Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Hobbiton, and other holes in the ground

First thing in the morning, I drove down from Thames to Matamata.  There I went to the tourist information centre, to pick up my Hobbiton Tour Ticket that my B&B host had kindly pre-booked for me over the phone.

The Matamata Tourist Information Centre seems different from typical New Zealand architecture somehow...
While waiting for the tour bus, I availed myself of the local facilities.  I have found the public conveniences in New Zealand to be excellent: clean, airy, and free.  This one, beautifully tiled, sported a sign that bemused me:

Is fruit washing in public convenience hand basins a particular problem in Matamata?  Where should fruit be washed?  Is it okay to wash vegetables here?  Why do I now have a powerful urge to wash fruit?  Wut?

Anyway, the bus arrived, and we piled on for the short trip to Hobbiton, and thoughts of fruit cleansing opportunities vanished from my mind.

We learned that the original contract for The Lord of the Rings filming insisted that the sets be removed, and the land put back the way it was.  Hence much polystyrene was used.  For some unfathomable reason, the contract for The Hobbit was different: the sets had to be made permanent, and left intact.

a view over Hobbiton, with hobbit houses and a vegetable garden
There were two sizes of Hobbit houses, to allow the use of forced perspective to make Gandalf look bigger than the hobbits and dwarves.

a small hobbit house, which makes Gandalf look big
There are no interiors to the houses: interior shots were filmed elsewhere.  However, the doors open on some, with a little space behind, which allows photographs of people peering out.  At the top of the hill was Bag End, underneath an oak tree.

Bag End exterior
I had been eyeing the tree as we neared the spot, because it looked ... strange.  The leaves were a very light bright green, and rather sparse, and I was wondering what kind of tree it was.  We were told: an oak tree, a fake oak tree.  We were told that for the LoTR set, an oak tree was procured, cut up, transported, and reassembled on site.  For The Hobbit, set many years earlier, the tree had to be younger and smaller.  So a reduced size model was made.  The leaves are individually wired on, and, when Peter Jackson saw them, repainted to get exactly the right colour.

After a tour round the set, we trooped down to the Green Dragon pub, for a complimentary mug of ale or ginger beer.  Then back onto the bus, down to the shop, where we were left to buy souvenirs (including the locally brewed ale and ginger beer), then back to Matamata.

In the afternoon, I drove down to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, with a nature walk, by lakes and hot springs, that came highly recommended by a friend.  This walk has three sections, followed by an optional boat tour at the end.  It was getting late, so there was no time for the boat tour, and I was advised to walk only the first two sections, and get the last bus back.  I started off.

The panoramic view down the valley hints at the pleasures to come.
A view down into the southernmost crater and its Emerald Pool, a shallow cold lake.
Echo crater and its gently steaming Frying Pan Lake

 5 seconds of boiling water from the hot springs: rather smelly!

Inferno Crater lake

 7 seconds of a small geyser on Bird’s Nest Terrace

Amazing colours, and sounds ... and smells
the whole valley is just stunningly beautiful
So, just over an hour after leaving the visitor centre, I arrived at bus stop 2, earlier than planned: the leaflet suggests this walk takes 95 minutes.  Clearly I hadn’t taken enough photos!  Since I had not heard the bus going towards down to the lake, I kept my fingers crossed.  And yes, the bus was running a little late, so instead of catching it on its return to the visitor centre, I caught it going the other way, and went to the lake.

a placid lake, with many black swans
Full of this mind-blowingly beautiful – and a bit stinky – scenery, I drove back to my hotel in Rotorua.

What is it with hotels and wifi? I’ve been staying in motels and B&Bs, all with free wifi as standard. As soon as I stop in a hotel, however, I’m down in the lobby using my "complimentary" 30 mins free wifi…

driving down to Matamata, then Waimangu, spending the night at Rotorua, ~ 200km (the side trip to Hobbiton was on a tour bus)

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