I had a strange sense of déjà vu when I finally sat down over the Christmas holidays to watch the long-awaited film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Those rolling green hills of the Shire, the wonderful mountain backdrops, those swirling rivers and stunning lakes, the endless skies – it all seemed so familiar. As did the pretty little homesteads of Hobbiton itself, the idyllic home of Bilbo Baggins and all his hairy-footed Hobbit friends, not to mention a rather strange looking Mr Adrian Bridge (below)!
It seemed familiar because it was familiar: I had the very good fortune to have visited New Zealand last year – apart from anything else to attend the wedding of a certain Travelman Mr Jeremy Bridge – and to have seen some of the spectacular scenery that forms the backdrop to the Hobbit film (or rather films: this one is just the first of what will be a trilogy).
What a country it is indeed. In a whistle stop tour I took in some of the key sights in the South Island – among them Queenstown, Milford Sound (one of the wonders of the world according to Rudyard Kipling), and Mount Cook – before heading to the North Island to explore the joys of Wellington (sorry “Wellywood”), the cool and sassy little capital that, yes, ok can every once in a while be just a little windy, but which has long since become better known for its buzzing foodie scene, the best flat white coffee in the world – oh and a film industry which over the past decade or so has been responsible for such masterpieces as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Aviator and Tin Tin.
In the short time I was in the city I bumped into numerous people connected in one way or another with the film industry and scores of Kiwis who were simply very proud of the way in which the efforts of producer/director Peter Jackson (seen as something of a God in these parts) and his colleagues have catapulted New Zealand to the cutting edge of film production and technique. Over breakfast one morning in the Museum Hotel (a very cool Wellington landmark) I even bumped into a rather gruff sounding Billy Connolly who told me he loved it here – but that playing the part of a dwarf warrior was no laughing matter. Or not at his age.
Lovers of Tolkien can take specially themed tours that reveal some of the places used for the filming of his books and can even, should the urge grab them, dress the part bydonning Gandalf robes, clasping the sword of Aragorn – or slipping into a Gollum mask (see above!).
I did a great tour in the woods just outside Wellington which involved exploring a number of film locations – and sitting up in a tree pretending to smoke a pipe in just the way Frodo Baggins liked to.
Then I headed north – to the steamy cauldron that is Rotorua (hold your noses please) and, about 50 miles east of that, to Matamara and the farm on which that incredible recreation of Hobbiton has been made.
It was weird and rather wonderful to see all that again as I sat watching the Hobbit film. It was exactly how I’d seen it last March: an extraordinary recreation of the fictitious world of Hobbit holes created by Tolkien – right down to the mini-sized wheelbarrows used to tend the dainty little gardens and the finely decorated post boxes at the entrance to every home. The colours were lush, the attention to detail meticulous and thanks to the special 3-D glasses, it almost seemed real.
Almost. But not quite. If you really want the real thing there’s only one thing for it. Go there yourself!
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