We all line up and file into the bus, nearly jumping with excitement as we clutch our welcome pamphlets in our hands. The bus fires up almost immediately, and we are drawn through the steep, rolling hills of Matamata, New Zealand. Sheep are everywhere, white fluff dotting the landscape. They’re all just lying there. “Do they even realize how lucky they are?” I ask Ian in childlike wonderment. “They live in Middle Earth. I wish I lived here.”
He nods because he’s used to me, and the bus carries us through for a few minutes while an introductory video plays above, but I’m too busy taking pictures out the window. The day is grey, but our faces are covered in six layers of sunscreen. We learned our lesson on day one in New Zealand. The sun is there, we just can’t see it.
I breathe in the chemical smell as the tour guide takes the intercom and her flat, New Zealander accent fills the speakers. “On your right you can see the lane there. That’s where they filmed the scene of Gandalf driving his cart through on his way to Hobbiton.”
“Wow,” I whisper, and take a thousand consecutive photos, just so I don’t miss an angle.
A minute later, the bus rolls to a stop and we are released outside like a herd of sheep, bleating in wonder at all that surrounds us. She leads us to a road sign pointing to our right, and it reads ‘Hobbiton’. She talks for a few minutes. Don’t pick the flowers, stay on the path, don’t be the typical, idiotic tourists that we have to deal with every day. Please.
We step after her as she leads us around the trees, and there it is, open before us. The hill is massive, rising steeply from the base where a small vegetable garden and pond sit blissfully still and quiet. We’re told when they made the pond for the films, it filled with frogs. The frogs were much too noisy for filming, so they hired a designated Frog Catcher. Where they found someone with that title, I have no idea.
We’re guided down the red dirt path and she tells us stories about where this and that was filmed, and things the crew and locals did as pretend hobbits in the little fantasy town. We take selfies with the round, painted doors. Each hobbit hole has an entrance. We’re told the hobbit’s are away for the day to allow the tourists in. Some of the kids in the group believe it and are excited. They hope they might catch a glimpse of one rushing home to do the washing, or start dinner, or grab their fishing pole and head out to the lake for an afternoon on the shores.
It’s cute, it’s quaint, and it’s sort of insane. So much detail and hours were put into every aspect of the place, just so we can pay to see it. They bring in gardeners every day to tend the gardens. (I’m not sure why Sam’s not doing it. Lazy hobbit). We see the fence Bilbo hopped over when he announced he was “going on an adventure!”. We see Bag End, where Bilbo and Gandalf sit and smoke their pipes, and Frodo hammers the “No Admittance, except on party business” sign to the gate. Above Bag End, on the top of the hill, we see the massive tree that is completely fake, painted and carved and wired, then re-painted, by the movie crews. The green on the leaves just wasn’t quite to Peter Jackson’s standards the first time ’round.
We tramp down the hill again, cross a small bridge in the trees, and find Sam’s home, where he lifts his daughter into his arms and carries her through the gate. We see the lawn where they have Bilbo’s party.
It’s as if we’re transported back to the movies. It’s a quiet place, despite all the tours going around. It’s peaceful, and I can see myself as a hobbit (not just because I’m short. It’s for the food as well.)
Finally, we leave the tour, and walk down to the lake. We cross the larger stone bridge, past the mill, and enter the Green Dragon pub. We order an ale. We stand by the fireplace. We walk outside. We look out across the lake, where the dragon firework exploded in red and gold lights. We see the green, the distant colourful circles that mark the fourty-four hobbit holes they have created. We finish our ales, and we’re taken into a tent to eat our buffet lunch.
Too soon, the tour is over. The camera is put away. The bus takes us back to the lot, and eventually we sit back in the car. We pull out of the gravel parking and get back onto the road. We’re all rather quiet for a moment.
“That was great,” I say.
“Can we go again tomorrow?” Janelle asks.
“Definitely,” we all agree.
But, we don’t. We have other places to see. We leave Matamata and drive south, on to more adventures.
Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to…”