Friday, February 19, 2010

New Zealand 2010: Hobbiton, Bay of Plenty, and Rotorua (Tuesday, February 16)

Written in the car on the way to Lake Taupo, 3:39 pm (and finished in Rotorua at 8:42 pm) on Wednesday, February 17

We headed north toward Matamata, to go to the filming site of Hobbiton used for The Lord of the Rings (and the upcoming pair of Hobbit films).  Rather than take the Hobbiton bus to and from Matamata, we drove right to the Shire’s Rest cafĂ©, where we had coffee and fries while waiting to start the tour.

The tour involves a short van ride into the middle of the Alexander sheep farm.  The remnants of the Hobbit holes constructed for The Lord of the Rings films are still here.  Most are maintained just against the elements, as apparently they can’t keep them decorated like in the movie due to copyright laws.  But you get a guided tour around the sites and can walk into the undecorated interior of Bag End (just one small plywood room; the rest was sets in Wellington).  The Party Tree is real and there, but the old oak tree above Bag End was faked up for the film.

The same site will be used for the upcoming two-part Hobbit films.  They’ve fenced off a couple areas to let the grasses grow away from the sheep, but I don’t think filming will be for another year, since they will presumably do similar gardening setups months before filming like last time.

The guide told us stories about LOTR-themed weddings, people in costume and speaking Elvish, and even one 6'6" “Hobbit” who had to be escorted away from where he pronounced “home”.  I like The Lord of the Rings, but I sometimes forget just how extreme people can be when they are really “fans”.

Given that The Hobbit is shorter than any of the three LOTR books — it might be longer than The Two Towers — it’s hard to imagine why they are doing two films for it.  Okay, it’s easy to imagine why: money.  I would guess that (a) the break point will be after the fight with the wargs after escaping the Misty Mountains (I first thought that the halls of the Elven King in Mirkwood would be better, but the escape from the wargs is more a turning point for Bilbo), (b) they will will each be under 2 hours, and (c) they will add in some of the supplemental stuff that occurred at that time of The Hobbit but was revealed in LOTR, like the council of wizards with Saruman and Radagast.

As a souvenir, I picked up Ian Brodie’s The Lord of the Rings Location Guide, which is a roughly north-to-south tour through the 100 or so locations used for filming the The Lord of the Rings films.  Mom had picked up an abridged version in Auckland, but this has at least more pics; I don’t know what else is different.  My copy is also signed by the author.  (Several days later, I’ve realized one big thing that is missing from this: maps.  The inside covers should have maps of both New Zealand and Middle Earth, with numbered callouts corresponding to pages in the book.  That way, you could either trace your way through New Zealand, or you could follow through the books/movies and reference the location info.  That seems like a huge and obvious lapse to me.)

After Hobbiton, we headed up to Tauranga and Mt. Maunganui.  It took us forever to wend our way through the town, but we eventually got to the beach and saw the base of Mt. Maunganui.  Unfortunately, the weather was misty and foggy, so while we saw some surfers in the water, we didn’t get a good view of the South Pacific.  Driving back through the Bay of Plenty region, we saw lots of kiwifruit orchards, which we initially took for grapes and then hops, before realizing what they must be.

Each region (equivalent to state or county?) of New Zealand seems to have their own road signs promoting safe driving.  In Bay of Plenty, they have kiwifruit with eyes and wheels; near Rotorua, they are morepork owls, with slogans like “nvr txt nd drv” and “Feeling sleepy?  Take a break.” Of note, these are just about the only billboards we saw the entire trip (I recall seeing one regular advertising billboard near Seddon on the South Island); compare to around any city or town in the States.

We also didn’t see any American-style “rest stops”, nor any European-style “traveler’s rests” (which have bathroom facilities and usually some fast food).

We wanted to have dinner in a coastal town, but all we found was fish and chips takeaway, so we ended up back in Rotorua at a restaurant called Capers.  I had a chicken appetizers platters and Mom had lamb and apricot kebabs (this time, meat and fruit on a skewer, rather than a gyro-lik sandwich), sharing with one another and both of us had about 1/3 left over.  We’ll be having chicken and lamb omelettes for breakfast!  (New Zealand language quirk: their menus say “Entrees”, which we read as “main dish” but they mean “appetizer”, as in the entry into your meal.)

Back at the room, I went researching the adventure caving opportunities in Waitomo.  The first ones I looked at required 48 hours advanced reservation, so they were out.  I would love to do one of the Lost World trips – 4 or 7 hour ones – but even with the 10% online booking discount, they are in the $280-350 range (and they heavily discourage eyeglasses).  They look really cool, though, including long ateliers (rappelling), squeezing through crevices, and getting into underground rivers.  Whine.

Updated on March 15, 2010
Added links.
Added travel map.
Updated on April 2, 2010
Changed travel map to a live one.
Updated on June 4, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

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