|"We once caught one German fan trying to walk off with an entire branch from the old Oak tree over Bag End. He claimed the Istari had sent him to retrieve it."
Yes, today we were in Hobbiton and my Lord of the Rings tour is back on track! We'd left Blue Lake and dropped into Matamata on our way back to Auckland. Matamata is a farming famed for its stud farming and horse-racing. With a few hours to spare we jumped on board the Scenic Rings Tours to take us to where they filmed the Hobbiton scenes in the film. The geek in me managed to persuade a very reluctant Kate to come along, but by the end of the two hour tour even she enjoyed it.
It was certainly one of the oddest tours we've been on. Usually you pay good money to actually see something but not on this occasion. Thgere was almost nothing to see. This is because the area of land used by the filmmakers is still owned as a film set by New Line Cinema, and in their contract with the farmer they promised to return everything to its former state before production began. They duly did, leaving virtually nothing left to indicate there had ever been a multi-million film unit recreating a corner of Middle Earth here for two years. All that remains are the wooden supports to show where the hobbit holes were. This situation was frustrating for the locals who had begun this tour group as they weren't allowed to rebuild any part of the set as it was in the film under the terms of the contract.
Having said that, it didn't really matter as the location itself was still quite amazing. A little hollow in the middle of lush sheep grazing land, the set was spotted by a location scout working for the director, Peter Jackson. It had almost everything needed as laid out in the book - a small pond that could double-up as a river, a perfectly symmetrical Party Tree and of course, the all important hillock overlooking the village that would contain Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Although our guides said that the Tree was one of the features that convinced them to use the location, the other advantage was that wherever you looked you couldn't see any other sign of modern life - no houses, telegraph poles or roads. Only a distant barn on a hill was visible and that was simply covered with branches and turned into a tree.
We had a good look around and had our pictures taken in Bag End itself (I kicked myslef for not bringing along some pipeweed to smoke outside the door), and we listened to the many tales about the production itself. Apparently, the Oak tree above Bag End was brought from a nearby farm in pieces and reconstructed in its new location. Because the leaves had all died, they employed students to wire on 250,000 artificial leaves to the branches before filming started. It was one of these that the German fan had tried to steal.
Anyway, it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and I didn't regret persuading Kate to come. We will be getting the DVD out immediately to check all the locations we've seen...
We got to Auckland Airport in good time and eventually got on to our flight. Once on board though, we thought we were in for another Tongan experience as the pilot said that the weather had deteriorated in Christchurch and there was a good chance we may have to return to Auckland. As it was, our first approach was successful and we landed safely after all.