|Outside Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole, Hobbiton.
I’d held off visiting the preserved movie set of Hobbiton for two main reasons. One, at $79 for an adult it’s not exactly cheap. And two, New Zealand’s full of pleasant – let’s be honest, sometimes pleasantly dull – rolling farm country. Why pay for it when you can see it all the time?
At the insistence of Ann and Eddie who run the quite magnificent Edwardian-style mansion Lake Karapiro Lodge (20 minutes from Hobbiton – click here for more), I decided I should finally see if it’s worth the hype.
As to what that “hype” actually is, for me it’s more the fact that every non-J.R.R. Tolkien or Peter Jackson fan I’ve spoken to seems to love Hobbiton, rather than that fans of the books and movies recommend it. According to my chirpy young Aussie Hobbiton tour guide, a third of all visitors to the Matamata farm have never seen any of the six Jackson movies nor read Tolkien’s books.
|A hobbit hole.
Whether those folks have been dragged along unwillingly by family and friends or are genuinely inquisitive themselves, what seems to be true is that people come away from Hobbiton having had a really good time.
Which is just what happened to me. Unlike the years post the Lord Of The Rings movies but before the Hobbit films, the full movie set remains. The owners of the still-operating farm realised there was such demand – particularly from international tourists – to see the real Hobbiton and so ditched their previous stipulation to have the moviemakers dismantle the set post-filming.
This means that this time round there’s actually something to look at beyond just the green Waikato hills. The Hobbit holes are ridiculously cute but even things like the pathways, gates, main bridge and gardens have a charm beyond your normal scenic New Zealand farm. Best of all is the entirely “Hobbity” Green Dragon Inn which operates as a proper pub and restaurant. Soon the also very-Hobbity Mill House will be a function centre too with its waterwheel, lakeside view and again – very cute – architecture.
On a clear day (which it was for me) the views from Hobbiton to the bush-clad Kaimai Ranges are also what sets this farm apart from others in New Zealand where mountains and bush aren’t part of the landscape. So yes, I thought Hobbiton was awesome, the rolling green hills weren’t remotely dull and even at $79 I’d recommend it.
Regarding the Kaimais, this spine of densely forested Waikato territory is a welcome break from what is a largely agricultural province. Hearing the North Island’s highest waterfall was just a 10 minute drive from Matamata (in the other direction from Hobbiton) I thought I’d give it a look as a bit of a contrast to farms and hobbit holes.
While visually not as impressive as shorter, more voluminous North Island waterfalls like Waitomo’s Marokopa Falls or Taupo’s Huka Falls, the seriously steep walk to the Wairere Falls takes you through some lush, fern-dominated New Zealand bush.
Hiking to the top took me about an hour and there was an almost prehistoric picture of eerie calm as the forest hung over a quietly moving river. Eerie because if you’d just been teleported to that exact spot there was little evidence this was on top of a mountain range with a 153 metre waterfall just around the corner.
Turning that corner and the wind was blowing the waterfall back in my face like a sideways rain storm. In breaks in the wind I could see out across the Waikato plains below and it was a stunning sight. Just make sure your camera is either waterproof or hidden because you can get soaked. And also be prepared for some strange quad muscle cramps later that night from all the step climbing – I’d never seen my quads contort like that!
Hopefully the staff at the lodge weren’t too perplexed by the wails of pain coming from my room at about 1am.
Here are the photos, my top 40 of Wairere Falls and Hobbiton: