Day 8 of our North Island holiday (April 7th, 2012)
“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots of lots of pegs for hats and coats — the hobbit was fond of visitors.” -The Hobbit
I was about to live out my dream; my dream that I had the very first time I watched as the camera was following behind Gandalf in his cart and as it peered over the hill; I gasped when I saw the Shire with its green hills, flowers, and hobbit-holes come to life onto the big screen. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to go to New Zealand one day and walk through the Shire. To know that someone had created this place–made what I had only imagined in my head and dreamed of a mythical land like this existing–and actually turned it into a tangible place you could see with your own eyes . . . that was truly amazing. I was in 10th grade when I had that dream, and the ten or so years that have passed since then have not diminished this desire, but it has stayed within me. I should have prefaced this blog with, “Nerd Alert!”, but I really find no sense in being ashamed in my zeal, so, I’m gonna lay it on thick and tell you all my imaginative thoughts; hopefully you won’t think less of me.
Josh had promised me we would go to Hobbiton and I had been anticipating this moment for, well, you already know, forever! As we left Rotorua on Saturday morning, I just didn’t know what to do with myself driving down the road, with each kilometer bringing us closer to my dream. The countryside brought peace to my anxious/excited self, and I thought that at any moment a hobbit might pop out from behind the fence. And, there were sheep, sheep, sheep everywhere! I was starting to feel very nervous. Josh thought this was funny, because he could tell I had butterflies in my stomach since I was being quiet, and, he likes to make fun of me for my obsession. At last, we arrived at the quaint and cute town of Matamata. I can imagine how proud the townsfolk must feel that Bilbo’s house is right down the road. A few of the shops took advantage and milked it for what it was worth; I saw one shoe store called Strider. We drove up to the I-site visitor’s center that was painted and designed to resemble a hobbit hole with signs advertising the Hobbiton tours. We thought we were going to go to the later tour time, which is why we arrived about an hour and a half early, but as we walked in to sign up and pay for the tour, the lady asked if we wanted to go to the one that was leaving in ten minutes. I hate having to make split second decisions, and I didn’t know what to do as I wanted more time to prepare myself mentally and just make sure we had everything ready, but then again did we really want to wait that long and that might make me more nervous? We decided to go, but we had to run back to the car and get all our cameras ready…I was kind of freaking out and saying we should have waited. I had a few moments of being a pill, but I guess I’ll blame it on my nerves and what a huge deal this was to me and that I wanted it to be perfect.
So, Josh and I grabbed our cameras and our brochures, and walked up into the Hobbiton tour bus, sitting by our very short tour guide who could have been a hobbit himself. Wow, they really do make this an authentic experience! I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe I was on this tour bus! I don’t know if I can handle this, this is too much for me, I thought and wanted to just jump out the window. As the bus pulled out and we headed a few miles out into the countryside, I finally started gaining composure again and I looked happily at my brochure with a map of Hobbiton inside. Josh kept asking me, “Can you believe this is happening? Can you believe you are doing this?!”
Peter Jackson could not have picked a more perfect place. Apparently, he has scouts who go out across the country to find ideal locations for different scenes in the movie. I would’ve liked to have had their job! I don’t know who found this place, whether it was Peter or one of his scouts, but they must be commended. Just when I thought that the grass couldn’t possibly be greener on the other side, I found that over here, it was. The green color is hard to describe in words to really convey its vibrancy; it was so lively. The emerald grass just seemed to bounce and wave in the wind, as if it truly was alive. It seemed to possess life; like it had feelings, and that, out here in this beautiful country, ‘neath the shining sun and far away from any steel buildings or freeways or pollution or crime or wars or any danger, that it was happy and free. The grass was dancing.
We arrived at The Shire’s Rest, a café and gift shop, and a pick-up spot for other tourists. We were to trade buses and luckily Josh and I didn’t have to get on the overcrowded one, but into a small van named Frodo. I would say we lucked out, as we were with our tour guide and just a couple other guys and got to listen to their inquisitive questions. Our tour guide hopped out of the van and opened the locked gate. We are about to go where no man has gone before! I thought to myself . . . a forbidden land. Later, we learned from our guide that the fence blocking this real-life movie set is electrified in order to scare off any overenthusiastic fans (like me); when filming, they had guards set up along the fence as well. As we rolled down the gravel road, bumping up and down like we were truly off-roading, and I realized that I was where THE Lord of the Rings was filmed . . . oh man, there just aren’t enough words to describe how I felt. It took several minutes to get there, and I couldn’t wait! I gasped when I saw The Green Dragon, with the pond and watermill, but was sad to hear our guide say he couldn’t take us to that part yet. Oh well. We were getting lower down the hill, and we still hadn’t seen the movie set yet as the trees and hills were blocking the view. And then, at last . . . I saw the Shire.
