Pilgrimage to Middle-earth brings silver screen set to life
IF Hollywood came knocking on your door with an offer to use your property as a backdrop for a mega-movie would you turn them away?
That's exactly what the Alexander men did. These are, after all, New Zealand country lads. Sheep farmers no less.
There they were watching the rugby and enjoying a well-deserved break from tending their flock, when Hollywood arrived at the door in the form of Peter Jackson's people from New Line Cinema.
They'd spotted the lush Alexander farm during an aerial search for a suitable place to film The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Alexander men listened to Jackson's people and then politely asked them to leave and come back later when the rugby had finished.
Fortunately Jackson's people understood a Kiwi's passion for rugby and willingly came back later and a deal was brokered.
The luxuriant undulating countryside near the Waikato town of Matamata in the North Island - a property suitably lacking power lines, roads and other pesky modern-day clutter - was as close as it could get to resembling Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth.
But the real deal clincher was the imposing pine tree perfectly placed in front of the lake on the Alexanders' 500 hectare property which would become the "party tree" where the hobbits danced 'til they dropped.
This was in 1998. Then the New Zealand army marched in to assist with set construction and over nine months 400 people toiled to complete the hobbit movie set.
The result was a dramatic Middle-earth recreation with 37 hobbit holes, a mill and arch bridge, gardens, hedges and trees - all built, conveyed in, or nurtured to exacting Hollywood standards.
Despite the farm already overflowing with sheep, special sheep were trucked in. It seems the Alexander sheep just weren't attractive enough for Hollywood.
Now, with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the original movie set has been solidly rebuilt in readiness for tours, but it remains as it was seen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tour magically transports you to Middle-earth.
The fertile countryside is so glorious it looks like a work of art.
The sheep might not have been up to A-list beauty standards, but dotted profusely around the verdant hills and plunging valleys of the farm, they look like children's toys: white, fluffy, cuddly.
No matter your age or disposition you'll fantasise about hobbit life.
You'll want to tend the vegetable gardens outside the hobbit holes, pick the pansies, sweep the little paths, chop wood on the tiny chopping blocks and rock in one of the miniature chairs outside the barrel-like round doors.
The hobbit holes are all facades so there is no going inside.
Interior filming was done in Wellington, and although there are no Disney-like characters in the gardens, the sense of being in hobbit-land is powerful.
Walk the path where Gandalf was greeted by Frodo.
Stand outside Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo lived and look up to the reconstructed oak tree above their grass roof.
Dream about dancing with the hobbits in the party field and then walk past the mill and over the bridge to the stable and market.
However, I reckon the true star is the beauty of the New Zealand countryside.
The Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours are offered as one of many shore excursions from ms Oosterdam when she sails New Zealand's ports.