No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a visiting Hobbiton. For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip. One of the things I was looking forward to the most! I’m a huge Lord of The Rings fan, not quite on a super fan level, I reckon I’d have to watch the films a few more times to get to that status, but still a big fan, so I couldn’t wait to get to Hobbiton to see the famous set!
As soon as you arrive in New Zealand you start seeing Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit attractions, books, adverts, shops etc. Everywhere we went, I saw something to do with the franchise which only made me more excited for our trip to Hobbiton.
We had booked in for an afternoon tour as we had quite a long drive down there from the Coromandel. The weather wasn’t the best, completely overcast, but there wasn’t that much wind and it was still warm so we couldn’t complain too much. It was quite a nice drive down there, lots of interesting scenery along the way so time actually went quite quickly.
We arrived at the tour nice and early (of course! There was no way I was missing this!). The meeting point we had was the I-Site (which is basically just the tourist information centre) in Matamata and from there a bus would take us down to the set. I mean, the tourist information centre itself had been transformed into a building that look like it was taken from the set. These guys clearly mean business!
Because we had arrived nice and early we had a bit of time to kill, so I basically spent it browsing through pretty much every item the I-Site had for sale, every now and then looking up from the item I was pretending to show an interest in to check if the bus was outside waiting.
Finally, just as I was coming to the end of looking at all the postcards for the third time, there it was, the bus had arrived! So, I rather briskly hurried over to the bus and politely shoved my way to the front door. One excitable flash of my ticket later I was sat on the bus being whisked away into The Shire! The journey down to the set isn’t very long, only 20 minutes or so from what I remember. Right from the start though, the tour guide begins talking about the set and the films, so time just flies by. Once we had arrived at the top-secret location of the set it was another polite shove past people off the bus and to the front of the group to begin the tour!
Without giving too much away, the tour takes you around the whole of the set, all the way from the Garden, up into the hills to see Bag End, then down to The Party Tree, round the hill to the Hobbiton Millhouse, then over the stone bridge for a drink in the Green Dragon Inn. All along the way you stop and visit the hobbit holes where the tour guide will give you a back story to the hobbit who resides there, or will give you little facts about the actual filming itself. What was real, what was fake, what to look out for in the film, that sort of thing. They’re the bits I like the best!
What was amazing was how each Hobbit hole had been meticulously thought out and planned based on the occupation of its fictional inhabitant. So the fisherman has all the fishing equipment outside, along with a freshly caught fish smoking ready for supper. The beekeeper had all the beehives stacked outside waiting to be filled next to the equipment used to extract the honey. It was so real.
The amount of detail that has gone into the whole place was just amazing. Every now and then I had to stop and remind myself that I was on a film set and that none of it was actually real. It is so easy to just become immersed in the world of Middle Earth.
It was a difficult place to try and photograph, mainly because of how busy it was. Whichever way you point the camera, it’s almost a guarantee that someone will be in the frame. We must have been one of at least 8 other groups being taken round the site, each group containing around 20-30 people. You do the maths. There was a lot of people there.
Every now and then there was a tiny period of time where there was a break in the crowd and the subject I was trying to photograph became unobstructed. Those moments were rare and fleeting so I made the most of every one I could to get some photos done.
Another difficult aspect, for me anyway, was the sky. It was completely overcast and extremely white, which didn’t really help with the frame composition and a lot of the time everything was just coming out very overexposed. I tried to compensate by shooting in aperture mode, but my photography skills are still lacking in some fundamental areas so that didn’t really go all that well.
I wouldn’t say I gave up, but just decided to enjoy the views and the tour, taking photos as and when I wanted to rather than try and focus on getting good pictures of everything. It really wasn’t the time or place to try and get some ‘professional looking’ photos done. For that, you’d need to bag yourself an after-hours tour when you can guarantee all the time and space you need. That, or you just abandon your tour group and wander round on your own waiting for the crowds to clear and the photo opportunities to open up.
The film set aspect of the place aside, it is actually a really beautiful place to visit. From the top of the hill all you can see for miles into the distance are rolling hills tumbling all over each other, dotted every now and then with sharp looking trees standing dead straight into the air. The blanket of grass that covered these hills was mainly a lush green colour, interrupted every now and then with patches of brown soil, or grey rock. As the sky was completely overcast, the clouds added an interesting atmosphere to the scene, adding all sorts of shapes and depth to the sky. I was able to emphasise this places post processing tweaking the light and shadows here and there to darken the mood a bit.
The tour ended as so many of my walks and photoshoots do, in the pub. We stopped in the Green Dragon Inn for a quick beer and even there, the magic of The Shire continued. The pub is full of Lord of The Rings memorabilia, including photos and guest books all signed by the cast and crew. It was nice to have a sit down by the roaring fire and enjoy the cosy atmosphere.
The pub itself is right by the lake so there are great views looking over the water towards the hills. The trees that are scattered over the hills all look ancient and have weird and wonderful shapes to them. The fake tree created for the hobbit films blends in seamlessly to the natural trees it was sometimes difficult to spot which one it was. I managed to take a few minutes and get some photos down by the lake and over by the Millhouse as the open space dispersed the crowds a lot more so there wasn’t much waiting around for photo opportunities down here.
And so came and end to our Hobbiton tour. It was everything I had imagined it to be and such an amazing and beautiful place to visit. As I said, no trip to New Zealand would be complete without a Hobbiton experience. There was just time for a quick look round the gift shop, where, (and I was really proud of myself for this), I managed to refrain from buying ‘The one Ring’ Doesn’t really have the same appeal when you know it’s probably one of thousands. I was not drawn to its power this time…maybe on my next visit.
By the time I was done taking photos it was getting a bit late in the day and we still had a long hike back to where we had parked the car. The sun was also starting to move behind the cliffs at the back of the beach which meant the lighting completely changed for the worst which meant the photos were not what I was after. It also meant that it started to get pretty cold pretty quickly so at that point we decided to call it a day and start heading back. The Sauvignon Blanc was calling us anyway.