I had just entered magical, magical, fairyland, and, it is safe to say, I was off in la-la land for the next hour and a half. I was beaming from ear to ear! My favorite moment was looking up and, at the top of the hill, beside a flourishing tree, seeing Bilbo and Frodo’s house, with the green door and golden knob in the middle. I just could not believe it. It was real! The Shire really exists! We gathered around our tour guide, which, at the moment, I couldn’t care less about him, no offense, for I just wanted to run away and frolic through the flowers and chase the butterflies and make grass angels and sit on the porch of my very own hobbit hole and smoke a pipe. For the time-being, we had to stick fairly close to him, which was all right after all, because he was an excellent tour guide, providing great information I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and he was funny and good-humoured. The New Zealand accent, of course, was the cherry on top. I listened to him off and on, and sometimes wandered away a little bit, as I wanted to be alone so I could pretend! I had the video camera, and it’s funny listening to me, because I was talking very softly and quietly, almost like I was keeping a secret and didn’t want to disturb the peace of the Shire, and talking like I was really taking in the magical-ness of it all. Being there, amongst all the beauty and just how I felt, I knew there had to be a God, and that there is so much goodness and beauty in this world. Being there made me feel thankful for fiction; for imaginations, for our creative minds that God created us to have; and how some people use them to create an amazing story. A story that has affected throngs of people throughout the years and that will continue to until the end of time. I am thankful for this story, and I think God would like this tale told by J.R.R. Tolkien; in fact, God is probably quite impressed! The story has made me relate to God and Christianity, too, which is awesome, I think, that fictional characters and stories can do that, such as The Chronicles of Narnia.
Those moments in the Shire could not have been more perfect; I know I keep using that word, but there’s no other way to describe it! The weather was absolutely gorgeous with the temperature being almost too good to be true, with barely a breeze, and the warm sun just felt so good and invigorating. It was so quiet except for the songs of a few birds and the soft hum of crickets. The sun was shining brightly with just a few clouds passing by every now and then, so that we couldn’t have asked for anything more as this was the best setting we could possibly have when taking pictures. As we approached the first hobbit hole, something moved in the grass, and what would you know, but one of my favorite things in the world? A CAT!!! A common housecat was living in the Shire. And it was a calico! Okay, what’s going on here? I was thinking to myself. I then started expecting the clouds to open at any moment and to hold out my hands to manna coming down from the heavens. Or lembas bread. In fact, that is the only suggestion I could give for this tour, is that they hand out elvish lembas bread, wrapped in a big leaf.
When I was face to face with our very first hobbit hole, I could barely contain my enthusiasm; I felt like I could jump up in the air and fly I was so happy. It was exactly how I imagined a hobbit hole would look like. A bright blue, round door built against the side of a hill and tiny wooden framed, rustic, earthen windows. I had never seen so many flowers; hobbits may be lazy, but not enough to tend to their gardens, creating a haven for butterflies. Wooden picket fences that were worn and looked like they had been there for centuries added to the effect. It was all in the nitty-gritty details, and our guide told us that Peter Jackson made sure of it. We noticed on the fence posts there was lichen moss, which Josh said that he bet they sprayed that on there, and sure enough, we learned about the lucky man whose only job was to spray the moss onto the picket fences. The windows even had curtains and a couple vases and jars in the windowsill so they looked lived in. Atop this home’s grassy hill was a brick chimney, and a wooden bench that would have been a good spot to read. We walked on some more and there was a young lady about our age with headphones in her ear watering the grass and gardens of the homes. Can you imagine being in her shoes, getting to come to the Shire every day and just watering the grass? How peaceful and amazing. Then we saw the stone road that Gandalf rides into town in his cart in The Fellowship of the Ring, and I walked down to the end and took the same path into town. I walked slowly and just wanted all the people to go away so I could take in these moments. Here I was, standing in the very place and beholding the scene that once caused my heart to leap up into my chest with glee many years ago, when I watched the film for the first time. The Shire was spread out before me and I was living in a painting, chimneys rising from the hills, and with Bag End being the center of the artwork. I was in the land of the hobbits; it was all real; I was walking through what my mind had imagined when I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was all quite surreal, and those moments will be sketched in my memory forever.
