I went to the Rotorua Museum and along with seeing the Nga Pumanawa O Te Arawa (The Beating Hearts of Te Arawa) Exhibition, there was also a very good photography exhibition about Brian Blake in the Rotorua Trust Gallery. He’s New Zealand’s best known photographer, celebrated for his international photojournalism and images of New Zealand, including craft objects and taonga Maori (Maori treasures). He died in 1988 but this is a great summary of his work. I like his style of photography. He goes for the unusual, meaning that when there have been big public events he’s had to photograph, he’d take photos of what he was expected to take but he would also concentrate on the normal reaction of people away from the cameras. I liked his landscape photos of New Zealand.
Being a big fan of Lord of The Rings, I wanted to go back to Matamata and see the Hobbiton movie set. Peter Jackson used this area for the filming of the Hobbiton location during the film Lord of The Rings. When I went there in 2009, I took a guided tour and back then there were just plywood boards in front of the hobbit holes. I’d heard that Peter Jackson decided to leave the sets as they are, after they finished shooting of the film there on November 8th 2011. So I decided I’d take another tour and see how different it was compared to the last time.
Everyone had to sign a confidentiality agreement to say that they wouldn’t put any photos/videos or put any information about the movie set on the internet until after the film is released. That agreement has been lifted and we’re now allowed to write about it and put photos on the internet. The last time I went there, the hobbit holes had white plywood boards outlining the shape of the front doors and I loved it. The group I was with was a small group and the weather was glorious that day. I really enjoyed the tour. It was pretty quiet there and for me, seeing it for the first time was wonderful, even without the ‘dressed up’ hobbit holes.
This time was different. We started off with a small group in Rotorua but when we got there, had to join up with a big bus tour from God knows where and as soon as one tour finished there was another big bus group that took its place. There were hordes of people getting off buses to take tours, understandably, as it’s a famous movie set now. All forty two hobbit holes have been left as they were during filming of The Hobbit. The doors are painted different colours, there are rocking chairs sitting outside front doors, as if waiting for someone to go and sit in them. The wood piles are stacked high with logs, forest cones lie haphazardly in the corner, with nistercia flowers blooming in bunches by the fence.
At the bottom of the hill, your eye wanders over to the other side of the lake, where the “Green Dragon Pub” is, next to the stone bridge with double arches. This is the bridge that you see Gandalf crossing, on his horse and cart, in the opening scene of the film Lord of The Rings. Right next to the bridge is a working water mill.
When you turn around and look up the hill, you see the “dressed up” hobbit holes, including the famous Bag End, Bilbo’s hobbit hole. Bag End has a green door now, instead of white plywood and the door stands slightly ajar. You get a small view of the walls inside. The façade of the hobbit hole is just like in the film, practically surrounded by bushes, two or three potted plants, with their flowers in bloom outside the front door. There are proper steps going up to the door and a lychen covered fence at the bottom to polish the whole scene off. Some of the other hobbit holes aren’t as ornate as Bag End but they all have their own touches. One in particular has a fence with its post box surrounded by honeysuckle. This is one of my favourite plants so I especially like this hobbit hole. There was a cow that got loose and came wandering in our direction onto the set. The guide phoned the farmers who own the land to try and move the cow and within five minutes a guy in a golf cart arrived and shooed the cow in a different direction. It just goes to show that for the guide, anything can happen!
It was great to see Hobbiton in its new form but still, it was a bit of a disappointment because of the huge numbers of tourists there to see it. That’s the way it will be from now on, lots of tourists going to see the movie set. For me, it was much more enjoyable seeing it for the first time ‘bare’. Then, it was more like stepping into a fairytale than today’s experience. I also ran out of batteries unfortunately and I didn’t have any spare ones with me. Don’t you just hate that! The battery gauge on my camera doesn’t give you a warning sign that the batteries are getting low until the batteries are nearly gone.