Matamata, Tirau and Rotorua (map)– Saturday, May 3rd
We started the day off with a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set in the countryside of Matamata. As I mentioned before, J.R. Tolkin’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies were filmed in New Zealand. Having just recently read the books and watched the movies, Mitchell and I were excited to see the set firsthand. Along the way, we learned a lot of interesting information about the production of the movies and the current status of the land.
Some fun facts for you Hobbit fans:
In hopes of staying true to the books, Peter Jackson chose this sheep farm in Matamata for three reasons: 1) there was a huge tree on site, 2) the rolling hills and 3) a lake was also on site.
After the filming was done, Hobbiton was scheduled to be torn down, but the owner of the farm convinced the production company to let his family keep it intact so that visitors could tour the movie set.
The people who auditioned to be Hobbits had to be under 5’5” and plump with round cheeks. The Hobbit holes that were built on the hills are not finished inside (super disappointing) since they did that portion of the filming in the studios in Wellington.
The Hobbit gardens are real and the food gets sent to The Green Dragon Inn to be used in the restaurant.
One of the reasons that Matamata was chosen for the Hobbiton scenes was because of the huge tree that is used as the “party tree” in the films. It is now the 2nd most photographed tree in the world.
This is the fence that Bilbo jumped over, with his contract in hand, while yelling “I’m going on an adventure.” After the tour, Mitchell decided to reenact the scene for all of the people who had not seen the movie.
Bilbo’s hobbit hole in Bag End. Since there wasn’t an oak tree over that area, Peter Jackson had a fake one created.
The beautiful watermill building on the lake
The Green Dragon Inn- like the Hobbit holes- this also wasn’t finished on the inside. After the movies were shot, the tour company finished the inside so that guests could enjoy a cold mug of ale after the tour.
Apparently Mitchell and I drank a little too much of the free ale because we missed our bus back to town. Luckily another group let us hitch a ride with them and we were able to meet back up to our group at the gift shop.
After leaving Matamata, we headed south towards Rotorua; stopping in Tirau along the way. This little town is known for its unusual buildings made of corrugated tin. The picture below is of the visitor center.
Once we made it to Rotorua, we pulled off the road to see a small geothermal park. Here we watched bubbling mud and steam rise from the ground.
We then found a campervan site at one of the Holiday Parks within walking distance to the city center of Rotorua. Our evening was spent walking around the cute little town and seeing the Lake Rotorua. The float plane in the picture below was towing a yellow dinghy. I sure do wish I had a plane like that to pull our dinghy whenever it broke down.
Rotorua- Sunday, May 4th
Not quite ready to leave Rotorua, we decided to spend another day here. In the morning we hiked through Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest. It was originally home to more than 170 tree species, planted from 1899, to see which could be grown successfully for timber.
The two most stunning of the species were the California Redwoods and the palms/ferns.
We then spent the afternoon in Whakarewarewa Thermal Village; learning about the native Maori people that still reside there and the geothermal park that their village is built around. The tour began with a cultural performance that included traditional songs, dances and stories. Our guide then led us around the village and explained how the people and their ancestors used the steamy bubbling pools, silica terraces and geysers.
Parekohuru – the largest hot spring in the village — the yellow is sulfur.
The villagers use the hot steam from the underground geothermal activity to cook their meals. Each family brings their food and places it in one of the many communal ovens (called steam box hangi). This “oven” consisted of a metal grate over steam coming from the ground. It was surrounded by stones and had a wooden cover that kept the heat in the steam box. The food (meat and vegetables) are placed in a pot or plastic bag and are done in an hour or less. When the “oven” is being used to cook desserts or bake bread, a rock is placed on the top of the wood cover indicating that no one should lift the lid. The villagers also take advantage of an area of the hot springs to cook leaf and root veggies as well as seafood. They simply dip them in the boiling water for a short amount of time and the food is ready to eat in minutes.
One of the communal steam ovens
The area that they use to boil the veggies
In addition to using the steam to help them in their daily life, the villagers used the hot springs to fill communal baths. The tubs were outdoors; allowing the people to watch the sunset or sunrise (or to star gaze) while bathing in the heated water (38°C). The oily texture and mineral deposits within the water are also used to treat a variety of ailments.
At the end of the tour, our guide took us to a platform where we could see two of NZ’s most active geysers, Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers, both of which usually erupt once every hour.
After the tour, Mitchell and I hiked along a few of the nature walks on the outskirts of the village. It was here that we saw bubbling mud pools and a few lakes that are fed by hot springs.