On Sunday afternoon I visited Hobbiton with a few Mozillians. It's a two-hour drive from Auckland to the "Lord of the Rings"/"Hobbit" Hobbiton movie set near Matamata ... a pleasant, if slightly tedious drive through country that looks increasingly Shire-like as you approach the destination. We arrived ahead of schedule and had plenty of time to browse the amusingly profuse gift shop before our tour started.
I'm an enthusiastic fan of The Lord Of The Rings and easily seduced by the rural fantasy of the Shire, but I enjoyed the tour even more than I expected. It's spring and the weather was fine, and Hobbiton is, among other things, a wonderful garden; it looked and smelled gorgeous. The plants, the gently worn footpaths, the spacing of the hobbit holes, the versimilitude of the props, all artfully designed to suggest artlessness --- it all powerfully suggests the place could be real, would be delightful to live in if only it was real, that it should be real. Adding to that the mythology of the movies and Tolkien's books, it was an intoxicating collision between fantasy and reality that kept me slightly off balance mentally.
After the tour proper we entered the Green Dragon Inn for a drink and dinner. The Inn continues the combination of fantasy and reality: carefully designed Shire-props next to "fire exit" signs, real drinks in pottery mugs. The highlight was the dinner feast: food piled on tables, looking like an Epicurean fantasy but actually real, copious and delicious. It's very memorable, great fun, and a bit silly in the best way.
After the dinner there was a walk back through Hobbiton in the dark, with lanterns, admiring the hobbit holes lit to suggest candles and firelight. It was gorgeous again.
Hobbiton is apparently a popular place to propose marriage. One happened on our tour, and another couple in our tour had done so two days before; they couldn't remember the rest of the tour after the proposal, so were repeating it.
The dinner tour is ridiculously expensive, but I thought it was very special and well worth it.