And so it came to pass that Graham and Mandy picked up a hire car (it’s a legal move so long as I return to Auckland!) and headed south down through the Barrowdowns of New Zealand, past Tom Bombadil’s house and the Inn of the Prancing Pony. I rather like going south, it feels like going downhill. We thundered along the road as fast as Mr. Bliss, and after a hour or so, we came upon The Shire. Mandy reckons we were late, but I maintained that a wizard is never late, he arrives precisely when he means to.
When the outdoor set for Hobbiton was built for the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was scheduled to be destroyed once filming had wrapped. Fortunately, the mischievous weather gods had other ideas and a period of prolonged heavy rain prevented the bulldozers from doing their job. ‘We’ll come back in six months’ thought the bulldozers. But they were wrong. In those six months a fan campaign to save Hobbiton had built up such momentum that New Line Cinema thought ‘sod it’ and told the bulldozers to bugger off (much to the delight of the landowners, I’m sure). Soon enough, the Hobbiton set became a major tourist attraction.
Now when they started pre-production on The Hobbit, fingers were crossed that Peter Jackson and his posse would use the same location again, but, you know, beef it up a little, add some more Hobbit holes. And, sure enough, beef it up they did, raising the number of Hobbity dwellings from just over a dozen to over forty, as well as putting back the original door finishings (before all that remained of many of the homes were just white plyboard) AND replacing the fake old oak tree on top of Bag End with a new one that looks 60 years younger – complete with over 100,000 fake oak leaves stapled to the damn thing.
It’s that kind of attention to detail that sets Peter Jackson out from the hoi polloi. Could you imagine Brett Ratner going to such lengths for the sake of authenticity? Chris Columbus? Michael Bay? Joel Schumacher? Nah, you’re right: don’t be silly Graham. Ridley Scott would. And James Cameron. And Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton… bring it on fellas – death to the also-rans!
I would love to show you photos from Hobbiton, but we all had to sign a thing before we entered saying that we wouldn’t put any photos or footage up on the internet. As I know damn well that New Line would be happy to employ some poor schmuck whose job it is to spend his or her days trawling through Facebook accounts firing out CEASE AND DESIST notices every verse end, I have (wisely, I think) elected to keep my AWESOME content off the internet. The last thing I need is Freddie, Jason and the many killers from Scream coming after me.
But Hobbiton was nothing short of amazing. A must for anybody who is visiting New Zealand and/or alive. The bridge, pub and the mill on the Brandywine (actually a lake) look amazing (the waterwheel turns!), sadly, we weren’t allowed to stomp over there in our big size tens, something to do with the bridge not meeting some kind of government regulation for movie props. Mand and I got to pose outside Bag End as well as outside Sam’s big yellow door from the very end of the trilogy.
The only thing that made me sad was that the holes don’t actually have little Hobbit houses in them. That would have been great. And if you could go to the pub and buy some pipeweed (keep puffing that magic dragon Uncle Tolk!), that would be good too. But as it is, a living, breathing move set the size of a village, you ain’t going to find a finer example.
What is double awesome is that after your tour of the set, you inexplicably get to watch a guy shear a sheep. STRANGE BUT TRUE!! I guess it’s a New Zealand thing, like saying ‘sex’ instead of ‘six’, ‘tin’ instead of ‘ten’ and ‘swum’ instead of ‘swim’.
That night Mandy and I reached the city of Rotorua, famous for its hot mineral springs and powerful erupting geysers. The whole place smells of bad eggs from the sulphur, but you soon get used to it. We hired a little cabin in the local campsite and grabbed some yummy Chinese food for din-dins. I like this.