Hobbiton

In 1998, when a scout knocked mr. Alexander’s door, little did he know that 16 years later his farmland near the small town of Matamata would be visited by thousands of people every single day. When mister Peter Jackson saw mr. Alexander’s farm for the first time during an aerial film location scouting trip, he knew he had found what he wanted. Rolling hills, clusters of trees, no buildings, roads or signs of electricity anywhere in sight – that area would later on become the Shire, the safe haven of Middle Earth.

Neat and tidy bunch of hobbit holes
Neat and tidy bunch of hobbit holes, visible on the last Hobbit film for whole 3 seconds.

The site building started in March 1999, and involved the New Zealand Army building a 1.5km road to transport everything in place. The 3 month filming period started late the same year. For Lord of the Rings, all props were not durable and were demolished after shooting, but for The Hobbit films, the Alexander family smelled tourism and asked to leave the set in place. Building of the current set took 2 years, and the attention to detail is impeccable. Already in 2002 Russell Alexander was conducting tours, and today the Hobbiton attracts anything between 1000-4000 visitors every single day besides Christmas Day. They have had wedding ceremonies, wedding parties and proposals with 100% success rate.

Feast outside of one of the Hobbit holes.
Feast outside of one of the Hobbit holes.

I was lucky to have the biggest Tolkien fan I have ever met as my tour guide, so I really felt like I got the best possible experience. The walk itself is totally overpriced fast stroll around the village of 37 individual hobbit holes, made with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene, a village that was kept alive just to make money, getting more and more popular every year!

Party tent.
Party tent.
PartyBusiness, the famous Bag End.
PartyBusiness, the famous Bag End.

We did learn fun facts, like that the tree above Bag End is artificially made, the leaves are made in Taiwan and it costs about 10,000$. During filming, catering was organised for 400 people every day, with three 2-course meals daily. Hobbiton has plenty of lovely plants, like apple and pear trees. In the Lord of the Rings books, however, the trees were plum trees. New Zealand plum trees are way too big and not suitable for tiny hobbits, though, so they had to pluck out all the leaves and apples from the trees, and remake it digitally to be plum trees.

The Mill, built for The Hobbit.
The Mill, built for The Hobbit.

After the tour, we were treated to a “free” special brew beer (pale ale or lager), cider or ginger beer. I opted for the cider: lovely tart and not too sweet at all. Pleasurable ending to the tour, but it would have been rather ridiculous to have to pay for the drink. The Green Dragon Inn also serves some small sweets and snacks, and the cheapest coffee I’ve seen so far in NZ ($1)!!

The baker's house, probably my favorite hobbit hole.
The baker’s house, probably my favorite hobbit hole.

Was it worth it? The fangirl in me who went to see The Two Towers in cinema 3(!) times says yes!! The rational person that I am, I knew I would have probably regretted not going, even though I found the whole thing a bit on the $$ side. Luckily I had this trip bundled together with the Waitomo caves, so I didn’t have to make two separate trips in that general direction, they are quite near each other. Apparently heaps of people who visit the village have never even seen the films, some haven’t even heard of them, before visiting. Having read the book 3 times, I reckon I can just justify my enthusiasm towards the attraction.

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Wellington

The trip from Nelson to Wellington was rather nice, with a few hours in the cute harbour town Picton, where the ferry across the Cook strait left from. The ferry trip, lasting almost 4 hours, was very much like the ones we have from Helsinki to Tallinn, the only differences being that on this route the water was distractingly clear blue, there was no drunk people and no tax free. Winner winner! We arrived in the capital city of NZ, population 204,000 just in time for the night market. Shuttle bus from the ferry to the train station, another bus to the hostel, and I was hungry for some street food.

Cruisin' to the North.
Cruisin’ to the North.

I read somewhere that Wellington is like the Melbourne of New Zealand, and I did see some similarities: loads of culture, events, street art, hip cool cafes, trendy restaurants. I enjoyed the night market vibes and a waterfront walk before heading to bed in another noisy snoring dorm.

Laneway with hip Soda shop and artisanal chocolate factory. Melbourne vibes!
Laneway with hip Soda shop and artisanal chocolate factory. Melbourne vibes!
Kids skipping.
Kids skipping.

Good thing about cool cities on the weekends is the markets. In the morning I ventured to 2, walking pretty much across town on this quest. Not really knowing what to do, I decided to invest in Weta Workshop tour, giving me more insight in the movie industry and the opportunity to see how the hell they made Lord of the Rings. The tour was very inspiring and interesting, and the temptation to take pictures was almost unbearable! I learned a lot about behind the scenes in such a short time, and seeing Sauron’s costume and weapon, as well as the other weaponry right there in front of me was pretty incredible. The old fangirl in me woke up instantly.

