Travelling to Middle Earth

IMG_0718The Shire, home of the enchanting hobbits that have warmed our hearts and made us smile. These delightful people with whom we have shared adventures in the place that started it all. The Hobbiton movie set, a definite must see when travelling to New Zealand and the site where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies were filmed.

Constructed on a the spectacular private Alexander farm near Matamata, this spectacular 1250 acre sheep and beef farm was the perfect setting for the Shire. Now Hobbiton is a (tourist) site not to be missed! It is a beautiful and eloquent journey as you are drawn into the magic of Middle Earth.

IMG_3561This 2 hour guided walking tour, whisks you away as soon as you board the bus to go down to the set, becoming immersed in the lush green rolling hills, literally descending into a part of Middle Earth. Entering a magical world, where you expect hobbits to be present, running, playing and tending to their gardens.

Originally the Shire, when constructed for the first trilogy, was made of cardboard and styrofoam, (as it was not intended to remain there permanently) and was actually dismantled afterwards. But with the revival of the set for The Hobbit, it was decided that the set would be built into a more permanent structure that would last for years to come.

39 Hobbit holes were created with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. Eloquent little houses distributed throughout the Shire. Complete with Bag End and the large oak tree that overlooks it.

IMG_0667I was super impressed with what they had created and the attention to detail in the set, from hobbit holes to chimneys and accessories, like wheel barrels and lightposts. Most of the Hobbit holes you could not actually enter and were used for outside shots only, but there were a few that you could step in through the door, turn around and get a sense of what it would be like looking outside at Hobbiton from inside your own little hobbit hole.

IMG_0632The houses were just the right size for Luke and Chloe, who were peeking in the windows and asking where all the hobbits were, as they certainly expected them to be there. We kept telling them they were out for lunch and would be back. Of course, they kept asking when.

Our tour guide was fabulous, a wealth of information, sharing how some houses were built to different percentage scales (sizes), making it feasible to get the shots they wanted in the film, with the humans being the ‘right size’. I did find though that even with two hours, our tour guide moved a little fast for me, telling us to take our time and take as many pictures as we wanted, yet moving on ahead and not waiting for the entire group to catch up before he started talking about the next part. I understand he likely had to do this because of time, but it would have been nice if he told us, so we could choose what was more important, pictures or information!

IMG_3555There is so much of the set to see and enjoy, or even just spend time soaking up the atmosphere, sitting on a bench and imagining. You really feel like you are there, and avid fans can picture scenes as you wander by and what was happening there. My favorite had to be the festival field, where Bilbo Baggins birthday celebration takes place as well as the Green Dragon Inn. The Green Dragon is very well done, and you can enjoy a bevvie or a bite to eat, while sitting by the cozy fireplace for a bit soaking up the atmosphere. Or even book it for your own private function! Part of your tour includes a complimentary ginger beer, Strongfarthing ale or cider, so there is an opportunity to sit and enjoy, for at least a little bit.

IMG_0662Near the end of our tour, we walked back from the Green Dragon to get a peek at three new Hobbit holes, not yet seen on film but may be appearing in the third Hobbit movie. (And we got to see them first! Love having the inside scoop!)

We boarded the bus back to The Shire’s Rest, where all tours begin, feeling satisfied and like we had definitely been part of something unique and magical.

IMG_4375The price of the tour itself I did find a little steep, $75 for adults (with reduced rates for youth, children and infants). But when we knew we were going to New Zealand and planned to go to Hobbiton we looked ahead online and absorbed our shock at home, having time to plan and digest the cost. We decided we were going (there was no question) so we accepted that’s what it would cost to go and went, we weren’t missing it!

It is not the most interesting tour for children, especially if they have not seen or have no concept of the The Lord Of The Rings books/ films. But it’s doable. I would also say it really depends on your children. I thought mine would be fabulous and attentive as we had gone on tours before, but on this particular day we were having a bit of a rough bout, and all of them were acting up. But once they became more engaged with looking for Hobbits and checking out the props (Chloe using the wheel barrel and sweeping, Luke and Matthew ‘chopping’ wood) they became more entertained and tolerant of moving and then stopping and listening to the information. They also loved peeking inside the houses looking for Hobbits and of course, really enjoyed their ginger beer towards the end of our tour.

IMG_0596It is a very busy place and a big tourist attraction. With tours running every half hour between 9 am and 3 pm daily. You can show up on site and book your tour, or book your tour in advance. There are also combo tours offered with evening dinner or tours including transport from Matamata or Rotorua. If you want to amp it up a little you can find some lovely farmstays nearby which include fabulous New Zealand fare as well as a tour of Hobbiton.

