It was a big secret until just a few days before we were to arrive in Tauranga. We knew there was to be a special event for all of the world cruisers but we had no idea what and then the notice arrived. We were all being treated to an evening at Hobbiton!
A small percentage of people had no idea of what to expect because they’d never read the J.R.R. Tolkien books or seen any of the movies. The rest of us were pretty excited. We opted to take the whole tour that was offered. Some could not because of the walking and climbing but they were to be treated to a wonderful time anyway.
Our buses arrived (Bob counted 20) and the first ones with the tour people set off for Matamata around 5:40 p.m. It was a little more than an hour drive and over a mountain range as Bob and I reminisced of our road trip in New Zealand, October of 2013. We hadn’t made it to Hobbiton so we were excited to see something very new to us.
Just into Matamata, we stopped to pick up our guide for the tour. She was dressed in costume and barefoot! “Because,” as she said sweetly, “Hobbits don’t wear shoes.” Her feet weren’t nearly big enough for a Hobbit either. We each received a brochure and some information about Hobbiton and how our tour would go.
Arriving at Hobbiton, we were greeted by ship’s photographers. I wondered how many people had actually purchased the $2000 picture package for the world cruise. When the pictures were done, we were greeted by one of the sons of the Alexander family, the owner of the huge 1250 acre sheep and beef farm where the Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings movie set was built.
The original set for the first series of movies was built in 1999 (involving the NZ Army’s earthmovers) as a temporary place. As the story went, they were in the process of tearing it all down when the Alexanders realized its potential as a tourist attraction. When Peter Jackson decided to do the Hobbit series, he returned to Hobbiton to rebuild and add to the set. This time the contract with the Alexanders said that it had to be permanent. The structures that are there now will hopefully last until the Hobbit fever finally gives out.
|Bags End-middle tree is artificial.|
Each Hobbit dwelling we stopped at was picturesque in its own unique way and I had trouble refraining from picture snapping. Much of the vegetable gardens and some of the displays were real but there were some that were props and you couldn’t tell the difference.
Our guide pointed out a tree on the hillside where Sam comes running down with his contract in hand and said it was artificial. Until you got closer, you never would have known. When the first movies were shot, they planted the tree trunk with its branches and then in order to make it an oak tree, they glued or wired on the leaves. For the Hobbit movies, the tree was actually made of steel and silicon. There was only one problem however. Shooting of the film was slowed when the director took ill and by the time it started up again, the leaves had faded. They had to be individually painted to refresh it.
We climbed to the top of the hill to Bags End and back down again to the Green Dragon. Lots of canopies were set up to make it look like a market place and under each was a different kind of food to be sampled. We were told there would be appetizers but these appetizers were more than Hobbit-sized. Pork sandwiches, grilled sausage bits, toast bits with cheese and veggies, mussel fritters (who knew?), and even lamb chops. Wine and ale and cider in mugs flowed freely.
There was a pig roasting over an open fire and as we crossed over the double arched bridge, we found ourselves in front of the Green Dragon. We couldn’t resist a peek inside. Two huge tables of more food were set up but even better, we got to feel what it would be like inside the Hobbit tavern.
A little worn out, we found a bench to sit on and watch the activities around us. There was a fire eater performing and Bob got coerced into being part of the act. Costumed characters roamed all around us either offering food or just being part of the character of the place—some were on stilts, although I don’t recall how that fit with the movies.
Gathered around the center lake, the sun having set a couple of hours before, we listened to Gandolf (who sounded an awful lot like our cruise director, Gary Hunter) as he introduced the people involved with our gala event. Then we were entertained with videos projected on a wall of water being sprayed into the air (ala Disney style). It was a special video that told about Hobbiton but also offered birthday greetings to Crystal Cruises on their 25th silver celebration. Of course all of it ended with fireworks that were set off in sync with the fireworks in the video of the Hobbit celebration from the movie.
But the evening wasn’t over yet. There followed a spectacular laser show before we were invited to return to the buses and start our ride back to the ship. While I thought everyone would sleep on the way back, I found that we were all too excited. The bus buzzed most of the way back with excited chatter recounting the gala event. It had been quite an evening to remember.
Back at the ship, we entered the atrium to find that there was a buffet set up—just in case anyone was hungry since we’d missed dinner. And yes, there were people eating. Yikes! It was almost 11 and past our bedtime. (We’re so old.) We passed on the food and went straight to bed.
The next day our ship left Tauranga at 5 AM but I don’t think there were many passengers up and about to hear our departing song played. I seriously doubt they played it or else I was so sound asleep I didn’t hear it. We are definitely not party animals.