For mountain bikers, you can’t visit New Zealand and miss out on Rotorua and Queenstown: these two towns in NZ have already become sacrosanct pilgrimage sites for the devotees of dirt riding.
For fantasy geeks meanwhile, you can’t visit New Zealand and miss out on Hobbiton. That’s like going to Banaue and not visiting the terraces, or getting a Triumph Street Scrambler and riding it only to the nearest 7-Eleven, or getting a Santa Cruz Hightower and biking solely around the UP campus. You get the drift.
That’s why, as excited as I was to hop on the saddle and start grinding gears on the trail to Rivendell, I had to make time to visit the Shire and see for myself where Bilbo and Gandalf enjoyed second breakfast and pipeweed.
Hobbiton was originally just another sheep farm in the agricultural town of Matamata. Peter Jackson is said to have spotted it while riding a helicopter, and immediately saw that it was the perfect site to set a little hobbit village.
Jackson however had a bit of a budget problem. Since there wasn’t any guarantee yet that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was going to be a monster hit, Jackson’s budget was tight, and he even had to ask for financial assistance from the New Zealand government.
The NZ government couldn’t provide any funds for the film, but it was more than happy to send the country’s fearsome Haka wardancing armed forces into the field and take over the sheep farm like an invading horde of orcs. Or something like that: the Kiwi soldiers went there to help transform the sheep farm into a movie set.
After the filming of the LOTR trilogy in 1999, Hobbiton was dismantled. However, Tolkien geeks kept coming. Eventually, the owners of the farm saw that they could turn this fandom obsession into a nice little tourism business.
Since it opened in 2002 Hobbiton has become one of New Zealand’s most visited attractions. At least 400 people line up to visit it everyday and that number could rise up to around 2000 during peak season. Nowadays, even people who haven’t read the books or seen the film line up to take a tour of Hobbiton.
We started our tour at the Shire’s Rest, the souvenir shop-cafe- booking office of Hobbiton Tours. After a short briefing, we boarded a bus and rode into the fenced off farm that housed the movie set.
For someone who is more used to the tropical urban quagmire of Metro Manila, the sight of a seemingly endless sea of rolling green slopes was already pretty fascinating in itself. Medyo refreshing talaga na hindi pulos basura, trapik at polusyon ang nakikita mo.
“Parang Windows XP!” I told my wife as we passed green rolling hills dotted with fluffy white sheep.
But there were more fascinating things to come. We reached Hobbiton after a few minutes and the place was exactly as I pictured it. It was awesome.
We were surrounded by tiny houses with tiny circular doors framed with tiny gardens.
Unfortunately, most of the hobbit houses were just stage sets. You can’t really enter them, which when you think about it, shouldn’t be possible anyway because hobbits are very small people.
There were a few hobbit houses that you could enter. Just don’t expect to see a mansion inside like what was shown in the movies.
After soaking up the magic of the fantastically idyllic hobbit village, it was time for some Middle-Earth refreshments courtesy of the Green Dragon Inn. You’ll be glad to know that the ticket to Hobbiton comes with a complimentary drink at this awesome place. Beer, yeah!
As someone who spends a lot of time searching for quality beers, I can attest that the Green Dragon Inn’s ‘Southfarthing’ range of beers are awesome. I could have stayed there and drank all afternoon and into the evening… but our quest was not yet over.
LIke Frodo, Samwise, Pippin and Meriadoc Brandybuck, we needed to bid goodbye to Hobbiton and continue our quest across Middle-Earth.
The thing about traveling to a new country is you end up packing your day with activities. We were still high on the magic of Hobbiton, but we already needed to go to our next stop which was Lake Taupo–New Zealand’s largest lake.
While being driven by Angel and James–Pinoy immigrants to New Zealand who were our hosts for this leg of the trip– we got to enjoy more of the rolling scenery of the country, as well as the forests along the road. I swear, there probably isn’t a square inch of this place that isn’t picturesque.
A couple of hours later, we were at our next stop. Taupo is a bit like Taal, minus the volcano in the center. It’s a picturesque town with lots of beautiful houses by the lake.
Huka Falls, which drains Lake Taupo was equally impressive. I had never seen a river and waterfall so clean and blue before. We spotted a couple of mountain bikers emerging out of the forest park, and I shriveled in envy. I couldn’t wait til we were in Rotorua.
Lake Taupo, besides being an incredibly scenic body of water, also had some interesting fauna. We got acquainted with New Zealand’s ultra-aggressive ducks.
These birds weren’t like the timid and polite Pinoy variety. While we were enjoying a merienda of fish and chips (NZ’s national dish they say) the ducks eyed us from afar and slowly swaggered toward us like lip-licking traffic enforcers ready to ask: Boss, lisensya nyo?
In place of tongpats, the ducks demanded a share of our food. Despite warnings against feeding them, we tossed a few ‘chips’ their way to keep them happy and distracted while we ran in a mad dash for our van.
Just kiddin, the Lake Taupo ducks were pretty chill. But in Queenstown, we actually saw a duck try to steal a slice of pizza from someone who was lounging in the park. The duck probably relented when he saw that the pizza was Hawaiian.
It was an interesting day. But the next day was going to be more interesting. We were finally going to Rotorua for some mountain biking!
If you’re interested in visiting New Zealand and Hobbiton you can check out Travel Up’s excellent article on how to plan and execute this adventure.