Our guide took us down to the lake where we saw more hobbit homes and one of the main backgrounds from the film. Behind the lake and in the distance, where we were not allowed to go, for some reason, was the Green Dragon. The stone building and thatched roof made me feel like we were in a village in Ireland. We walked by one hobbit hole with a bright yellow door and a hand-painted red mailbox with designs on it, and behind the fence, was our friend the Calico cat. The sun was shining on him as he stood statuesque on the front porch, as if it were his home. I even saw him smiling! You could see he was happy in the Shire, and enjoyed the attention. Our guide said the cat was so popular, it had its own website. I was lucky that earlier I had been able to pet the cat, which always brightens my world to pet a kitty cat.
An elaborate garden lay in the center of the Shire, blossoming bountifully as the white butterflies had also found their heaven. A scarecrow stood tall and proud to protect from any unwanted guests. We took our time savoring the moments and I gazed in wonder up at the magnificent party tree. It was massive! The sun was shining through the leaves and it was so magical. So this is where Bilbo celebrated his one hundred and eleventh birthday. I imagined the scene at night, with the twinkling lights hanging from the boughs and Bilbo’s birthday cake covered in 111 candles. How I would have liked to have been at that party, eaten all the food and ate that birthday cake. Haha, what did I tell you? I was not on earth the entire time we were there. Looking at all the people around me though, laughing and as happy as little hobbit children, I knew I was surrounded by my fellow nerds. The tree was roped off, but I was tempted to sneak off and climb it and hide. Our guide mentioned that one old man had come for one of the tours and asked if the guide would kindly let this dear old sir sit beside the tree. Our guide said, “So I just let him”, and the old man sat with his back against the tree the entire time reading The Lord of the Rings. The old fellow was quite content and so the guide of course just let him be. I thought that was a cute story.
As we stood underneath the party tree and the huge lawn, our guide said that this is the spot where some of the fans who come on the tour dress up like hobbits and start dancing around! As in, they really have done that! He said if you are keen on doing so, you are more than welcome to! That got a roaring laughter from the crowd. And then, I grabbed Josh’s hand and ran out onto the open field, clapped my hands in the air, and then we started dancing. Haha, not really, but that would have been funny.
We went further down the pathways and came upon Sam Gamgee’s abode. It, of course, had the most beautiful and elaborate flower garden, and I had never seen so many butterflies in one place. This was the last scene of the entire trilogy, when Sam comes back from his sad farewell to his dear Mr. Frodo, and comes back to his hobbit hole with the yellow door, kisses his beloved wife Rosie, and says, “Well, I’m back.” I thought to myself, “Well, I’m here!”
My other favorite part (can’t choose one I guess) was walking up the path to Bag End, and this made the whole thing complete, standing in front of Bilbo’s green door, the door that Gandalf tapped his staff upon. I was disappointed that Bilbo wasn’t sitting in his chair on the porch blowing smoke rings on his pipe. The door was cracked open, but a rope blocked off the few steps leading to the door. Bummer. I so desperately wanted to go and take a peek; how could we not go inside? I’m not sure what it would have looked like; I guess it would have been empty. I could only see in my head, though, the scenes from the film combined with what I have always envisioned the inside of a hobbit hole to look like and from the picture painted by Tolkien:
“The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill — The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it — and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, diningrooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the lefthand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.” –The Hobbit
A hobbit hole means comfort, which is also how Tolkien described it, and this is why I love to imagine living in one of these. I like their lifestyle, too, relaxed, peaceful, and pretty lazy. I don’t imagine hobbits being stressed . . . Ever. How cozy a hobbit hole would be! I have often gone to bed dreaming of dwelling within a hobbit hole; sitting in a nice big chair, reading a book by the fire, listening to the crackling of the wood and smelling the intoxicatingly soothing smell of burning pine, my belly full after my six meals I had that day, and topping it off with dark rye bread with butter, a glass of milk and tea, a crumpet and scone and cakes, and perhaps a couple of grapes. I would soon go to bed in my hobbit hole bedroom, that overlooked the Shire, with the faint lights of the Green Dragon pub still burning brightly as the diamond stars above. My bed would be as luxurious and fit for the King of England, and I would sleep with such peace in my soul as the wood burning in my fireplace in my room slowly went to sleep for the night. Until the next day, when I would eat a breakfast that could have been spread upon the banquet table of a King and Queen’s castle, and then tend to my garden, talk to the neighbors, and sleep in the grass after watching the clouds turn into different shapes for hours. I would be an artistic hobbit, and would be known for my poetry and stories I had written and was working on; the children would love to gather ‘round me at night and hear my tales.
