Our journey begins in Taupo, exhausted after a 3 day hike in the Tongariro National Park, we pull up at a green camping area next to a rather unusual tourist attraction.
This dam. It has a tourist viewing platform.
I’ve never seen so many people standing, staring at a closed floodgate, and waiting for the time to hit 10am, 12pm, 2pm or 4pm before.
In the NZ Frenzy guide; a book that frequented last year’s “3 girls, 1 car” road trip experience; we found Aratiatia Rapids. “A unique display of man vs nature.” Every time it opens, the calm waters quickly transform into a foaming aquamarine turbulence. _______________
Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk
With all the volcanic activity in this area, Taupo has a big reputation for having steamy hot pools to soak in after a long hike.
It also has a couple of really cool spots to see and learn about different types of geothermal activity. From steaming jets from the earth to bubbling mud pools.
Our day to see it was pretty scorching so we didn’t see any pools of bubbling mud, I recommend Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk on a rainy day, or after a big rainfall.
We were on the road to somewhere pretty special though.
Many people associate New Zealand with one favourite film, and after seeing some incredible props at The Weta Cave in Wellington, it seemed only reasonable that we visited Hobbiton, one of the most popular attractions in New Zealand.
You have to book a tour through the Hobbiton Tours Website. There are a few options, and it is worth the visit. You can’t just swing by and try your luck at a sneaky free glimpse as only tour buses are allowed down the kilometre long road.
As we rolled down the immaculately groomed green hills with fluffy sheep, we started to see little thatched roofs and a huge tree. Apparently Peter Jackson flew about this area via helicopter looking for the right spot for Hobbiton, and upon first sight of this magnificent tree, he knew this was exactly the spot.
The tour starts around beautiful little gardens of fresh flowers and vegetables, grown by dedicated gardeners who change them seasonally, from spring flowers to an autumnal pumpkin patch.
Not all the produce is real though. Each house belongs to a different hobbit with a different hobby and realistic models of bread, cheese and dried fish are on display. These props have been to last at least 50 years, resisting the rain, sunshine, and guests fingerprints.
This water pump however, is fully functioning. With a bit of a catch. (The “drink” switch changes it to a rather powerful water fountain!) Stand back!
My favourite part was seeing the 44 hobbit holes built into the hills. Each one had character; its own circular door with a lick of coloured paint, a handsome door handle, some made-to-look-worn fancy brickwork, some simply wooden. There are a couple that you can go inside through the door, but most of them are just a facade built onto the hill.
A couple of them had little fireplaces concealed around the back of the houses, that the tour guides would light every morning. The smoke would emanate from the little chimneys; giving an illusion that there was a little Hobbit warming his hairy feet by the fire inside.
The original Hobbiton built for the Lord of The Rings film was much more disposable than the one we were visiting today. The whole set was destroyed after the trilogy had finished filming.
During the filming, apparently there were campers lining up outside the entrance to the set asking if they could come in for a peek. This gave the owner of the land, a farmer who Peter Jackson had borrowed this area to build this village in, a great idea.
So when Peter Jackson returned to ask to borrow the land again for The Hobbit, the farmer said they could, but on one condition; that they could build it to last this time, and open to the public as an attraction so that everyone could see it.
The condition was accepted, and they got to work building a permanent set. In a quarter of the time they had had to make Lord of the Rings. Coming from an experienced prop-makers point of view, this would have been HELL. This time they would have had to have built everything properly, out of materials that are harder to work with! No tricks of the trade with polystyrene this time, it had to be concrete, brick and wood.
There were a couple of tricks of the trade though – in the book, Bilbo Baggins house was built under an Oak tree, so they made this tree completely from fibreglass and ALL THE LEAVES are hand-painted silk imported from Taiwan. Every time they fade it’s someones job to repaint them!!
Talking of strange jobs, a lady was paid to walk the track to hang out the washing every day for a few months before they filmed, to achieve an authentic well-worn path.
The trees in the gardens were meant to be plum trees, but due to the scale of the small hobbits, they planted apple and pear trees, and once the fruit had ripened, they would remove the fruit and replace them with fake plums. Each tree had skewed perspective ladders too for the illusion that the trees were much bigger than in real life, against the actors.
If you’re filming with a lot of different sized creatures; giants and hobbits for example, the sets have to be built in certain scales. There were some doors here that made you look huge when you stood in front of them, whereas others made you look tiny.
Heading around the village and over a gorgeous bridge past a working wooden mill, we headed for a glass of refreshing root beer at the one and only…
…Green Dragon Inn!
Inside was the smell of warming coal fires and rich wood. Realistic models of meat and dried grasses hung from the wooden beams and you were greeted by friendly smiling faces behind the bar. I would make this my local if I could!
So that ended my tour of Hobbiton, for me so much more than just marvelling at wooden doors.