Leaving Auckland, we headed a couple of hours south to Matamata. Nearby, on what used to be a 506 hectare (1250 acre) sheep farm, Sir Peter Jackson found what he felt was the perfect site to locate his set for The Shire. In particular, a large tree matched a tree described in Tolkien's works. He built the set using temporary materials for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. By agreement with the landowners, it was all torn down after filming was completed. When he decided to film the Hobbit trilogy, he approached the family that owned the land and they all agreed to build a permanent set, and use it as a tourist attraction after filming wrapped up. I believe the second set was identical to the first with the exception of the more durable materials used. I can only say that our initial expectation of a trivial stop was far exceeded.
Entrance is only with guided tours. You take a bus from the gift shop area and then walk the set with a guide, up hill and down dale. Near the end of the tour is Bag End, where Bilbo had his house. On top of the hill is
a very large tree. It is the only vegetation in the set that is not real. It was constructed leaf-by-leaf for the movies. The rest of the Shire is covered with quince trees, pears, flowers of various sorts, etc. There are hobbit houses of various sizes. To achieve verisimilitude, Jackson had to make some houses that were sized 60% size so that they looked small compared to Gandalf, then larger ones that look right when compared with the actors portraying hobbits. In the movies if there are going to be hobbits and humans in the scene, the hobbits are played by children. After going down the hill from Bag End, you come to a full-sized reproduction of the Green Dragon, and the tour includes a sample of one of their locally brewed ales or beers. As mentioned, we did not have high expectations from this tour, but it is so well done that it turned out to be thoroughly delightful.
Our overnight was to be in Tongariro National Park at the iconic lodge there. The two most notable mountains in the park are Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu. The Maori consider Ngauruhoe sacred, so no filing was done there,
but it the classic shape of Mt. Doom. In the movie, all shots of Mt. Doom are either models or CGI effects or a combination of the two. However, director Jackson did film some of the scenes of Frodo going to Mt. Doom to destroy the One Ring on the slopes of Ruapehu. We had hoped to get many shots of these iconic mountains during the drive from Matamata to the lodge, and we got some from a distance. The closer shots we hoped to get were disrupted by clouds and fog. We did get some beautiful views of Lake Taupo, the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand, the the second largest in Oceania. It fills the caldera formed by the extremely violent eruption of the Taupo volcano, in which nearly 1200 cubic kilometers of material was ejected. It was the world's largest volcanic eruption in the last 70,000 years. The lake that filled the caldera has a surface area of 616 square kilometers (238 square miles) and a maximum depth of 186 meters.
The Tongariro Lodge reminded me most of an old grand European hotel rather than the more rustic-appearing (although still grand) lodges in the
older of the US national parks. It was a good place to spend an evening and drink wine and eat a very good meal.
Next - a reluctant farewell to New Zealand.
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