Being there, in front of Bilbo’s home, looking out upon the land and the people, Er . . . imaginative hobbits in my head I mean, seeing the green hills, gardens, flowers, lake and mountains in the distance, I then knew why Bilbo loved the Shire so dearly. No bad thing, no evil could ever possibly come to this place; it could not even be imagined looking out from the hill of Bag End. And, like Bilbo and Frodo, I understood their need and passion to save the Shire.
But, standing there, I also felt the same longings Bilbo had as he sat smoking his pipe. . . “What lies beyond these peaceful borders?” I’m sure he thought to himself. “I want to see the world, and have adventures!” As idyllic and perfect as the Shire seemed, and as comfortable as our homes can be, and safe, we sometimes are like Bilbo and cannot be confined, but must broaden our horizons, hunt for treasure, stumble upon the unexpected, become friends with dwarves, elves, and a wizard, climb towering mountains, and fight a dragon.
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” –The Hobbit
I did not want that moment to end, looking out upon the Shire.
Along the tour, and gazing at each door and garden, I tried to think which hobbit hole would be mine…where would I like to live? I thought long and hard about it, but Bag End definitely took the cake. Our tour guide was watching out for all of us, especially when we were at Bilbo’s door, as I’m sure he could sense the plots of the nerds planning their subtle sneak-off. Josh asked if anyone had ever tried to be left behind, and he took a second, smiled and said, “Yep.” I thought that was hilarious and Josh really laughed loud. If only he knew what I was thinking . . .
I did not rebel, however, so you should be quite proud of my self-control. The tour was better than I could have dreamed, and I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough time, which of course we all wanted more, but realistically, we had plenty of time to listen to our tour guide and had several chances to have moments to ourselves and wander off not too far. Josh and I did get “gotten onto” once, along with a couple other people, because we got a little too excited and started going ahead and he told us to wait. Oops! Haha. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world that day; how many people get to do that? And did I ever think I really would be in the Shire? I also felt lucky because, after The Lord of the Rings film, this land was owned by a farmer, and as New Zealand has had the rule to bring everything back to its original state and Jackson had to take down his movie sets on location after filming was done, well, they had to take Hobbiton apart, too. The only thing that was left was the white walls and doorframes, so you just had to really imagine. The tour was like that for years, and when I first learned about that back in the day, I was quite disappointed because I wanted it to look like it did in the movie. Well, the timing was providential, because, after filming The Hobbit, they left it exactly the way it was. Woo hoo! Our guide said that this is going to be here forever, so we can bring our children, grandchildren, and just keep coming back. I thought that was awesome, and I already plan on our kids being LOTR nerds, whether they like it or not, and we will come back here as a family one day! I could have learned a lot more things from our tour guide, but I did wander off quite frequently. One interesting fact I did overhear, however, was that the tree on top of Bag End was FAKE!!! As we had stood at the lake, he said that if you look closely, and the wind blows, the branches don’t sway. Crazy!
There was another busload of people; that place is busy as the tours overlap each other. Being Easter weekend too, I’m sure this helped with the influx as well. I did not want to leave, and was very sad to say goodbye to my dear Shire. I said goodbye several times.
We rode back to the Shire’s Rest to buy souvenirs. As if my Hobbiton experience couldn’t have gotten any better, there was a fence filled with hungry sheep, and when I walked out there I saw my husband feeding a sheep with a milk bottle! I let out a shriek and ran over there and took over the bottle and laughed as the cute as a button young sheep sucked on the bottle dramatically and loudly. It made my heart melt and made me even happier. Who could ask for anything more?
“Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”