There was always going to be a road trip. We had a spare week to see all the things, so Zee and I joined the brilliant Lyth (Oh, Lyth! I missed him) and did a tiki tour around the North Island. We started bright and early on a Monday morning and headed from Auckland to Matamata.
Now, there's nothing in Matamata, and previously there was no reason to ever go there. Except that now there's a farm that was once a movie set, and now it's where you go to see where the Hobbits used to hang out.
It. Was. AMAZING!
All the little hobbit holes were variants of the same thing, set up at different scales depending on what size the actors were meant to be (Built at 100% for hobbits, or much smaller, 60% for humans). The gardens were immaculate. It took a good lot of noticing sometimes: your eyes scan the horizon and you realise that actually, those little chimneys sprouting right out of the hill aren't typical. The small little trees had ladders (because even though they were the right size for us, they were too big for hobbits). And the detail in all the props! Very impressive.
The best bit was keeping up with the tour guide, there are loads of stories I hadn't heard before. All the bricks were hand made (!) on site. The big oak tree on top of Bag End is fake. Originally, for LOTR they took an oak tree from a neighbouring farm, cut it into bits for transportation and bolted it all back together again on site. Sure enough it died before the hobbit movies were made. So they built a replica and - get this - hand glued 200,000 (+!) leaves (shipped in from Taiwan) on it.
That's not even the worst of it: apparently couple days before filming Peter Jackson decided that the fake leaves were the wrong colour. They hired students to work non-stop to manually paint each and every leaf. The tour guide said they finished literally 10 minutes before filming. So. Insane.
By the end of it you get the impression that Peter Jackson was a stickler for detail. The fences were 'aged' with vinegar, and a slurry mix of yoghurt, glue and cardboard were used to impersonate lichen on all the wooden fences. The yoghurt was apparently used to encourage real lichen to grow, which it apparently did.
They also imported sheep, because the romney sheep that exist on the working farm were too 'modern' looking, so they used heritage suffolks for filming instead. Also, all the tree's planted around the hobbit houses are apple trees. However, in the book it talks about hobbit children sitting underneath PLUM trees. So they stripped them, and glued on plum leaves and fake plums of all the plum trees. That's in insane amount of work for the 10 seconds they appear on screen.
It was a pretty brilliant tour, two hours and actually really expensive but absolutely worth it. While the hobbit holes are facades only, the Green Dragon had an interior built for the tours. They give you Hobbit brewed beer and cider (or, if you're me, ginger beer).