‘Rongotai’ shares his thoughts about Hobbiton and the Shire qualities of the place in NZ where it was filmed. They’re not obvious unless you look in the right way….
“In this weeks edition of the New Zealand magazine The Listener there is an article on the small but steady stream of tourists now arriving in the town of Matamata, which is close to the location for Hobbiton in FOTR. It is a nice, ironic, little piece that highlights the towns more or less complete failure to adapt to its new found status, and the pressures on it to do so from the likes of Tourism New Zealand.
“I have never lived in Matamata, but I know many people there, and I have lived in similar New Zealand towns. Out of all this here are a few thoughts that I would like any overseas fan heading for Matamata to consider.
“Matamata has never ever been a tourist town. It is an unexceptional, pretty (in a New World, not European, way), reasonably prosperous, rural service town. For you Americans, Lake Woebegon springs to mind. Located in New Zealand, and in the Waikato in particular, Matamata is about as close to Hobbiton, the Shire and Tolkiens romantic view of an older, rural England, as can still be found anywhere in the world. For a modern, urban world it is, for many people, screamingly boring.
“And there is the irony. People are now descending on it because it was a filmic Hobbiton, and apparently often being disappointed by what is provided for them. But what if there were a real life Middle Earth and a real life Hobbiton? Would the lovers of LOTR go there hoping to see, or hoping not to see, Hobbits running souvenir stalls, providing guided tours of Bag End, and negotiating special deals with Burger King? For me, at least, such an experience would be a justification for a real life Scouring of the Shire.
“Visibly Matamatas sole response has been to put up a sign reading Welcome to Hobbiton. If you are a lover of what Tolkien was getting at with his creation of The Shire and mourn what happened to it in the book (although not, apparently, in the movie), then you will celebrate the place, but you will be seriously underwhelmed by its tourist offerings. If you demand more then you will be an ally of Saruman.
“Go to Matamata with your eyes open. It is not spectacular scenic New Zealand. It is set in a mature rural landscape full of grass, sheep, cows grazing on family farms (not on feedlots) and set against park like trees and a quality of light you will see nowhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Walk down the main street and watch the people living lives that are increasingly rare, but which do not bear romanticisation. If you know North-East Iowa, then you are getting a little close to what Matamata has to offer. If you go looking for Jacksons Shire, and come away disappointed, then you will have passed right through a real life Shire and not even noticed.”