38. A Thousand Trees

‘If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest from home I’ve ever been’…

Today was the day all the nerds (Im including myself so it’s okay to call them nerds) had been waiting for – we were leaving Waitomo and headed for The Shire, the Hobbiton Movie Set and the quintessential New Zealand photo in front of a hobbit hole that you’ve all seen a million times. Don’t worry, you’ll get to see mine too, you lucky devil.

There was a distinct split on the bus between people who were so excited that they probably could have skipped the whole way there, and people who gladly would have gone back in time and convinced JRR Tolkien to never write the damn thing to save all the hassle and furore it caused amongst the other half.

I was distinctly in the former excitable camp. My memories of watching Lord of the Rings are virtually untarnishable, because I went to watch them at my aunties house when I was little and she gave me all the chocolate and crisps I could eat. Technically she was my mums cousin, but as mentioned a few blogs ago, all your mums friends and relations are ‘auntie’ when you’re northern.

The movies are okay too I guess.

Anyway after a short trip we had arrived at the movie set. After paying for our tickets, looking at the gift shop, looking at the prices and then looking at our bank accounts, we all decided we didn’t fancy paying $200 for some hobbit feet and the one true ring. Instead we went and ate our lunches outside, which were prime backpacker style sandwiches, or in Sigrid’s case, pita dipped in peanut butter.

Incidentally, on the topic of gift shops, there were about 50 copies of the one true ring in there, which makes me suspicious that if you pay that much money for it you might be being lied to about its ‘one true’-ness.

Soon we were headed into the set itself on our tour with our tour guide who was called something. I’ve forgotten. It might have been Charlene? Sorry Charlie. Anyway.

Hobbiton itself was only used for a total of about 5 weeks filming between both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, which makes all the detail and intricacy throughout the set even more impressive than it already is.

The director of all the movies, Peter Jackson, went to some ridiculous lengths to make it as true to the book as possible. There is a paragraph in the books about little hobbits picking plums of plum trees in The Shire. Peter knew this had to be included, but was faced with the slight problem of plum trees not growing anywhere in New Zealand. Undettered by what most would see as a pretty fair stumbling block, he got another similar tree, cut all its flowers and fruits off and hand stitched fake plums and leaves onto the tree. (I say he did, obviously his minions did all the work, he was just like a mad dictator).

So, after all this work, naturally the plum tree was going to be a crucial part of the movie, right?

It appears for 3 seconds.

In the Extended Edition.

Nuts. Every person who watched it in the cinemas didn’t even see that tree.

Peter Jackson must have a thing for specific trees, because he also had an artificial oak tree hand made to go above Bilbo Baggins’s hobbit hole for The Hobbit movies. Then, a week before filming, after the tree had been up for a fair few months, he decided it was the wrong shade of brown, made them pull it down and repaint the whole thing.

If he’d asked me to do that I would be telling him exactly what shade of brown I thought he was, but this is probably why I’m not in the film industry.

We learnt all this on our tour of the set which took us round a Shireload of Hobbit Holes and loads of interesting points from the films, as well as pointing out all the reasons the site had been chosen. These were mainly the fact that it had a lake and, more importantly, a big circular tree.

In the interests of not ruining it for the people who will go, and not boring the socks of the people who won’t go, I won’t say anymore other than if you like the book or the films you must go, and if you don’t you should watch and read them and go anyway because it’s great. Also it’s pretty tree heavy. I’m not sure if that was clear.

Excellent reviewery there Alex. I promised you a photo, didn’t I?

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Still more spacious than a flat in London…

We finished our tour with a free beer at the Green Dragon, the pub from the books which makes you feel like you’re either in the movie or back in England, with roaring fires, low wooden ceilings and dark ales. And hundreds of other tourists, but we try not to think about them.

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L to R: Pippa, Sig, Some Weirdo, Katie, Becky. More importantly, beer. 

We were then taken on to our stop for the night of Rotorua by a very cool old Maori driver named Bill. Bill had the speaking voice of a cool as Maori who’d been smoking 50 a day for 40 years, so it took us all by surprise when he serenaded us with a Maori song in a voice that even Simon Cowell would have been impressed by. Girls wanted to be with him, boys wanted to be him, but we had to leave and move on. More Maori experiences awaited…

I bet you thought that was the end of the blog. No such luck friends! Keep reading.

We were back in Rotorua and on the way to our next activity, which was an afternoon, evening and overnight stay at the Tamaki Maori Village, a recreation of traditional Maori villages. Our evening would involve teachings, a cultural show and a traditional Maori feast – a hangi, some hot tubs and lots of beer.

First though, we had to elect a chief for our arriving tribe and a song to sing on our arrival.

Our chief had to be a man, and as there were only 2 fluent male English speakers on the bus it came down to me and Erik. Erik is from Canada, wears shorts in all weathers, goes hiking, likes hockey and is big.

I like eating chocolate and writing blogs. Erik won. I was quietly glad.

We also had to choose a song. Maori songs are often meaningful, tuneful and spiritual affairs steeped in history. Due to a wide variety of nationalities on our bus and the fact that everyone needed to know the words, we sung Hello by Adele. Yes, as in that Hello by that Adele. In front of two Maoris.

I’m not sure what Mike and Taff, our two Maori guides, thought of us after our belting performance of the song but I can only assume they were awed, inspired and more than a little frightened.

Our chief also had to deliver a speech after this, and stunned me and everyone else with an eloquence worthy of Shakespeare. Seriously, it was all about nationalities coming together to understand Maori culture, you probably couldn’t have written anything better if you’d tried. Erik instantly confirmed what we all thought anyway – that he was the obvious choice for chief. I settled into a role as vice-chief, which involved literally no responsibility or awareness on anyone else’s part of my role, but made me feel a bit manlier.

Our welcome was completed for now and after some afternoon tea we went to play a traditional Maori game – He Mata Tu Mata.

Put simply, this is a game where you have a large stick in your hand and on a command, everyone throws their stick to the person to their right and catches the stick coming from their left.

40 unco-ordinated Europeans, 40 heavy wooden sticks being blindly thrown.

What could possibly go wrong?

A surprisingly low number of concussions later, we had managed to fail spectacularly at the game. This video makes us look much better than we were, which is worrying;

After our spectacular failure at this game, (some were worse than others; I’ll mention no names. Sigrid. Femke. Leanne.). We tried another, the name of which I have completely forgotten, sorry. It clearly wasn’t catchy enough. This involved standing your stick upright, at which point Mike would shout left or right and you had to run to catch the stick in whichever direction he had called. Sounds simple, even if the directions were in Maori.

I managed to get to the final 2, mostly through screwing my friends over by accidentally leaving my stick at an angle so it fell before they could get to it. Summer, who we’d been travelling with for a week or so, forgave me instantly. Katie, who I’ve been travelling with for over a year, still holds a grudge.

If you were wondering, I lost in the final because I forgot which way was left and right, stood still and panicked. Dignity intact, we were now heading for the main evenings entertainment. We would be entering the village as a new tribe for a formal welcome and challenge from Maori warriors, before our cultural show and feast.

We arrived at the village’s boundary, stood behind our chief, who was out in front alone through a combination of bravery and the fact that he had to be there.

From behind the village walls came a drum beat and war cries, the sound of aggressive Maori warriors approaching to challenge us. Chief stood firm. A Maori canoe, a waka, appeared from around the corner and the warriors emerged…

Alex Odlin bets you didn’t see that cliffhanger coming. 

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