However you design your visit to Hobbiton, there is no doubt that you will be drawn into the magical world of Middle Earth and the eloquence of the Shire, looking around for Hobbits yourselves.

The Hunger Games Meets Harry Potter (and other great books for boys age 9-12)

I love books. As a kid I was an avid reader and still am as an adult (though I don’t have as much time to read as I would like!) My son, now 11, since a very young age, like 3 or 4,  is also an avid reader and gobbles up books quickly. Often taking 20 or 30 books out of the library and bringing them home, all to be read within a couple of days.

9780141322650I know it is not common for boys to be avid book readers, and for that I feel blessed, as I think reading is such an important part of life, whether we are reading for work or pleasure it is something to be enjoyed, not a chore to be endured. It’s a place to expand your imagination and learn about new places, people and things fictional or not.

As a result I also hope to instill a love reading with the twins. I read to them each night before bed, and sometimes stories during the day when we can steal an extra moment to sit down together and enjoy. Matthew, my oldest has read 100’s of books, many of his favorite books over and over. From Fantastic Mr. Fox (love Roald Dahl) to Percy Jackson and Goosebumps, when he has down time, there’s a book in his hand, regardless of how many times he may have read it before.

Knowing he needed a few new books to expand his reading (and the need to round out a very expensive and heavily electronic Christmas list) we treked off to Chapters one night to see what was new and up and coming for boys his age.

cvr9781471121883_9781471121883_lgI was surprised to find that many of the books for boys have similar themes, adventure stories, with a young hero who has to fight some battle and yes – kill someone to win. Gone are the days when Judy Blume was risque and The Hardy Boys were the norm. I was a little torn at suggesting titles for Matthew as I really didn’t feel like he needed any more battle and killing stories (I think balance and variety are important). But I’ve also noticed that many of these books are also falling along the lines of entering different realms or worlds, psychic or intuitive abilities, and a female hero right along side the young male one. I guess you take some good with the bad.

We did discover some great titles that night that Matthew expressed interest in. The Seven Wonders (by Peter Lerangis one of the authors of the popular series The 39 Clues) – a young boy with a genetic trait that makes him too strong too fast and must save the world, The Unwanteds – described as The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter, Five Kingdoms and the The Accidental Hero to name a few. All are series which Matthew could get into (heck I could get into, I’ve always enjoyed young adult books and have made it a habit to read what Matthew’s reading. I think it’s important to know what he is reading and also a great connection point to chat about the stories and share views) and have a lots of books to read for awhile.

1524711_10152662231199735_2708198168790000681_nI also recently discovered a blog post by Jackie at Happy Hooligans sharing her top 40 list for boys 8-16, which I felt was perfect timing. Though I do not agree with all her picks (some we have read already, some are not that great in my opinion) there are a lot of good ones and provided more options to perhaps expand Matthew’s reading reperatoire – you know show him that there is more than just battles, blood and killing in books.

I also know that books are personal and a book that I love may not be one that someone else does. I remember one time my best friend highly recommended this book to me, which I attempted to read 3 times, but just couldn’t get into it, so I gave up. We had similar interests but not in this case. And there are so many good books out there that I am totally ok with not finishing a book just because someone said it was good. (The same thing happened to me with The Poisonwood Bible and the Lord Of The Rings, just couldn’t get through them).

Rangers-Apprentice-1-198x300Not necessarily new this year, but other titles that I love (Matthew enjoys) and think are great for this age group are books by Eric Wilson, a Canadian author. He writes mystery books set in different parts of Canada, such as The Green Gables Detectives; featuring a brother and sister team who are always in the ‘right’ place and end up solving the crime. It’s a great and interesting way for youth to learn about Canada and some of its beautiful landmarks and places.

Always popular for 9-12 year olds is also Artemis Fowl, 12 year old billionaire genius who gets caught up in the Fairy World and The Ranger’s Apprentice – which we all enjoyed, Mum, Dad and Matthew, about a young boy who becomes an apprentice ranger, guardian and defender of the kingdom.

I always say you can never go wrong with a book and it’s just a matter of finding a theme that interests you to instill your love of reading. There are tons of books out there with a variety of themes to choose from. Check out some of these titles and some of the one’s on the Happy Hooligans list as well. I’m sure you’ll find something that’ll fit your young reader and perhaps make a great stocking stuffer.

What are some book titles that you’ve discovered that are great for boys of this age?