Trolls greeting at the door of Weta Cave.
Trolls greeting at the door of Weta Cave.
King Theodore's armour.
King Theodore’s armour.

After the tour and driving around Miramar and the lovely bay (and stalking Peter Jackson’s house by the sea), I decided to go to the Museum of New Zealand. 4 floors of exhibitions, I was exhausted and overfilled with information afterwards. There was another night market on, and the Chinese New Year fireworks and celebrations. I desperately
needed to charge all my electronics. Next morning, off to Rotorua.

Wellingwood, the heart of New Zealand's movie productions.
Wellingwood, the heart of New Zealand’s movie productions.

Weekend in Queenstown

Queenstown is also known as the activity capital of at least the South, if not whole of New Zealand. This lovely little village in the south-west of the South Island is nested by the lake Wakatipu and offers activities, tours and fun for backpackers as well as travellers with extra cash to spare. You can get your adrenaline fix from skydiving, bungee jumping, zip lining, jet boating, white water rafting and a myriad of other options guaranteed to make a dent in your budget, or if you are more into the scenery and not so keen on getting your heart rate up and pumping, options like wine trails, steam boat cruises, underwater marine observatory or soaking in the sun by a lakefront restaurant might be more your cup of tea.

Lakefront.
Lakefront.
Weird water flying activities.
Weird water flying activities.

I arrived in Queenstown on a Friday evening, not having any plans regarding the weekend (as per usual). On my scouting walk around town I randomly saw a poster in a restaurant window that caught my eye. Kidnap Kid, one of my favourite artists (especially for pre-service prep music), was playing a gig at a bar that same night. What are the odds, for me to randomly arrive in this small town on the other side of the world, the same day that an artist I highly respect, from the UK, is playing in said town – and for me to stumble across the ad? I overcome my doubts and fear of going to a bar alone, let alone sober, and ended up having a solid dance off for 3 hours straight. It was a lovely intimate setting, and I was within touching reach of the dj. After the gig I went to thank him, we had a nice chat and I went to bed happy, sweaty and tired. – Girls only dorm this time, no snoring, winner winner!

Market bustle.
Market bustle.

On Saturday I ventured around town, and went for an impromptu walk along the lake – a walk to Frankton, the village next to Queenstown, that turned out to be 15kms. Had I known I’d be going that far, I would have prepared myself better. After a refreshing shower and sushi lunch (I decided not to cook in Queenstown, since there’s plenty of cooking in limited conditions ahead) I met up with some new friends, an Estonian bus captain and his crew that has shrunk from 4 to just 1, an Italian guy who looks like Jesus. We hung out at the bus that has been converted into a self-contained motor home, cooked and listened to music. Eventually we got around to go to the dump station and supermarket outside of town, where I stocked on dry food for my Franz Josef experience next week. By the time we got back in town it was too late for me to go book a trip to Milford Sound, apparently the 8th wonder of the world, that would have taken the whole Sunday. Bummer. We ended up chilling out with the guys until I was so tired I could barely walk back home, it was a cold night! As soon as the sun sets, the coldness creeps in.

Mobile house.
Mobile house.
Bus cookery: My first bus cooked meal!
Bus cookery: My first bus cooked meal!

On Sunday I felt like the flu I might have caught from the sick people in my room in Christchurch was creeping in, and terrible for not doing the Milford Sound cruise, and I felt like some activity was in place. After wandering and wondering and ruling out options (anything involving heights), I decided to go for a 2.5hr horseback ride in the scenes of Lord of the Rings! It has been a while (read: years and years) since I was last on a horse, but hey, how hard can it be? Apparently so hard that my fellow rider fell off her horse, but that’s a different story. We did ride in some amazing scenery, but let’s be honest: so far all of New Zealand has been equally amazing, whether it appears in a movie or not. We did stop for a picture in front of Isengard, a spot where Taylor Swift also filmed her newest video. After heading back to town, I ate some quinoa sushi by the water, and watched the people and street performers. Later on I met up with a classmate I haven’t seen since…2012! Funny to encounter someone after such a long time, pretty much as far from home as possible. Somehow it was almost midnight before I got to bed, to the lovely snore-free haze of sleep and being awake. I wish I could have had one more day for Milford, but oh well, off to Wanaka in the morning.

Horseback riding in Isengard.
Horseback riding in Isengard.
Traveling in this scenery is surreal every time.
Traveling in this scenery is surreal every time.