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April 11th 2019
Published: May 10th 2019
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“It’s a dangerous business going out of your door…You set out in to the street and if you don’t keep your feet there is no knowing where you might be swept off to…’– Gandalf .

It was an early(ish) start for us today as our flight from Sydney to Auckland was at 09:55. Or so we thought!! We woke up at 06:45. In the old days, Roisin would have reached for her ciggies but in this modern day the rectangular shape of a cigarette box has since been substituted for a mobile phone. She immediately tapped on the email icon.

‘You’re having a laugh’, she said to no one in particular (although there was only me and her in the room!!) The next line was directed at me, though: they’ve only gone and delayed our flight by three hours and our flight is not until 12:55’. Reading on we learned that our aircraft had to go in for unscheduled maintenance. Now, what does ‘unscheduled maintenance’ mean? I know what the words ‘unscheduled’ and ‘maintenance’ mean but really, what is ‘unscheduled maintenance? All aircraft should be regularly vigorously checked (scheduled maintenance). Had this aircraft been stopped by the airport police who noticed a bald tyre or a dodgy break light??! Nevertheless, we were both awake now so, as planned, we got our stuff together and checked out. It just meant that we had to spend an extra three hours in the airport lounge!

The flight was a short 2 ½ hours across the Tasman Sea. However, we also jumped ahead by two hours so we were now eleven hours in front of the UK.

Immigration was similar to Sydney using the preferred method of control – the e:passport. There are manual immigration booths but such is the popularity of the electronic passport, now full of meta data and bio metrics that there was only one person manning the immigration booth. There were at least 400 people queuing for their turn to scan their passport yet the sole immigration officer, sat in his booth alongside a dozen empty booths. He cut a lonely figure. There was nothing to say that the manual line was for any particular nationality or passport type so I whispered to Roisin, ‘Let’s take a short cut’. We left the line for the e:passports and snaked our way around the roped area to the immigration booth. He took our passports, ran them through his system and more importantly stamped them!! He looked up, handed our passports back and said, ‘Welcome to New Zealand. Have a pleasant stay’.

That’s immigration taken care of. Reasonably painless. I wish the same could have been said about customs control. We had both completed a customs declaration on the flight over and now waited in a line, much bigger than the e:passports queue, to be processed through the ‘Nothing to Declare’ channel. Beads of sweat actually started appearing on my forehead. When it was my ‘turn’ perhaps I could pass it off as the humidity. Oh, wait No! this airport’s aircon has the same effect as a trek across the polar ice cap on a blustery day!! I’ve seen the NZ Customs show on the UK. When it comes to food, they are extremely strict and with being strict on what comes in to the country they are mega-efficient!! My thoughts now turned to the four packets of biscuits I had accumulated from the Sydney hotel. I thought they’d be nice to have with a cup of tea when we arrived at our Auckland hotel. I was now thinking that my next cup of tea may be on the flight home. It took over twenty minutes for the line to disappear. We were up next.

‘I handed my Customs declaration to the Officer.

‘Anything to declare?’

‘Nope’, I replied as calm as I could.

‘OK, proceed’

‘Was that it’, I thought. ‘Oh Hell, sniffer dogs. Surely they wouldn’t deport me over a few bourbons and a custard cream??!’ As it turns out, the dog mustn’t have been trained in the detection of biscuits as it showed very little interest in my hand luggage and we were waved on.

With an accumulation of other minor delays en route, we were now five hours behind our scheduled arrival. The particular cruise package we had booked included transport from the airport. Remarkably our shuttle was still waiting for us and within twenty-five minutes we were checking in to the hotel. The time way 08:30pm. We should have been checking in, mid-afternoon, but the important thing was we had arrived. It felt like we had wasted another day but on entering our room that will be home for the next few days, the mild annoyance soon disappeared. Immediately to the left of the door was a small kitchenette complete with fridge/freezer, cooker and microwave. Opposite was a single bedroom with writing desk. Adjacent to the kitchenette was another bedroom, with double bed and a large wardrobe. The huge bathroom included a washer & dryer. Next to the main bedroom was the living room with comfortable leather sofa and armchair. An assortment of remote controls that operated the TV cable box and Blu-ray/DVD player laid neatly on the coffee table. For once the remotes remained in their original position for the first 24 hours of our arrival. Jet lag may still have been an issue as that bed looked awfully inviting but we hadn’t eaten since lunch time so, lucky for us, there was a supermarket, literally five minutes’ walk from the hotel. Not so lucky for us; it was raining heavily and had been since we left the airport. Nevertheless, we braved the weather, bought our supplies, made and ate our dinner back in the hotel (beer may have also been involved at some stage!!) then retired for the night as we had another full day ahead of us tomorrow.

The following morning was bright sunshine. Our first mission was to walk to a nearby car rental to pick up a hire car. With the paper work almost completed, Roisin as named driver and myself as a nominated driver, a fear of dread suddenly came over me when asked: ‘Can I see your driving licences?’

Sprinting back to the hotel, I managed to retrieve my driving licence from the place I left it, in plain view, in order that I wouldn’t forget it (!) and promptly returned to the car hire office. I probably looked nothing like my photo due to the brighter shade of crimson my face had become through the physical exertion of the past ten minutes!! Fifteen minutes later we had programmed our destinations postcode in to the GPS and we were on our way (I was driving) and great…it had now started to rain once more. It’s rather comforting to know, in a bizarre sort of way, that there is actually a country with a damper climate than the UK!!!

The route was practically motorway all the way. It was a two-hour drive before we reached a town called Matamata, then another ten minutes and we were parking near the Shires Rest where we picked up our tour. The Shires Rest is a massive clue. Yes, we had booked a tour around Hobbiton, the film set for the Hobbit series of movies.

