Not your average movie set
BY CHRIS JOHNSON
I must confess. I saw all three Lord of the Rings movies but still haven’t seen one of the subsequent Hobbit trilogy of films.
That didn’t stop me from suggesting to my teenage daughter that we check out, while on a quick holiday to New Zealand’s North Island this summer, one of the locations for filming both epic trilogies.
Hobbiton doesn’t have a post code all of its own – it is Middle-earth, after all – but it is a village nonetheless, and a fascinating one at that.
No people live in the village, yet tourists flock to it in order to glimpse where Hobbits once traversed and mingled.
They actually get much more than a glimpse of this reconstructed part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire.
Visitors to Hobbiton get transported to another time and place that is at once both magical and real.
Transported is the right word because inspecting Hobbiton can only be done by official tour, with coaches collecting tourists from nearby Matamata and offloading them inside the gates of the picturesque Alexander Farm where a two-hour guided walk begins.
Hobbiton of course is the remains of a large, well-kept movie set, constructed at great expense on a farmland ridge offering breathtaking views.
Peter Jackson “discovered” the site during an aerial search for a suitable rural location for The Lord of the Rings movies he was about to produce and direct.
Work began on transforming the land in 1999, with the New Zealand Army shaping a 1.5 kilometre road from the nearest highway to the site.
Facades for 37 Hobbit holes were built, gardens were created, a bridge, pub and mill erected, and a 26-tonne oak tree fabricated above what would become Bag End.
After The Lord of the Rings, the set was rebuilt permanently in 2010 (this time with 44 Hobbit holes) for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which began filming in 2011.
And so it remains today.
Due to copyright reasons, movie sets are almost always torn down once filming has completed. But the Alexander family negotiated to keep the Hobbiton village on their property as a permanent tourist attraction.
The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Peter Jackson and all things to do with Middle-earth are HUGE in New Zealand. It is only fitting that this monument to it all is kept alive, just a three-hour drive south of Auckland.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much. I was delightfully surprised.
The charm of Hobbiton is refreshing. Guides are friendly and informative and there is plenty of opportunity for pics at the doors of colourful Hobbit holes – and even inside one of them.
It is old world and out of this world – a very unique attraction.
Nothing was more refreshing though than at the end of the walking tour to sit down inside the Green Dragon Inn (which actually was torn down after filming The Hobbit trilogy and subsequently reconstructed to spec) to have a complimentary ale or cider from the licensed on-site brewery.
You don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy Hobbiton. Neither do you need to be a Tolkien disciple. I certainly wasn’t. But I have since bought The Hobbit trilogy on DVD as a memento for having walked where Hobbits walked and having roamed along the paths of Middle-earth.
Published: 13 Feb 2018