A very early start to catch an early flight from Brisbane to Auckland. Luckily, the flight itself was only 3 hours (to get to another country!), so with the time difference, I ended up arriving at about 2pm.
After the usual travel nonsense, and the transfer to the hotel, I arrived at about 3:30pm, with two hours to spare before our tour welcome dinner. The hotel room was really nice, and even had a kitchen and lounge area. After a refreshing shower and some rest, I went down to the hotel restaurant to meet everybody.
I think there are 32 people in our tour group (Red Carpet Tours) all up, and I managed to meet most of them. Hoping to get to know them more as we progress, but was great to hang out with so many different people, from different countries all sharing this one common interest. A few fellow Aussies too which is nice.
The dinner, by the way, was really delicious and was a buffet of many different dishes. Surprisingly good (as PJ would say). An early night tonight as most people are jetlagged (not me for once!), and we have a big day at Hobbiton tomorrow. Many photos to come from tomorrow on.
On second thought. maybe not there – let’s start with breakfast.
Pre-dawn start today (so much more time for activities!), and a buffet breakfast at the hotel, getting to meet more people I didn’t get a chance to the night before. After packing up everything (including my stomach), we boarded Shadowfax (our coach), met our driver Ray, and begun the two+ hour journey to Matamata (or Mada Mada if you’re a Japanese Cyborg-Ninja).
The journey there reminded me of our drives through Ireland, with rolling green hills, farms/animals and an ever-present grey looming cloud to block the harshness of the Sun. Some tidbits and trivia as we went, as well as some idle small-talk to pass the time. Soon enough, we pulled up to our drop point and all hopped off for a small break/souvenir shop and to pick up our tour guide, Theresa.
A short drive later, and we arrive to our destination. Following the winding path, Hobbiton opens up before us, in all its glory.
We didn’t get as much time as I would have liked (is there enough time in the world for that?), but lagging behind certainly helped get clearer photos with less people around to have to edit out later, though soon another tour group came up behind us and forced us to rush through a bit.
The whole set is incredible though – it certainly feels like a working, living village, with an inspiring amount of attention-to-detail. Each hobbit house feels unique and lived-in, all the gardens are alive with flourishing flowers, bees buzzing, birds chirping. It’s basically what you’d imagine and hope for when seeing it on film.
I took over 500 photos, so I’ve tried to include a bunch here which I could be bothered to process. More may follow, but you get the idea.
We climbed up the hill to Bag End, which was cool to see, though I wish we could’ve walked up to the door, past the fence. But then again, we weren’t on party business, so it’s fair enough.
Down the hill to Sam’s house and the surrounding hobbit holes.
Then off across the bridge, past the mill, to where the Green Dragon lies. That’s right! The Green Dragon is a pub! Get clickbaited.
I lingered behind so much that I missed out on sitting inside for long and enjoying a drink, but I got some nice photos/video outside with no-one around. We then headed into our marquee tent to enjoy our buffet feast, which once again had great food, and a lot of variety. Would recommend it next time you’re ordering from Uber International Eats.
After our meal, it was back to the coach for a scenic drive to our next hotel in Rotorua. There was a small delay with our rooms, so we got a complimentary drink and relaxed at the bar for a bit until they were ready.
After a short rest, in which I wrote some of this, plus downloaded/began editing today’s photos, we headed off to a Mitai show/dinner/evening, which is contains information, songs, dances, food and other traditional Maori things. There was an amazing theatrical performance, including a powerful Haka performed by the tribe.
After the show, we had a delicious feast (another amazing buffet), followed by a nighttime nature walk to see the glowworms, as well as the nocturnal native Kiwi birds. We even got to see a freshly hatched Kiwi as an added treat!
It’s way too late to still be awake considering my 5:30am alarm, so time for sleep. Overall though, what a day.
I definitely did not get enough sleep, so pushed my alarm back until after 6am, opting to go to breakfast a bit late. I eat quickly anyway, so soon enough we were packed, checked out and on the coach, ready to drive to our next location – the property which became Trollshaw Forest.
It was a couple of hours drive, but very scenic green farmland and rolling hills with very few people or buildings in sight. Eventually we made our way through Rotorua and to Piopio. Driving up to the property entrance, we were greeted by our tour guides for the day and the land owners*, Sue and her father-in-law(?) Graham (her husband was sick and couldn’t attend).
