Next: the Shire in Matamata.
Matamata is only an hour or so from Rotorua. I made it there by a little after 9:00 and then drove around looking for anything Shirelike. There were no signs indicating directions, but after a few minutes I found this.
This is the Matamata i-Site building. i-Site is New Zealand’s network of tourist information offices. They turn up in a variety of different buildings. Most are ordinary, but in Rotorua it’s is in what looks like an old train station, in Cambridge it’s is in the old town hall building, and in Matamata it’s is in this Hobbit building that only opened in November.
I went in to ask for directions and found out that the tours leave from there and that the next one was due in 15 minutes.
The Shire isn’t really in Matamata. It’s on a working sheep ranch about 15 minutes away. The bus takes you out there, then another bus takes you to the Shire itself, which is somewhere in the middle of this 1250-acre ranch.
The last two people on the bus were an American couple. The woman was very upset because they had told her not to get on the bus and they only let her get on at the last minute and they could have left her behind.
“They should have left you behind” is what I didn’t say out loud.
The tour was informative but informal. We could wander around and take pictures quite a bit. Whiny Woman was unhappy because she “didn’t know what we’re supposed to be doing.”
“How about you shut up and enjoy yourself” is what I muttered under my breath.
The timing of the tour was perfect. After Lord of the Rings, most of the set was destroyed, per the original agreement between Peter Jackson and the landowners. But heavy rain slowed them down, and during the downtime the family started getting calls from people wanting to visit the set. That was when the family started thinking that it might be worth keeping.
For The Hobbit, they negotiated a different contract for more permanent construction. They also constructed a working Green Dragon, which just opened last month.
The Hobbit holes are built to different scales, depending on who would be filmed standing in front of them—smaller ones for humans, larger ones for Hobbits.
Of course, it is still just a set, so as nice as the Hobbit holes look from the outside, there’s nothing in them. Inside scenes were all filmed in Wellington.
At the Green Dragon, I shared a table with Lyndon and Deb from Australia (Lyndon took the photos of me) and Nikolai from Germany, who was planning a hike south over Mt. Tongariro. Whiny Woman sat elsewhere.