Particularly for me New Zealand was special because it is Middle Earth. I’ve been aware and in love with Tolkien’s world since I was a little girl and I’ve listened to the Hobbit and watched the original cartoon LOTR. When the first set of films came out I was equally in love with them. I watched the films and the behind the scenes footage over and over again and it became a dream to be able to visit the country that made the films so special.
So when we booked to come out here my number one priority (secretly) was to visit the only remaining film set, Hobbiton.
The set, now a major tourist attraction, is set deep into the Waitako countryside. With it’s very green rolling hills you can understand why Peter Jackson was adamant on it being the location for The Shire, as it perfectly resembles the English countryside. Maybe even better.
And, similarly to England, we began our day in the rain. Again. We met our driver to Matamata, Randol. He was a wizard. He told us. Randol, or Grandelf as he likes to be known as, was an excellently eccentric guide who talked throughout the hour long drive to the set. Some of it was interesting, such as pointing out the other filming locations, the Kaimai range and the house where Peter Jackson rented as a base for editing. But there was also a fair share of crazy drivel, like the fact that there are wild hobbits living in the woods who didn’t have front doors and couldn’t pronounce their ‘Rs’ so are called wobbits.
Nonetheless we arrived at the set with the sun shining and unharmed. You take a guided tour through hobbiton. Our tour guide was called David.
You are greeted by the first set of hobbit holes and the vegetable garden in which Bilbo runs through with his contract in the first of the Hobbit films. You look up towards the top of the hill and there is a big oak tree and all around washing lines and small houses built into the hill. David informed us that this ‘view’ was built for a six second panning shot for the first film. All six films used false perspective to show the vast difference between the heights of the hobbits and humans. Therefore, some hobbit holes are very small and some normal sized.
We wandered leisurely up the hill towards the top where Bag End stood. It is outstanding how much detail has been put into each hole, most of which is never seen in the film. The books mention the orchard full of plum trees. However, plum trees are too big and not as pretty as apple and pear trees. So, Peter Jackson ordered apple and pear trees to be planted and then all the fruit to be replaced by plastic plums and individual plum leaves. This was meticulously carried out all for a scene that never made it to the final films.
Bag End is the most recognisable of the hobbit holes. The famous tree above it, we were told, is a fake. The leaves were sprayed a brighter shade of green so that the eye is drawn to Bag End in shots.
We got to play with a few hobbit props and then headed over to the Green Dragon for our complimentary drink. Unfortunately, work is being done on the lake and the water mill so we weren’t able to see this part of the set. But the bridge that Gandelf and Frodo cross in the wagon in the first film is still standing and we crossed this to get into the pub.
The tour is well worth a visit, especially for die hard fans but also to appreciate the sheer amount of work that went into the set designs and the films themselves. Even if you don’t like the books or fantasy you can still appreciate the hard work that made the films so standout. The trip from Rotorua is a bonus, particularly if you get a driver like Randol.
A true highlight for us both, and thanks for the beautiful weather!