‘It’s a dangerous business…going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’
Bilbo Baggins, Lord of the Rings
With a little luck, you will find yourself swept off to the north island of New Zealand, somewhere near Hamilton with a ticket to visit Hobbiton!
Hobbiton Movie Set Tours give you the chance to see the only set from the Lord of the Rings movies that hasn’t been demolished. They’re interesting, fun, and there’s some ale in it for you too!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HOBBITON
There’s so much hype surrounding the Lord of the Rings films and the recent release of the first Hobbit movie that a trip to New Zealand doesn’t feel complete without a stop off in one of the films’ locations. Throughout the country there are themed tours that take you to the exact spots where certain scenes were filmed, but the only set still standing is Hobbiton.
Hobbiton lies a little southeast of Hamilton in a small town called Matamata. When Peter Jackson was performing an aerial search for the perfect location of the Shire, he spotted the Alexander farm, with its rolling hills and a small, well-positioned lake. A good few months later, construction of the Shire began. It actually transpired that the farm’s lake was man-made and had been built by the farm owner for duck shooting. When the ducks kept flying away, the farmer thought it had been a waste of effort, but it’s doubtful he regrets his decision to build it now.
Hobbiton tours leave from the ‘Shire’s Rest Café’ on Buckland Road every 30 minutes between 9:30 and 3:30 and last roughly 2 hours. There’s a big car park but transfers can also be arranged from Matamata or Rotorua. Although the café isn’t designed with any scene from the movie in mind – as some people mistakenly expect – it makes for a great spot to grab some tasty, inexpensive brunch.
Our tour guide was Fred and he kept us thoroughly entertained throughout our visit, from the moment he told us he’d been hired as a tour guide after interviewing for what he thought was a farm work position!
HOW THE ALEXANDER FARM CAME TO BE HOBBITON
Fred explained that it had taken 8 months for the production company to draw up a contract with the farm owners. One of the stipulations had been that the set be dismantled after filming had ceased. It actually rained so much after the third Lord of the Rings movie finished production that this was delayed and, instead, an agreement came about to allow public tours of the set.
Although visitors are permitted to dress up as characters from the films (and this happens on quite a regular basis!) the contract states that they are not allowed to re-enact scenes from the movie. Smoking is also not permitted, and the staff have had to have a quiet word with more than one pipe-smoking Gandalf wannabe.
During filming, 3 vets were brought over from the States to look after 20 different species of animals. Peter Jackson’s attention to detail was so marked that he considered the 13,000 resident sheep to look ‘too modern’. They were moved out of shot and in their place 39 stunt sheep of a more ‘old-fashioned-looking’ breed were imported from the UK!
The only animal we got to meet was Pickles the rescued cat, with which it was reported Peter Jackson had a love/hate relationship because he kept getting in the way. Today, he follows tour groups as they look around.
Fred told us that there were currently talks about listing each of the hobbit holes as an official property and putting them on the market. While there isn’t much behind each door – they look like empty sheds on the inside – it’s possible to enter all of the hobbit holes and there’s no doubt there are some fanatics out there who would cough up a lot of money to own one.
WHO VISITS HOBBITON
This year, in January and February alone, 50,000 tourists passed through Hobbiton. Of these, about 35% had never even seen the films but said that they had come with a fan or to make family and friends ‘extremely jealous’.
You don’t have to have seen the movies to enjoy the tour, but if you can picture where specific scenes were shot it definitely adds to the excitement.
Some very dedicated fans occasionally give the tour guides a hard time, quizzing them about the finer details of the movies and the books, and trying to catch them out. Fred told us that there had even been one woman who had believed that hobbits actually existed and was surprised not to find them living in Hobbiton. He said she cried when she learned they weren’t real. So, let that be a warning to those of you with an overactive imagination…
TOP 10 TRICKS OF THE HOBBITON TRADE
The tour begins with a stroll down Gandalf Cutting, which is actually a very narrow path. They used a pony to make the path and Gandalf seem bigger. There are also doors of different sizes so that Gandalf could be filmed outside smaller doors and the hobbits outside bigger ones, to make them appear to be hugely different in height.
2. FRESH PRODUCE
Five full-time gardeners worked on set producing fruit and vegetables that are still sold in the Shire’s Rest Café.
3. STICKY PLUMS
The book describes the Shire as having a pear tree, an apple tree and a plum tree. Since no plum tree had been present on the farm, Peter Jackson had considered planting one, but they’re larger in size and this wouldn’t have looked to scale. Instead, he planted another pear tree, stripped it and had plums attached individually. During filming, shots were frequently spoiled by plums falling to the ground.
4. FROG SILENCING
Shots for Lord of the Rings were also interrupted due to noisy frogs in the pond. When filming for the Hobbit was about to commence, these frogs were all relocated.
The tree behind Bag End is not real. Each of the 200,000 leaves had to be constructed and individually attached. Once assembled, Peter Jackson decided that the shade of the leaves was not quite right and employed someone to work for 15 hours a day for 10 days painting each and every one of them.
6. ATTENTION TO DETAIL
The sunset shot had to be done at sunrise because of the direction the hobbit holes face. The whole scene was shot in reverse and cast members had to be up at 2:30 am. When a distant barn was spotted in the shot, they had to redo the entire scene.
7. MAN POWER
One man was employed to run between each of the residences lighting bee’s wax so that smoke was emitted from each of the chimneys.
8. WOMAN POWER
A lady was employed to walk repeatedly along specific routes and hang and take down washing so that the footpaths looked naturally worn.
9. MAKE UP
The moss around the hobbit holes is made from a mixture of paint, woodchip, glue and yoghurt.
10. BREW YOUR OWN
For the filming of Bilbo’s 111th birthday party, the cast members were supplied with real alcohol. However, some fell ill and one or two collapsed on camera, so they created a new beer called SobeRing Thought, brewed exclusively for the crew. It’s only 1% alcohol and you can buy some in the gift shop!
FANCY A PINT?
The Green Dragon Inn was only opened in December 2012 and is an exact reproduction of the one that featured in the Lord of the Rings movies.
The tour now ends with a stop off in the pub where you receive an old-fashioned tumbler of ale, cider or non-alcoholic ginger beer. If you’ve arrived in winter, there’s a roaring fire to warm up by too – the perfect end to a fascinating afternoon.
GETTING TO MATAMATA
If you have a car, head for the Shire’s Rest Cafe on Buckland Road. Intercity Buses provide services to Matamata from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets; may require bus transfer with wait): Hamilton (1 hour); Rotorua (1 hour); Taupo (3 hours +); Auckland (3 hours +) and Wellington (9 hours +). They also run day tour with their Great Sights service:
I was a guest of Hobbiton Movie Set Tours. They did not request that I write a favourable review and all of the opinions expressed here are my own.