TheOneRings first search for Hobbiton set out
under trying conditions. It was raining like stink, and visibility was down to two carlengths
if the car in front was fluorescent yellow or something, you sort of had to hope they
knew where the road was. And this was State Highway 1 in the Central City were
talking about. I had visions of being forced to send Xoanon pictures of a wall of rain
with an X drawn on it marked, We think Hobbiton is around here somewhere.
But the weather cleared, at least to dappled sun and
clouds. Its autumn still and the leaves are changing colour. I used to think that
the landscape around Matamata, where we were headed, was just one of those boring green
rural bits people have to drive through to get somewhere else. Theres a range of wild
forested hills to the East, a flattish plain at their foot, and then further west the
countryside becomes more rumpled with small hills and valleys of brilliant green grass.
Id forgotten the way farmers there make beautiful hedges that wander over the
countryside in long intersecting lines, rising and falling with the lie of the land. Its
a feature of that area.
The native trees here are evergreen, so its only in areas where
theres been a great many European trees planted that you see those incredible colours
at this time of year. Since, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbits leave the
Shire in Autumn, its going to be important to have that in the landscape where its
filmed. Rumour has it that the Hobbiton set, once built, is going to be left to age
for a year. Which would put the filming there right in the middle of the leafturning season.
Around Matamata thats quite spectacular, because the landscape is full of oaks and
poplars and other trees that look brilliant right now.
We wondered if wed be able to identify the farm where the set was
being built, but it was obvious enough. There were at least three No Tresspass
notices on the big gate, a very new-looking road, and beyond that, a few big pieces of
Opposite the gate was a caravan pulled up
into a bit of land by the road, and visitors were directed to report there. We did, and met
Barry, whose job it is to keep a twenty-four hour watch on the gate.
"Sixty-six people came out here last
Sunday to look at this place. Some guy went in duckshooting, and a reporter with a camera
went in with him pretending to be doing a story on the duckshooting, but he was trying to
get photos of the set! And theres nothing there, just the road theyre
building to where the sets going to be!"
I asked him if
hed read the book, and he said he hadnt. He looked like he was used to working
outdoors, and this security work was getting to him. Nothing to do all day except talk to
strangers who turn up, and then only in order to tell them to go away.
"Weve had everything out here people flying over in
helicopters theyre trying to get the area declared a no-fly zone."
I began to wonder if Mr. Alexander, whose farm this was, was getting
unpopular with his neighbours. They hadnt signed on for a year of being buzzed
by light aircraft during lambing time; they couldnt afford a security guard
to keep sightseers from crossing their land
stop you from taking photos from the road. But dont do anything you shouldnt.
Because then its me youll be getting in trouble, see?" said Barry. I thought
he would make a good Sam Gamgee, except he looked big enough to break a fencepost with his
bare hands. "Heres the number of the publicity woman from the film company,
Ill just see if I can find it." He leafed through pages and pages of contact
numbers for people involved in the film, shaking his head a little over the sheer size of
the undertaking. "See, she could ring you and tell you as soon as anything happens
out here, and youd be all square and above-board."
I was driven crazy by the fact that, under the pages of phone numbers,
I could glimpse a hand-drawn map of what they were building out there. Which of course I
couldnt get to see properly. I mean, what can I describe? There seemed to be a stream
widening out to a pool, some lines that could be lanes But you can find out that much
from reading the books. Still, aaaaaaarggghhhh!
We drove off promising not to trespass. I hoped that nothing would happen
in the coming year to destroy Barrys Sam Gamgee-like faith in human nature. He believed
that appealing to our sense of fair play would be enough. The farmers son arrived on
a farm bike and gave us a foul look, so we left, and we didnt climb any fences.
A little way along the road we came to a spot that had some view of what
they are building: A road. Hmm. Very scenic bit of road, though, so we took photos of that,
and of the landscape around the place generally. Subtract the fenceposts and telegraph poles,
and youll have a good sense of what the Shire is going to look like.
It looks like theres some native forest on a hill on the other side
of the area where theyre building, and it seems likely that the set could be seen from
there, so a later expedition could tackle that. It doesnt seem to be private land.
Itd mean a few km walking through trackless forest, and if you got caught by an irate
film crew youd have to pretend you were looking for, um, what is it that people are
usually looking for in the bush? Dope? Sorry, officer, I swear I wasnt trying to
get close to Peter Jacksons film crew .I was just, yknow, looking after
On to the Okoroire Tavern, which is doing a roaring
trade since the army is staying there while they build Hobbiton. I wonder how much choice
you get in the army Hey, do you want to go to Kosovo on a peacekeeping mission?
Or would you like to go build Hobbiton?
I asked the barmaid if the troops were enjoying a change from marching or
whatever they do normally. She sort of sighed and said no. Apparently its
hard work. The hotel charges people $10 to use the thermal springs on their land, and they
were totally booked up. (The bar, meanwhile, was empty.) We wandered over for a look, hoping
to find some exhausted army people soaking away the pains of a hard days work, but the
hot pools were inside corrugated iron huts, so we didnt get to overhear any
fascinating gossip there.
Back to the pub, which is old and gracious.
Its grounds would make nice locations for some scenes. Huge old trees, greensward (actually
a golf course) and a rather surprising bit of wild rapids hidden in a forested ravine below
the thermal springs. Suddenly you drop out of this totally English landscape into a mossy,
ferny dark slot in the land with a whole lot of white water churning around at the bottom of
The only people in the tavern who werent watching rugby were
speaking Swedish, so we drew a bit of a blank there. Nobody had any obvious interest in
The Lord Of The Rings, so we finished our beer and drove home past a really gaudy Paramount