efforts were rebuffed by continuous rain and I gave up on that endeavor.

I arrived after a 90 minute drive from Kawhia, eager to get an early check-in at Matamata Backpackers so I could shower and get the black sand off me. Thankfully, Lauren, who owns the recently-opened hostel along with her husband Damien, totally took care of me. This place is solid. Clean, comfy, and highly-recommended!

Many things in the area are Hobitt-themed, including the exterior at Matamata Backpackers. Look at my sweet ride!

Before long, I was showered, my tent was drying on the clothesline, and I was catching up on some journaling and reading.  I was also hungry, but knowing a huge meal awaited, I decided to forgo lunch and take full advantage of the feast at the Green Dragon.

I wanted to hit Hobbiton in May, at the end of my trip, but the travel gods smiled upon me with a spot on the Milford Track in February, so March it was. Not the poetic finish to the journey I’d hoped for, but it still worked out quite well.

I’d lucked out on the streets of Cairo, finding a cheap copy of The Hobbit a few days before leaving for Auckland. And I read through it on the three Great Walks I started my New Zealand adventure with. It was fantastic to do so surrounded by amazing scenery, some of which featured in Sir Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movie Trilogy.

Lo and behold, the day I left Fiordland National Park, ready to trade The Hobbit for a new book, I found a copy of Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring at my hostel in Dunedin. A truly serendipitous and impeccably-timed score.

So, not only was I in the throes of the fantasy epic when I arrived at Hobbiton, but also 16 months into A Great Journey, which, in a small way, paralleled those of Bilbo and Frodo. Yes, the place was fictitious and man-made, but the feelings it evoked were very real.

I took off on A Great Journey inspired in part by the four books (and six movies), and many quotes. In particular these two:

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there…

March 19th was a glorious, sunny day in Matamata. I perused the gift shop, but, as in just about every place I visited on this trip, didn’t buy anything. Just not enough room or padding for souvenirs in a 50 L bag.

After checking in, two buses and a pair of funny, knowledgeable tour guides got the large evening banquet tour group to the working sheep farm where the impeccably detailed and manicured set is.

Hobbiton sits on twelve of the sheep farm’s 1250 acres, and is a joint venture between Sir Peter Jackson and the Alexander family. The family has owned the farm since 1978, but it wasn’t until 20 years later, when a location scout knocked on their door, that the idyllic setting would go from being the domain of sheep and cattle to a working movie set, and, eventually. one of New Zealand’s top tourist draws.

When shooting for Lord of the Rings wrapped, they dismantled the set. However, the movie’s success meant an increasing amount of fans arriving on the Alexander farm, eager to see Hobbiton. When they rebuilt the set for The Hobbit trilogy shoot in 2011, they did so with an eye towards permanence, tourists, and detail.

It’s striking just how much work goes into making this place look like a lived-in village. They built the 44 smials, or Hobbit holes, with remarkable detail. Surrounding these are gardens, paths, fences, a lake, and the famous party tree. Even clotheslines with tiny Hobbit clothes.

Anecdotes and stories about the movie shoots filled our walk through the Shire on the way to The Green Dragon. Eventually we made it over the bridge and to the Inn.

It certainly lived up to its billing as an exceptional example of expert craftsmanship, inside and out.  And it wasn’t long before I had a tasty dark beer in my hand. Good George brews the beer at Hobbiton. Thankfully, they had slightly more kick than the 1.1% beers used on set when they shot the trilogies. Of course, you can get non-alcoholic drinks if you’re under 18 or a teetotaler. You can get them to go at the gift shop, too.

After some time to take in the grounds (and the beer), they revealed the banquet. And it certainly lived up to its billing. Large tables full of colorful dishes to share and enjoy filled the cozy confines of the wood-laden dining hall.

I enjoyed another beer courtesy of our tour guide, and the conversation with my neighbors was good, too. Collectively, we were no match for the delights of the Green Dragon and there were definitely left-overs.

The walk back to the buses was pretty neat. Lanterns in hand, we stopped at the Party Tree for one last story and a dance under starlit skies. It was cool to see all the little Hobbit holes bathed in lighting and reflecting in the water.

All in all, the evening lasted about four hours and was a memorable visit.

I left with a full stomach, a joyful heart, and a smile on my face.

Totally worth the money.

Bert wasn’t at Hobbiton, but he was at my next stop: Wellington.

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