Being a hobbit for a day!

After our fabulous time in Rotorua, it was time to head north towards Auckland.  First though, we had to make a stop in Hobbiton - one of the few real-life sets that Peter Jackson's crew have actually left intact for visitors to enjoy.  It's actually only about an hour or so outside of Auckland, and I HIGHLY recommend a visit if your there. 
Our drive up from Rotorua was really quite lovely.  The rolling hills and charming villages looked more like England that anything we'd seen up to that point.  I was getting to be a pro at the whole driving on the wrong side thing, and even ventured a pass on one of the few straight-away sections.  After a bit of trial and error, we finally did find the farm where the tours to the site depart.  It literally is still a working sheep farm, and this lucky-duck of a farmer just happened to own all the land where Peter Jackson fell in love with a big tree next to a pond.  He still owns it all, and even between the filming of LOTR and the new Hobbit movies when everything was just white space-holders, there were something like half a million visitors per year.  When they came back to film the Hobbit movies, this lucky farmer asked if the crew could leave all the hobbit holes & such as they were during filming, and they actually agreed.  So, now, you arrive at his farm where he's got a little gift shop & visitors center, and then you board a shuttle bus to cross over the hills to the set.  On a road the government built for the filming of the movies.  !! 

Again, the area is just beautiful - big rolling hills with large trees, and of course tons of sheep milling around.  Around one corner, you start to think you see stuff, and then get to a little parking area where you leave the bus.  After walking through a small bit of brush, all of the sudden you're on a road in Hobbiton, with little hobbit houses all around you.  The staff spends tons of time & energy maintaining the green-ness, and even works on the little "community" garden to keep it nice & overgrown.  (They grew the veggies extra big so the hobbits would look small).  Directly across from that was the house where a disgruntled hobbit gave Frodo the side-eye as he was running down the road in the beginning of the first LOTR movie:

Then, we headed over the garden & started up the hill towards Bag End (Bilbo & Frodo's house):
 That tree at the top of the hill is the only fake thing there - they actually took that tree & placed it on the hill & bolted the branches back in place.  There were apparently great debates over the color the leaves were painted.  You seriously can't tell it's fake, even close up.  The holes are all empty, but they do let you in to one specifically for this kind of photo:
This is the view from the top of the hill, down towards the pond & Big Tree, which inspired the casting of this location.  It's also the site of the big party in the 1st movie.
This is the best shot I could get of Bag End, which actually does have an entry-way build in (b/c they filmed a teensy bit of Frodo & Gandalf greeting there, ect).  It's also two levels, and they filmed with different sized benches out front, to again emphasize either the smallness of the hobbits or the large-ness of Gandalf.  And yes, that's the fake tree above it:

Just down the hill was (I THINK) Samwise's house:

The details were just amazing.  There were road-signs everywhere, and each house was unique.

If the blue door above wasn't Sam's house, then this yellow one is.  I can't remember now - oopsie. But look at this mailbox!  Cute!
After we checked out the Big Tree and party field, we headed down around the lake (on a perfectly decorated little trail), down to the mill & pub (the Green Dragon I believe).

The farmer got permission to actually finish the inside of the Green Dragon, and it's now an actual event space, complete with food & drink.  So you can have your wedding or birthday party or whatever here:
All the doors inside were amazing - and luckily nothing in there is exactly hobbit sized! Or there's also a fab space outside, under a nice tent by the outdoor fireplace:
 And the view back over to the main village is pretty great:
I forgot to mention that the hobbit holes were created in different sizes, again depending on if they'd be filmed in a wide shot or with actors right in front of them close up.  I think these three were meant to always be in wide angle shots:

All in all, we completely missed the intermittent rain showers, AND had a wonderful couple of hours running around pretending to be a hobbit.  Really super cool, and it just amazes me the level of detail that goes into making movies.  I think even non-LOTR fans would think this was a neat place to visit.

After our refreshing cider & ale in the Green Dragon, we headed back to our car and then took off to Auckland.  This would be my last day with Alex, who was going to be staying with her god-children in a neighborhood just outside of central Auckland, so it was back to hostels and solo-travel for me.  The good news is that Auckland is a pretty cool-ass city!  More on that next time.