From the kiwi house, we drove to Matamata, we were able to check in and pay for our accommodation. Matamata is only about 20 minutes from the set, making it an ideal stopover location.
Our accommodation was, on first impressions, “interesting”. The Horse and Jockey Inn might have once been referred to as a “coaching inn”. We entered through the pub, and checked in beside the entrance next to the slot machines and gaming area. Just before we checked in, a couple of women in front of us cashed in their substantial winnings at the desk. We don’t know how much they spent and whether they recouped their losses. Martin and I exchanged glances; this was a place I had booked, in trying to save money. Perhaps I had been a bit tight. Up the stairs, at the end of the corridor we were pleasantly surprised, we had two adjoining rooms for a family room. It was going to be fine.
There were two things Martin had said he wanted to do in New Zealand. 1) A glacier – tick and 2) Hobbiton. I decided that we would do Hobbiton with a twist. Having read up on the attraction on Trip Adviser I booked the evening banquet for the three of us. That combined a tour, dinner, and then an additional tour of the film set not on the agenda during the day. I more on less planned the rest of the North Island based on the fact that we would have to do the dinner on a Wednesday night, as the sittings are twice a week and get booked up fast!
Hobbiton is on a working farm. Sir Peter Jackson discovered the area when looking for suitable locations to film the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A trilogy, of which I have seen only the first film. Work on the set commenced in 1999 with the New Zealand Army bringing in heavy equipment to make a 1.5 kilometers road to the site from the nearest main road. The set was not built to last at that point, but tours commenced in 2002. In 2010, the set was rebuilt for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.
I have not watched any of the Hobbit films, nor have I read J.R.R Tolkein’s books; so much of what I saw and heard from the guide went straight over my head. Eleanor and Martin have watched them all. I felt out of my depth, but even with not knowing much, I still enjoyed it. I appreciated the work that went into making the film set. The small things of how to age wood and bricks and how to make the chimney smoke, when a fire isn’t in existence since many of the hobbit doors are facades. (Smoking manuka woodchips are lowered into the chimney is how you do it)
Photographs taken, we all headed to the Green Dragon Inn, the pub in the stories which is the meeting place for all residents of Hobbiton. A mug of beer, cider or ginger beer was proffered, before the grand reveal of our feast.
Three tables were bedecked with enough food to feed all of us and more (about 50 people in total of all ages, families, single travellers and couples). From meatballs, lamb shanks, whole roasted pumpkins to whole roasted chickens and lots of other winter veggies. Desserts included cheese and a very light pavlova, which I might have eaten more than was polite…
After the feast, which didn’t end in a food fight, as only dwarves have those (I sound as if I know what I am talking about…), we processed with lanterns out into the party field and had a bit of sing and dance. Eleanor also played ringtoss with the guide, and surprised us all with her accuracy. The lanterns lit our way and with Eleanor and another young child leading the way, it was a really peaceful ending, to walk around the small lake (a pond) and down past the waterside hobbit hole doors.
Visiting Hobbiton was a fitting end to the holiday. We had started in Wellington at Weta workshop, and we ended it on a film set. For someone who hadn’t seen the films, it was still a good tour, the feast was special as it included the end of the day tour with the set to our ourselves.
The next day, we explored Matamata, bought some Original Source shower gel and chocolate and then met up with our Dulwich colleague and his daughter who will start in Suzhou in November. After an early lunch and a play in the playground we headed to Auckland for our early morning flight the next day to Sydney to connect onwards to Shanghai and 40°Celsius heat.
This was one of the best holidays we have had. New Zealand is a spectacular country; we had fantastic family time creating many special memories. Though Martin has had to read this blog (Parts 1-10) to remember the detail! Every time someone has asked me about the trip, I have grinned ear to ear and run out of superlatives to describe our time. We certainly haven’t done everything that the “Land of the Long White Cloud” has to offer, but we have come close, and speaking to some New Zealanders, we have seen and done more than they have!
In 4 weeks, we experienced rain, snow, ice and sun, wore fur-lined snow boots, hats, gloves, scarfs and many layers and also stripped into swimwear on beaches; we saw breathtaking views, visited incredible places, participated in many wonderful activities, saw wildlife up close and personal, met fascinating people, ate and drank extremely well, breathed restorative pure air and laid our heads down in some quirky quarters.
Thank you New Zealand July 2017.
“Little by little, one travels far.” (J.R.R Tolkein)