This piece was contributed by Matt Officen of Tourism Media.
Psssst, I’ve got a confession. I’ve never seen The Hobbit, or any of the Lord of The Rings films. I’ve heard that Tolkien’s books are the second most read in history – after the Bible. It seems that every man and his dog has read about the adventures of Baggins & Co., except me. I’m just not a fantasy-inclined kinda guy. Whenever I see a kid with a wand, I just wanna snap it over my knee.
So as our tour coach motored through the lush, rolling hills of New Zealand’s Waikato region towards Hobbiton, I kept my head low as my fellow passengers rabbited on excitedly about Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves. As the only photographer accompanying a group of Aussie travel experts on a Tourism New Zealand ‘immersion experience’, I thought I’d be able to snap off a few shots and then catch a nap under a hedgerow while my companions waddled off to explore Middle Earth.
Hobbiton was one of the primary movie sets created for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings epics. Just ten kilometres from the farming town of Matamata, the set has become one of New Zealand’s star attractions and a major pilgrimage site for Hobbit botherers.
As our guide began to lead us through the laneways and paths of Hobbiton, I couldn’t help but appreciate the attention to detail lavished on every aspect of the 14-acre set. As a photographer who spends his days viewing the world through the confines of a lens, I’m attuned to noticing the little things, and here amid the Hobbit Holes of The Shire, director Peter Jackson’s uncompromising eye for detail was evident everywhere I looked.
“See this moss?” our guide asked, pointing to a lichen-covered fence paling. “One guy was employed to fling a mixture of sawdust, yogurt and glue over the entire set to create moss and make the entire village look hundreds of years old.”
“Notice the tracks through the fields and to the clotheslines,” he continued, “Peter Jackson employed a woman to walk through the grass every day for months before shooting commenced to give the village that lived-in look.”
I scoured the set for shortcuts and cheats, but everywhere I looked it was if Frodo and Friends had just left that afternoon on a new quest. As we continued, butterflies danced amid flower gardens, plump fruit hung from trees and real smoke curled from the chimneys of Hobbit Holes. Hobbiton was quickly working its magic into my cynical soul.
After two hours of genuine oohhhing and ahhhing, the merry sounds of fiddle-playing drew us through the welcoming doors of the Green Dragon, where a crackling fire awaited. Perhaps it was the specially brewed ales, but as the setting sun spilled its gold through the frosted windows and across the pub’s carved interior, I felt transported into another realm. Then with a theatrical, “one, two, three”, a set of curtains were pulled back to reveal a grand banquet room, filled with long banquet tables groaning with platters of roast meats and stuffed pumpkins worthy of Gandalf himself.
After our feast we rolled out of the Green Dragon, were paired with a ‘lantern buddy’ and set off like lightheaded children for a night-time tour of the village. As we danced and listened to stories beneath the fabled Party Tree and a million Aurora stars, I heard someone say, “I want to stay here forever, I don’t want to ever go back to the real world.” I must admit, I felt exactly the same way. Thank you Tourism New Zealand, for a most unexpected journey!
P.S.: No prizes for guessing what I’m reading at the moment.