Unexpected tourism boost for King Country pair

RUGGED BEAUTY: Warrick and Suzie Denize's farm is in footage chosen by Tourism NZ to promote The Hobbit overseas.
MIKE SCOTT/Fairfax NZ
RUGGED BEAUTY: Warrick and Suzie Denize's farm is in footage chosen by Tourism NZ to promote The Hobbit overseas.

The owners of a southern King Country farm which doubled as Trollshaw Forest in Sir Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are hoping to run tours of their farm.

About six minutes of the footage shot on the farm during a week in October, 2011, appears in the first of Sir Peter's Hobbit films.

And footage shot on the 690-hectare farm, notable for the 80-metre-tall limestone bluffs that run through its heart, was chosen by Tourism New Zealand to promote the film overseas.

Warrick and Suzie Denize are giving up day-to-day farming to run Hairy Feet Waitomo tours from next spring; Warrick's brother, Brendan, and Brendan's wife, Trudy, will continue to look after the livestock on the Denize family farm - about 3000 ewes, 800 hoggets, and 530 dairy grazers.

The farm was first owned by the brothers' grandparents, Norm and Lou, who bought it during World War II, and it was later run by their parents, Graeme and Kath, who still live there.

"It was an abandoned farm, nobody wanted it," Warrick said. "It was the only farm that my grandfather could afford and that was only because state advances said you won't need to pay anything on it for the first three years.

"But of course the war was ending and we were getting bulldozers and planes that were able to top dress so he was in the right place at the right time, really for development, and from there the farm has gone from strength to strength.

"My father has lived here all his life, was born here, he's now 70 and he loves it as much as we do and he just lives for it."

The farm is so spectacularly situated that the Denizes had been considering some form of tourism for a while and then The Hobbit's location manager came knocking, wanting to look around.

"We are hoping to start up a small tourism business and hopefully it will expand. Hopefully people will be able to book tours online and we'll take them on a minibus tour and show them where filming was," Mrs Denize said.

The tours, about 90 minutes to two hours long, depending on the group, will be a mixture of fun and fact delivered with genuine King Country pride.

During filming for The Hobbit, the Denizes got to rub shoulders with some of the actors and crew.

"We had lunch with a few guys, Sylvester McCoy as Radagast comes to mind. He creeped me out with all this . . . bird poop down the side of his face, but of course it's just makeup . . . all these people were very kind to us and talked to our sons, Peter and Matthew. To see behind the scenes was pretty cool," Mrs Denize said.

"One morning I got the boys up pretty early and went down to the makeup tent to see if we could watch their makeup being put on.

"Those guys are out of bed and on site by 4.30am because there's such a lot of stuff to put on. And the people who do it usually work with about three different people, so they got to know the people's skin and how long it would take, from false whiskers right down to tiny details.

"A lot of the props we were lucky enough to be shown. Beautiful things. The sword smiths who make these gorgeous weapons are pretty renowned in their own right. All that sort of thing was hidden away in a safe but we were lucky enough to get to see it."

Mrs Denize thought it would be hard for New Zealanders to fathom what drove Tolkien fans to travel across the world to see a plain paddock just because some filming had taken place there but said her farm was far from plain.

"For a lot of Europeans, it's a big deal. They might study Tolkien at school or university. In America, The Hobbit is the second most read book next to The Bible and I think in the world it's fourth, which tells you there's something there that makes people want to read these stories and lucky old Peter Jackson's made these films.

"Fans come and actually see a place that, in their mind's eye, might be slightly different but it's pretty good and, of course, New Zealand is worth coming to. There's a lot here and it's not very big and people are fairly friendly and there's yummy food.

"If tourists are not into Tolkien at all that's fine because actually it's a really pretty place to come [here], even in the rain.

"It's even more spectacular in the rain because every rock is glistening, all the moss is alive, and we can take them on a nice hour and a half journey through native New Zealand bush, and we're not too far away from the beaten track."

The Hobbit could end up doing the same for nearby Piopio that The Lord of the Rings did for Matamata due to its proximity to the Hobbiton film set. Piopio certainly boomed when The Hobbit's cast and crew were in town.

"We haven't got a lot of motels, so there was a bit of a problem where they were going to house 500 people - that's a lot of beds so our local business people put out flyers and said who would like to put up somebody? They got more than enough beds. Everybody wanted somebody from the film in their house."

Locals moved out into shearers quarters, woolsheds and beach houses or visited family and friends.

Mr Denize said the cast and crew couldn't understand why the townsfolk would move out of their houses for them.

"They just wanted to help out and be part of the whole thing."

The Denizes put it partly down to old-fashioned New Zealand values.

"It's sort of a bit like 'Let's make a film', 'Let's get stuck in', well, 'What do you need, what are we going to do, we'll do it'. It's something different and we all want to be a part of it. It was all good for the town, too, because all the little businesses, everybody, benefited."

McCoy, a former Doctor Who actor, was quick to praise Piopio when he was asked about The Hobbit and whether he would one day visit the Hobbiton set near Matamata.

"What film am I in? The Hobbit," he joked with fellow actors Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Paul McGann.

"You know why it's called Piopio? Because it's so little a car goes by and it goes pew, pew. Nice pub! One day I'll go to Hobbiton."

Waikato Times