Trolls exist! They steal your ponies

I’m excited for this blog, travelers! And I think I might go about it a bit differently. It’s going to be very picture-heavy, so I think what I’ll do is let them tell most of the story and I’ll just fill in some of the gaps. But let me get us started first.

That morning saw us headed west, to a tiny town called Piopio. The Alexanders aren’t the only ones with a Lord Of The Rings farm tour. Another farm outside of Piopio was made famous after the cast a crew of The Hobbit came through to do some filming. It’s not nearly as big an operation as Hobbiton though, but that was really refreshing.

The scenes filmed here a seen near the beginning of the first in the trilogy, An Unexpected Journey. The set building was minimal, unlike Hobbiton, which I think in part contributes to the small scale of the operation. But good things come in small packages. Dad and I left the sulfuric city of Rotorua behind and drove the two hours to Piopio. We would be meeting Luke and Hannah there. It would be good to have a fellow nerd to get excited with on the tour.

Our tour didn’t start until one, and, as usual, we had a bit of time till then. We pulled into a cafe called the Fat Pigeon for lunch. It was another near-perfect weather day. The air held a bit of a chill, but the sun kept things warm. Dad and I took a table on the covered deck. As we ate, I sent off a message to Hannah to see where she and Luke were at. I hadn’t heard back by the time we left for the farm, but I figured they were driving and either hadn’t seen the message or didn’t have a signal.

The road to the farm took us up a narrow valley road that followed the course of a small stream. Unlike the rolling green hills of the Waikato, the landscape here was more rugged and housed great crags of limestone amongst the green fields. The sign for Hairy Feet appeared as we turned another corner, and I turned into the gate.

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The office was up the hill. I pulled into a spot and Dad and I walked down the path to a small building. Here we met our fantastic guide Suzie. (Since working at Hobbiton, any guided tour I go on I’m just constantly critiquing the guide in my head.) But she was awesome. She is the third generation to own this farm. She was there when the film crew was. She knows her shit.

Suzie was upbeat and very friendly. You couldn’t not smile around her. Dad and I introduced ourselves. Just a few minutes after we arrived Suzie told us there were two other couples on the tour with us. Of course I knew one of those was Luke and Hannah. And apparently they were going to be late. They’d called Suzie to ask if she could wait for them. Of course Dad and I didn’t mind waiting, and luckily the other couple didn’t mind either.

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Just meant more time to hang out with this cutie!

Our time waiting wasn’t wasted. Suzie’s got some awesome props at the office for people to take pictures with. So we spent our time doing that, as well as looking around the shop for potential souvenirs.

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The little hobbit in the background is actually Suzie’s husband. She turned him into a hobbit. How nice for her.

Shortly after we had finished getting lots of awesome and nerdy photos, many taken by Suzie herself, Hannah and Luke arrived. They were a bit frazzled, and immediately launched into the story of how they’d gotten a flat or had some sort of car trouble — who the hell cares! They were here, and we were about to go on an adventure!

The seven of us climbed into a very familiar looking van. It was the same sort that we had at Hobbiton, only it was silver instead of green. Hannah got to pretend like she was still at Hobbiton when she hopped out of the van to open the gate for Suzie. Then it was just a short drive up the hill until we were all climbing back out. From here, travelers, I will let the pictures do most of the talking.

The first spot we saw was the location the dwarves and Bilbo make camp for the first night. This is just before they have their run in with the trolls. Suzie told us that the set team liked all the old run down fencing so much they just used it in the scene. Of course, they added a few things of their own, but most of it was part of the farm long before the film crew ever showed up.

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You can’t see because of the glare, but Hannah is holding a picture that shows Bilbo and Balin with one of the ponies. Hannah is doing a better job recreating the scene than I am.

This spot wasn’t in the film, but you might be able to see it if you watch any behind the scenes features. Suzie told us that Richard Armitage, who played Thorin in the films, would often seek solitude between takes so he would stay in the right mind frame for Thorin. One day the behind the scenes camera peeps spotted him on this rock.

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You shall not pass! Wait…wrong movie. The dawn take you all!

A little further on, we came to an open area surrounded by low hills. And you’ll never guess who we spotted amongst the trees…

I might be wrong in saying this, but I think our next stop was the one Hannah and I were most looking forward to. Our group moved down the path, turned the corner, and came into the shadow of a massive boulder. Suzie was talking, telling us more fascinating things I’m sure, but my eyes were scanning the ground and I was think ‘Where’s Sting, where’s Sting?” Suzie set up the scene, and then, out of the foliage, she pulled Sting.

It was only a plastic replica of Sting, but we all got kickass pictures anyway. Further into the trees we went.

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Warg attack! Okay, not really. We were now standing in the trees where the company meets up with Radagast the Brown for a few brief moments before they are attacked by wargs. They certainly were getting their money’s worth out of this location. We got to recreate a few more scenes and sit where actors sat and even stand right where Bilbo stood. Sometimes film crews forget things.

So we were facing the wrong way as Gandalf. Oh well.

I’m not sure why Hannah was so excited in that one photo, but I like it. Also, a brief mention that we were walking by lots of interesting rock formations, some of them with fossilized shells in them.

We were coming close to the end of the tour, but we had one stop left. Suzie left us for a few minutes while she went back to get the van. After she picked us up, we moved down the road a little ways to where the land opened up.

Suzie directed our attention back the way we had come from. She pointed out a large rock at the side of the road and told us this had actually been added to digitally. A warg jumps up over this rock and the pack swarms into the trees trying to get the dwarves. Suzie supposed the rock the way it was would’ve been too hard for a warg to jump up on. The trees near the gate are roughly where Radagast bursts out of the trees with his rabbits, attempting to lure the wargs away from the company.

With that our tour was over. The seven of us got back in the van, and this time I got to feel like I was back at work when I got the gate. Okay, I lied a little bit. The tour was over, but we still had business to attended to. Hannah and Luke had missed out on all the props, so Suzie brought them out again and we took more awesome pictures.

All of us thanked Suzie profusely for the wonderful time. Hairy Feet tours definitely makes my top three best LOTR/Hobbit tours. If you are a fan, go! Before we parted ways, the four of us made plans to meet up later in Matamata for dinner. I hadn’t had Fez for a while and this would be my last chance to do so for a some time.

Our first stop when Dad and I got into town was to check into our motel. It was the same place Mom and I had stayed on both our visits to Matamata, but the place was now under new ownership. We got checked in and went for a walk around Centennial Drive before I took Dad along to harass my friend Blair about…something. I then I dragged him along to dinner with us. It was a great way to end the day.

~Ren

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