Thursday, December 3, 2015

3 Dec 15 – Day 4 (Matamata and Auckland)

Today was the highlight of the trip, a visit to the Hobbiton. We got up early because of the traveling time required to get there. After breakfast, we still had a bit of time so we walked to the outside of the hotel near to the shore of the lake to catch the sunrise. Left around 7:45am for a one-hour journey to the destination where we had a two-hour tour of the Hobbiton. Along the way, we passed by the town called Tirau where many buildings, signboards and sculptures are made using discarded corrugated iron. I managed to snap two shots, one on the information center which is shaped like a giant dog and the adjacent Big Sheep Wool Gallery which is shaped like a sheep.

Soon we were in the area of Matamata where the landscape was mostly green with rolling hills and dotted with white sheep. According to our driver, Peter Jackson was searching for a suitable site to film his Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies and subsequently The Hobbit movies; he came across the Alexander Farm and decided that it was the ideal place. He negotiated with the owner and then began to transform the site. Reached the ticketing area slightly after 9am, took a couple of snapshots with the Hobbiton signpost and quickly browsed the souvenir shop while waiting for our guide. Didn’t get to look closely enough and we were told to board the coach because the guide was there to start the tour. 

The coach drove a little further into the compound before we alighted again to start the tour on foot. There were a lot of hobbit holes and as we moved up the hill, we were introduced to different hobbit holes. The guide told us that we can tell the occupation of a hobbit from the decoration of his or her hobbit hole. She also told us some behind-the-scene stories and how some scenes were filmed. Here are a few that I can remember from the tour.
  • Very little CGI effects were used during the filming of LOTR, contrary to popular beliefs. Most were done using old-school tricks. For example, the scene where Gandalf and Frodo were sitting side-by-side on the carriage and Gandalf had to appear much larger than Frodo who is a hobbit. It was filmed such that Ian McKellen was seated quite a distance away in front of Elijah Wood. It was really testing the actors on their acting skills because they had to act like they were really next to each other when in fact they were not.
  • The NZ government could not offer financial help to Peter Jackson for his movie production but instead offered him an army at his disposal to set up the film site. In return, the NZ army who helped with the setting up of the film site was offered to act as orcs in the films.
  • The scene where Gandalf was in Bilbo’s house and accidentally knocked his head on the chandelier, that scene was not in the script. Ian McKellen really hit his head but as a good actor, he continued with the filming and Peter Jackson let the camera rolled and hence we saw that unscripted scene in the movie.
  • There were a few hobbit holes built in different percentage to a full grown adult so as to facilitate the filming. For instance, when Gandalf visited Bilbo, Ian McKellen was standing at a hobbit hole which was perhaps 60% of the actual size. When Bilbo was standing outside his house, Martin Freeman was standing outside a hobbit hole which was 100% in size.
  • Filming of the LOTR was hush hush back then and the NZ government had to declare the area as a no-fly zone. So when Peter Jackson filmed the fireworks scene in the first LOTR movie, the fireworks could be seen from miles away and people were wondering what was going on. 

As we walked further uphill, we saw hobbit holes that belong to hobbits working as gardener, hobbits that sell fish, preserved food, cheese and so on. We were given few minutes each stop to take photos of the surrounding. Due to the big group of us, good photos without getting bombed at were almost impossible. We were told that one of the hobbit holes is not allocated for use on special occasion such as wedding events. Continued with our ascend, the guide told us that the number of windows on a hobbit hole is an indication of how rich a hobbit is. Another indication is the location of his or her hobbit hole relative to the height of the hill. So Bilbo’s house is seated right on top of the hill and has 12 windows hence he is the riches hobbit in The Shire. We were not allowed to go into Bilbo’s house and were told that the interior scenes in the films were actually shot in a studio in Wellington.

