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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hobbiton New Zealand - A Review

I have confession to make, I’m an in the closet nerd.

That’s a lie of course; I don’t hide my dorkiness very well. As I write this I’m wearing a red t-shirt with Optimus Prime ready for action plastered across my stomach and chest. My mother in law made me a Star Fleet Command jump suit for my birthday, not because she hates me but because I ASKED HER TO!
When I was little I would say that if I ever had three wishes I would wish for an actual working TARDIS – heck, just today I was in a shopping mall in Brisbane at a mobile phone kiosk asking after TARDIS style phone covers! After my lack of success at Dr Whoing my phone I went straight to the Sponge Bob Square pants phone covers...

I have four t-shirts with a star trek theme. I have a shirt that has Star Dad written in the same font as the Star Wars trilogy, in yellow. I asked my wife if I could paint the doors to my home office to look like police box doors - I am the quintessential pathological nerd.

Of course my wife said no to the police box doors. She’s not a geek like me. The only way she would ever watch an episode of anything Sci-Fi or fantasy related is if it involved drugs, rope or a very large amount of money. Or perhaps if I told a really big lie and pretended it was a Nicholas Sparks story...

But, luckily she puts up with it, and thankfully my fan boy nature makes me very easy to buy for come birthdays and Christmas.

And that is how I found myself on December 16th 2012 in the coolest place on earth... Middle Earth that is – Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand.

Located on the Alexander Farm on 501 Buckland Road, Hanuera is what remains of the set of The Shire from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and more recently The Hobbit, exactly as it appears in that movie.

Well, almost exactly... you don’t actually get to go into the “Hobbit Holes” but for the most part you get to walk through the hilly village as part of a tour group... but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

Arriving at the Shire’s Rest Cafe, after our two hour drive from Auckland the first thing you notice is the lush green hills, as if an enormous JRR Tolkien had taken an even bigger copy of his books and shook them out until this fantastical environment plopped out of the pages to form the land I was now drooling over...

There’s a gift shop with books and figures and beer, Lord of the Rings beer... too much to take in. We had a coffee while my girls murdered some paddle-pops until the tour bus arrived to take my three year old and I to the magical land of hairy footed ones.

We’re on the bus now driving down the gravel road through hills so green you could lose Kermit the Frog in them. Cows to the right of us, sheep to the left of us and Hobbits hiding from us at every corner, the nice old bus driver pointing out places of interest as we crawled over the stones:

“Peter Jackson flew over here looking for the perfect place for the Shire,” he says, “They made a deal with the Alexanders...”

“The New Zealand Army came in here and built this road”

“Over there in that empty paddock, that’s where the tents and trailer for all the important actors were, it was really busy back then”

Now, the sheep are all that remain of the Hollywood types who once graced these fields.

“Way over there, see that big barn... Peter wanted that out of the film, so they made it look like a tree.”

We finally get to where we are going. My daughter and I, along with a bunch of other Nerds, follow the well dressed tour guide, now a young man who turns out to be some local champion athlete, of what I don’t know because geeks like me know that REAL sports involve Lightsabers.

Anyway, we go through some rustic wooden gates, stone walls on either side and you suddenly realize it’s the exact spot where Frodo saw Gandalf coming into town in the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring and your palms are starting to sweat because this is just too darn awesome!

Beyond that entrance is a town carved in the hills, cooler than Ewok tree houses, cooler than the stone cities of Petra, this is Hobbiton. Beautiful circular doorways, brightly hued, inviting you to come inside, except on the other side is nothing but your imagination, and lots of dirt...

Chimney’s sticking out of the ground, immaculate gardens that somehow look like they’ve been there forever, there’s even an over grown veggie patch with a scarecrow – seriously how often do you get to see a scarecrow these days?

The tour starts at the bottom of a hill on top of which is the illustrious Bag End, sporting a splendid fake tree of shiny leaves. Beautiful. Juxtaposed against the hole of a poor Hobbit, complete with a beautiful door but no windows, we are told that apparently the poorer the Hobbit, the lesser the windows...

By this point the tour guide is getting annoyed with my daughter and I because we are the ones staying behind taking photos along with the Japanese tourists who got so used to us interrupting their photo ops that they started offering us cough lollies...

I went a bit crazy with the photo’s after a while, even more so when I began doing that thing where you hold your camera out in front of you and photograph yourself looking like a total idiot. I was thinking I would make the coolest slide show ever made at the end of the day, but now as I look back on it, what a dorkI It doesn’t help that my “selfie” shots were taken with an SLR as big as some kind of experimental weapon of mass destruction.

But I didn’t care, I was having fun, and my three year old thought Daddy was being cool. At least, that's what I choose to believe...

Perhaps the best part was the “stone” bridge went over across the river to the Green Dragon, the final destination of the whole tour, where you get a complimentary Cider, ginger ale or specially brewed Hobbit Beer which is only available in this part of the world. I took a lot of “selfies” there as well.

There we were, my three year old daughter and I, transported to this medieval “pub”, with cobble stoned floors, an open hearth, oaken tables and clay goblets drinking cider... uh, not my three year old of course, she was drinking the ginger ale, but for a moment there I was a Hobbit, my daughter was a Hobbit and the two of us were doing Hobbit stuff, sucked into the fantasy, the camera being the only thing out of place as I pointed to the exquisitely carved green dragon above the counter and told my princess all about Smaug and his dwarvish hoard under the mountain.

Then the tour guide beckoned us to leave, and I didn't want to go... either because I didn't want it not to be real, or perhaps I just wanted another drink... either way this was one of the coolest daddy-daughter dates I have ever been on.

Some people want rides and interactivity when they go to things, but this experience was quaint, excellently quaint, scenic, absorbing and rich with fantastical ambience, despite the “look but don’t touchiness” about it.
We got back to the cafe where my darling, wife and youngest daughter awaited us; I had a delectable steak sandwich and began to plan my 40th, five years from now, at the Green Dragon.

Yep, I’m a nerd but darn proud of it.

Anyway, I want to leave you now with these pictographs of my day, because as you can see, a picture is worth way more than the 1315 words it took for me to write this review.

(pictures coming soon!)

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