Our tickets had an allocated time as the tour is escorted throughout. We were an hour early but an accommodating assistant was happy to allocate us an earlier time slot. Fifteen minutes later we boarded a single decker bus and set off towards the entrance of the film set. During this short ride, we watched a clip about the origins of Hobbiton. Prior to shooting The Fellowship of the Ring in 2000, Peter Jackson spent weeks in a helicopter searching for the ideal landscape that would bring his vision of Middle Earth to life. He settled on the Anderson’s farm, negotiated a price to lease the land and set to work building a complete settlement. Unfortunately, after the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the complete set was demolished. This was rebuilt almost identically for the Hobbit series of films. This time, the set remained. Mr Anderson was allowed to keep the set and props so gradually he turned Hobbiton into a tourist attraction and is now a very wealthy man for doing so. On the rise of the first hill, from the bus window, the tour guide pointed out a neighbouring farm two miles in the distance. The landscape was identical and Peter Jackson could have easily chosen this farm yet as fate would have it, the Anderson’s farm was selected. They say that the grass is never green but on this occasion for the neighbouring farmer, it certainly was!!

We alighted from the bus and gathered around the Shire Green, the centre of Hobbiton and from where several paths wandered off, meandering further in to the village. Scattered among the grassy hills like a purse full of lost coins, we could already see the bright round doors of many dozen Hobbit-holes shining in bright, pastel hues, each home to a Hobbit or family of little people.

Our guide introduced herself and started by asking a simple question: ‘Hands up who has seen the movies?’ some people raised their hand to varying degrees. She continued: ‘Who’s willing to admit they have never seen the movies?’ Surprisingly, slightly more people acknowledged this fact. Looking around at the different hobbit holes within view, one of our party completely blindsided the guide when he asked: ‘So which one did Luke Skywalker lived in!!’

The tour lasted just on two hours. We were guided along the narrow paths and tracks stopping by each hobbit hole that held any significance. Many of the props were still intact in the front gardens of the homes. It was not possible to enter any of the homes as they are just empty shells. All the interior filming was done at Pinewood Studios some 11,000 miles away in Buckinghamshire, UK. All doors to the Hobbit holes varied in size. Some extra-large doors provided the perspective of the Hobbit being a vertically challenged creature while some of the doors were much smaller. These are the hobbit holes that the likes of Gandalf would appear next to giving the illusion of a much larger species. In fact, there is a scene where Galdalf is sitting on a bench next to Martin Freeman who played Bilbo. Gandalf towers over Bilbo. No green screen was used in this scene. It is a case of that old ‘Father Ted’ saying that Gandalf is near but Bilbo is far away!! In fact, Martin Freeman sat about three feet behind Ian McKellan (who played Gandalf) The position of the camera gave the impression that Hobbits are practically dwarf like!!

We arrived at Bilbo Baggins’ residence, larger and more prominent that the others, lying on the crest of a small hill. On top of the house sat, what appeared to be an oak tree. This was yet another prop. The tree was made out of a polymer and had over 200,000 individual leaves sewn on to the branches. Peter Jackson, the director and perfectionist, or perhaps slightly showing traits of OCD, paid staff fifteen hours a day to ensure the leaves were the correct colour. When the tree was originally erected, he decided the shades of green didn’t look right. All this for a prop that doesn’t stay on screen in a single shot for more than four seconds!!

Another collection of props that, on screen, we only get fleeting glimpses of is the washing hanging from clothes lines strewn throughout Hobbiton. Peter Jackson paid someone to walk up the grassy slopes to collect the washing at the end of every day then peg it back out before shooting began the following day. This was to ensure a path was gradually trodden that led to the washing lines for a more natural effect. It also ensured one less ‘goof’ to be recorded by some pre-pubescent geek who spends their entire existence watching movies, trying to find fault: GOOFS – Continuity. washing pegged out on an unkempt grass verge. There is no evidence of a trodden path which would make the act impossible (unless they had wings – which Hobbits don’t!!)

From Bilbo’s hobbit hole the landscape that had become the Shire stretched out before us; rolling hills with neatly furrowed fields, from the brown/beige of the wheat fields to the lush green pastures that become fast food restaurants for some of New Zealand’s thirty million sheep. We may have been only looking across at the New Zealand country side but for today, the rolling contours of what laid before us convinced us we were in the Shire in a galaxy far, far away!!! (oh wait, maybe the person who asked about Luke Skywalker house was me!!) A small mere in the foreground gave this idyllic scene a depth of field.

Crossing a small stone bridge, we passed a water mill where the tour ended at the Dragon Inn, the local hostelry and social meeting place for all hobbits (after Bilbo’s house!!) We were treated to a flagon of Southfarthing beverage which tasted suspiciously like Heineken whilst relaxing in front of a real log fire. The distorted view of Hobbit Holes, dispersed at irregular intervals, still visible through the Inn windows creeping up the hill from whence we had recently come.

Our route home took us through the back roads as our GPS decided it didn’t want to take the motor way. At one point it felt as if we were driving in the completely opposite direction. The scenery was pretty uninspiring. I’m not surprised Peter Jackson overlooked the landscape we now found ourselves passing though. Come to think of it. There are 30 million sheep in New Zealand but only 4.2 million people. That’s about seven sheep for every man, woman and child in this country. We haven’t seen one sheep yet! Then again, we haven’t seen any people either but, in a country, where the land area to people ratio is only about 40 per square mile, it’s not surprising!!

Additional photos below
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10th May 2019

Really funny post
One of my favourites so far Chris, good to see you both having a great time.
10th May 2019

Really funny Poat, really?
Thanks Michael. Probably not as funny at the time but I see what you mean. I hope the new job's going well

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