*Although Graham told us that although he has lived there for over 70 years, they are not the land owners – they are merely caretakers of the property, who have the pleasure and privilege of preserving the land and sharing it with the rest of the world, which is a nice sentiment.
We were lucky to have our own private tour of the land, and be able to take our time walking around, taking photos, asking questions etc. They were both extremely friendly and easy-going, telling us stories of the 6 or so weeks the cast and crew of The Hobbit were filming there. You can tell that they were very happy to be chosen as a location for filming, and are immensely proud of everything they’ve built there (as they should be).
They had a little clearing with some tables, a small shop and very good boy.
After everyone had settled, they gave a short presentation about their experience with the filming, before splitting us into two groups to drive us up to the location.
On the way up, they stopped to let us see and pet one of their newborn lambs which was a rare treat. Soon enough though, we made it to the start of the trail and waited for them to go back and get the other group. In the meantime, we took many photos of the surrounding area, as there were so many interesting sights, trees and rocks just in that area alone.
Once the other group arrived, we were led up through the various locations used for filming (a surprising amount of different locations/shots in the one area).
The whole place is stunning, but we were just getting started. We then headed into the forest itself, which was an instant transportation into Trollshaw Forest, with a very distinct aesthetic and mossy green trees/rocks.
After learning about each area in the forest and what shots they were used for (the main one being the “cave” where Bilbo finds Sting), we walked through and out back to where we started.
We were shuttled back to the entrance, and had some time to take photos with replica weapons and props while we waited for the other group.
Finally, we said our thanks and goodbye, as we made our way back through the rolling hills, getting closer and closer to Mordor (Mt. Ruapehu). It was a long, but uneventful trip, with a couple of stops and a nice packed picnic lunch we had picked up earlier.
Eventually, we found ourselves approaching the mountains. There was a lot of snow and some moderate cloud, but we had a good view of the area without many people around which was nice.
Then it was off to the (very) nearby hotel to call it a night. There were a few options for dinner (cafes/restaurants), so I worked on my photos for a while, then headed to some sort of bar and met up with some fellow group members for dinner.
I had the “Dubai Nights”, which was a standard Mediterranean dish, with skewered chicken, lamb and kefta, as well as a bit of pita bread, hummus and yoghurt. It was actually quite nice, though a little pricey.
After some interesting discussions, I had to leave early to finish up with the photos etc. so I can actually get some sleep tonight (though it’s not looking much better than last). The delay with yesterday’s photos pushed my schedule out a bit, but hopefully I’m on track now.
Tomorrow we visit a few more locations and end up in Wellington, where we’ll be staying for a few days (no more hotel jumping! Yay!). Until then!
Another early start, quick buffet breakfast and off to our first location – the entrance to Erebor. The wind was extremely strong up there, and would push you off balance. That also meant it was very cold, so we didn’t stay too long.
Then a short distance to Gollum’s fishing pool and the subsequent waterfall.
And of course, there were some reenactments.
And then some final photos of the waterfall from a different vantage point.
Then back onto the coach for a solid drive (while watching Fellowship extended edition) to our lunch stop.
We ate at a nice cafe, which also had animals you could feed, including rabbits, pigs, donkeys and alpacas. They were pretty chill.
After lunch, we headed off again to our next location (a shortcut to mushrooms). Of course, another reenactment of that pivotal scene featured in The Death Eater and the Four Tourists.
A bit further down for one last one.
It took a while for everyone to take their photos here, as it was a small area and had some tricky, uneven footing. But eventually we headed back to the coach just as it started to rain.
Our final destination was now Wellington, where we’ll be staying for the next 3 days. Before going to the hotel though, we drove up the mountain to a 360 degree lookout they have over the city.
Finally the day wound down to an end, as we drove to our hotel in the city and settled into our rooms. I decided to eat sooner, rather than later when I couldn’t be bothered going out again, so I looked for nearby restaurants and found a well-reviewed Vietnamese place just down the road. One bowl of delicious Pho later and I am back in time to process photos, write this blog and get a good night’s sleep for once (and a bit of a sleep-in tomorrow!).
Tomorrow we go to Weta Workshop to spend all of our savings. Wish me luck.