After a few quick shots, we had to descend the hill. We were then led to where the Party Tree was to appreciate the size of the big tree as well as to take in the view of the whole hill with the various hobbit holes. Unfortunately, the view was spoilt by the numerous groups of visitors standing at the various hobbit holes doing the same tour as we had done. Over at where the Party Tree was, we were given more information about the Hobbiton such as it was not built to last initially. After the LOTR, most of the set was torn down except for a few hobbit holes. Then one day, a couple of visitors went to look for the owner of the Alexander Farm and asked to tour what was left of the film site. So the owner took them on a jeep to have a look around. After that, he thought it might be worthwhile to turn this into a business. Then came the filming of The Hobbit movies and the set was rebuilt in a more permanent fashion. Since then, the site was maintained by the guides who doubled up as maintenance crew in additional to the existing maintenance crew. They had to change the clothing hung at one of the hobbit holes regularly, prune the plants and so on. 

Finally we were led to the Green Dragon Pub to get our complimentary drink of either the Apple Cider or the Ginger Beer which was included in the tour. So SWT took the Ginger Beer while I took the Apple Cider just to try. Cynthia told us not to drink the whole cup because we it would be quite a while before we get a comfort break during the journey back to Auckland. So we took a sip of our own drink and each other’s drink, took some photos while inside the pub before going outside again to wait for the rest of the group. While waiting, we took more photos of the surrounding and then followed the guide back to where the coach dropped us in the morning. As we walked, we took some more photos and soon we were back to where the coach was.

Boarded the coach, dropped the guide at the place where we picked her up and then started our two-hour journey back to Auckland. Shared the lamington that we bought the day before and then SWT slept through the journey while I dozed off on and off. Reached the Sylvia Park Mall in Auckland where we were given a couple of hours to have lunch and to walk around the mall. Most of the group members headed to either the fast food restaurants or the food court while SWT and I chose to eat at this café called Muffin Break. I ordered the Sweet Chili Chicken Panni and a pot of Lemon Ginger Tea. After we were done eating, we walked around the mall before returning back to the coach.

Continued with a short Auckland city tour where we also toured around the Parnell Village on the coach. Finally we reached the place where we get to view the Auckland Harbor Bridge. We took photos of the bridge and the surrounding as well as the structure nearby. Then we boarded the coach again to head to Skycity hotel for check-in. Our hotel is just next to the Sky Tower where people can do activities such as Sky Jump, Sky Walk and so on. Cynthia told us that we wouldn’t have problem finding our way back to the hotel because we should be able to spot the Sky Tower easily. In addition, she also told us a good spot at the hotel to watch people do Sky Jump. As there was still some time before the scheduled buffet dinner, SWT and I popped out for a quick walkabout after settling down and getting a map from the reception.

Returned to the hotel for dinner and since it was buffet dinner, we were able to finish quickly and headed back out to explore the city. As we were given a short city tour earlier on, we were able to navigate pretty well on our own without referring to the map. Soon we found ourselves in the area near the Auckland Ferry Building. Since we were near water area and with the wind blowing quite strongly, we were shivering. To avoid the wind, we popped into a convenient store where SWT subsequently bought a boysenberry flavor ice cream cone. I took a bite from hers just to get a taste because we were both very curious how boysenberry taste like after seeing the flavor couple of days ago where we had our first ice cream. It tasted like raspberry yet not quite. Just very berry taste. We headed out of the shop and SWT started shivering even more because she was eating the ice cream. Walked around the area, saw many restaurants with many people having dinner. After SWT finished her ice cream, we decided to walk back to our hotel for the night since we need to get up early tomorrow for our flight to Christchurch.

We were unable to see the Sky Tower, fortunately, we had our map with us and so quickly referred to it and managed to walk back. Along the way, we saw signs indicating designated liquor ban area. Hrm… So Auckland is relatively safe to walk in the night given there are such areas, we won’t need to be afraid of meeting drunkards. Of course, there will be other dangers so one still need to be alert when out at night. Got back to the hotel, washed up, did the packing, settled the money matters and rest for the night.

Thoughts: Hobbiton tour was the highlight of the day, heck, I personally feel that it is the highlight of the trip but yet I only had about 2 hours there. I feel that they should have let us have say about 30 minutes to 1 hour of free time to walk around the place on top of the 1+hour tour. Also because of the short time, we didn’t have many good photos opportunities. Other than the short time spent at Hobbiton, I feel that the tour was very informative with so many behind-the-scenes fun facts and stuff. 

As for the Auckland Harbour Bridge, I feel that we didn’t have to take such a long photo stop for it. If we had shortened the time for this, we probably could have more time for the Hobbiton tour in the morning. 

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