Waking up the next day without any plans, we had a look at the map to decide where the road would lead that day – and saw that on our way to the Coromandel Peninsula we could have a stop at one of THE tourist attractions: Hobbiton.
For two 'Lord of the Rings' lovers a must-do. So we headed off to Matamata, the town next to the movie set. They take a lot of pride in their Hobbit neighbours and even the i-site (the visitor centre) of the town is built to look like a hobbit house.
Driving by, you would never expect to find such a famous place along the road. It looks like everywhere else: Green hills, sheep and cows everywhere, the odd farmhouse here and there. Only the inconspicuous brown sign at the side of the highway keeps you from missing it.
Coming up the road to the movie set, we really wondered whether we were in the right place. But the big parking lot, the busses and the entrance sign gave it away.
Since it is all private property, you can only get into Hobbiton with a tour bus, limited to two hours. We booked in for the last tour of the day, avoiding the masses and hoping for the best light to take photos.
Sitting around at the parking lot until the evening didn't seem like a good idea, so we followed the advice of a tour guide and went to see Wairere Falls.
Now, we have seen many waterfalls in New Zealand and are a bit reluctant to take long ways to see them – we have been disappointed a few times by the muddy little things the signs advertised as waterfalls. This one has a 45 minutes walk to the lower lookout point – very steep in parts – but it was absolutely worth it. Back in Whangarei they claimed that their 'rainbow falls' are the most photogenic in New Zealand – nonsense. Wairere Falls are beautiful, they are a lot higher and the water falls softly into the rocky depth for 150m.
On the way back I shock-cooled myself in the river leading downhill from the falls. Just the right thing after a walk, with the nice side effect of feeling really clean again. And of course as a European, bathing in a river in mid December is just a great feeling!
Refreshed and keen to see the most famous green hills in the country, we drove back to Hobbiton. Taking the last tour of the day was a good decision. It was still nice and sunny and most of the people had left. Our bus consisted of ca. 15 people (not 40, as sometimes during the day) and everyone was nice and relaxed. The way to Hobbiton is a road through (surprise:) grassy farmland hills and made a bit more interesting by the sheep that obviously rule the place and don't even blink anymore when one of the busses drives by. They are grazing all around the roads and sometimes just decide to stand in the middle of the road, nevermind the bus.
Having made our way through all the wooly white obstacles, we finally caught a glimpse of the colorful doors of some hobbit houses, hidden between bushes and trees.
Getting out of the bus, we entered the movie set on a well trodden path, and before us the village opened up, sunny, green and just as if we were right in the movie.
Hobbit holes where everywhere around us and the tourguide explained every detail – here, the place where Gandalf entered the village, this is the fence Bilbo jumped over in the last Hobbit movie, this is where Sam lives, and so on... and, of course, the most popular of all, the house on top of the hill, the green door with the big tree above it, Bilbo's home. It is amazing, how much details are still there, from little bottles on tables, laundry hanging outdoors and a whole veggie garden that is well cared for by an army of gardeners. Ironicallly though, one of the most important plants is a fake one: The tree above Bilbo's home is made of steel and plastic, carrying thousands of painted, wired-on leaves. It looks quite realistic anyway.
It was amazing to walk through this place, remember all the scenes that were filmed there and imagining all the actors crowding the place at the time. They put a huge effort in making everything as real as they could, and you get the feeling of being in Middle Earth when you walk through.
The nice closing of the tour was a drink in the 'Green Dragon', Hobbitons tavern, the only 'real' house, in terms of being able to walk in. It's a pity that you only get to spend a quarter hour there, because it is designed to be super comfortable, with two fire places and old armchairs, surrounded by dark, carved wood.