Hanging with Hobbits

Rolling green hills.
Rolling green hills.
A hobbit hole.
A hobbit hole.

When I was a child there was a TV program about a yacht that sailed into mist and came out in another dimension. That sort of happened to us today.

We drove South from Auckland through industrial areas and suburban housing. Suddenly we hit a wall of fog; a dense, grey soup. Five minutes later the fog ended as quickly as it began and we emerged into an entirely different place. The Sun was shining down on rolling green fields dotted with white wooly sheep. The blue sky was broken only by the occasional long white clouds that gave the land it’s Maori name.

That wasn’t the end of the alternate universe experience. We were headed to Hobbiton – where the Hobbits live. Hobbiton is actually where they filmed the external scenes for the Hobbit village in Lord of the Rings. The spot was chosen both for its beauty and the fact there was no surrounding sign of the modern world. There’s no question that it is an extremely beautiful spot. And the film set is so cute it definitely lends the place a special air. The film set was originally built as a group of temporary structures, but when the film company came back for the filming of the The Hobbit they remade everything as permanent buildings. Well buildings is largely over-stating things, they are permanently made facades. It’s a Potemkin Hobbit village.

I struggle with this sort of place. At one level there’s no denying that it’s lovely. On another level it’s entirely artificial.

Declan does hobbit.
Declan does hobbit.

No matter, Declan, as our resident Tolkein expert, had an absolute ball. He ran around everywhere spotting things from the movies. Callum ran around looking for flaws in the building. The point where their interests converged was a story about the tree on top of Bilbo Baggins’ home. Originally the tree was, at a cost of a couple of hundred thousand dollars, dismantled, moved from another site, and re-assembled. Then they came back to film The Hobbit and found the tree had rotted. Now they needed to replace the tree with one that looked the same, only 60 years younger. The solution was to create one from scratch at a cost of $1.7 million. As I said… another world.

To cap the day off we ended up in Rotarua. A town where steam rises from the manhole covers. Where mud bubbles in the middle of the park. And, for the record, where they serve ice-cream that even by New Zealand standards is out of this World.

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