New Zealand – February 25, 2016

Good-bye to the Bay of Plenty. Fortified by a hearty breakfast and a couple long blacks we make a break for Hobbiton. This place couldn’t be more hokey or more eagerly anticipated. Yes, we are nerds, big nerds. My girls and I were at the front of the line on Opening Day of all three LOTR movies, so Joss and I are pumped.

Hobbiton is easy to find with Joss’ expert, if somewhat impatient, guidance. I don’t fade onto the shoulder of the road much anymore, but I can burst impulsively into roundabouts without looking. I am ever so slowly adjusting to driving with everything inverted. Hopefully, I shall be ambidextrous real soon.

The parking lot for Hobbiton, the Movie Set is mostly grass. Grass is appropriate, I guess, for such pint-sized pastoral folk. Another grass-related observation, we notice three or four hippie-style vans, rentable vehicles grimly emblazoned with graffiti smurfs and snarky weed-related jive. Oh, the lame and craven bullshit. Here’s the real bullshit, the Hollywood bullshit that we love. There’s a gift shop, a café, toilets, and a shed for lining up in the shade for the buses that will take us to the tiny town.

The Alexander family, the sheep and cattle farmers on whose land Hobbiton was constructed, have shrewdly capitalized on the global fascination for these hairy-footed little buggers. Ten years after LOTR, they prevailed on Peter Jackson to rebuild the set with durable materials for the Hobbit films: they charge admission and the man gets a cut, of course. Strikingly, in addition to the legions of LOTR fanboys and girls, tour groups now show up with absolutely no hobbit aficionados at all. Hobbiton has become part of New Zealand’s essential tourist itinerary.

This little village is enchanting. It looks exactly like the images from the movies, lived in by vegetation but not be actual creatures. It is interesting to note the different sizes of the various hobbit holes, built for forced perspective purposes, when the difference between the character’s height and the actor’s were needed to differentiate the sentient species on Middle Earth. The siting of Bag End, the Party Tree, and the Green Dragon all match with perfect continuity. Our guide does a lot of superfluous explaining, as guides tend to do, but most guides are talking to idiots, not virtual Hobbits, masters of all possible Tolkien lore. Still, it is with great pleasure that we quaff a ginger beer at the Green Dragon once the tour has concluded.

We finally pull into the very tight parking lot of Sport of Kings Motel in Rotorua, and when we open the doors of the Focus we are almost felled by the sulfuric stench. No one could have adequately warned us. The person behind the desk triangulates between her incoming guests and an aggressively cute little girl, presumably her child. I stifle the impulse to jump across the desk and throttle little fucking Eloise. We get settled, plan an ambitious assault on our laundry problem, and book a restaurant for dinner.

It’s within walking distance, a huge plus, and seems to be on the fine dining side. I mention to Joss that she may be the youngest person in the place. “Yeah, I know, everyone here looks like a fourth-grade teacher.”


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