posted in: Travel | 1
Rolling green hills

Way back in 1998 Peter Jackson, having decided to film Tolkien’s epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, was touring New Zealand, looking for suitable settings for the films’ action. The book’s opening scenes are set in the village of Hobbiton, major town of the Shire in which live hobbits. It’s an idyllic place, a green, fertile land with rolling hills and green grass.

Jackson needed gentle hills surrounding a small lake and a large tree at the edge of a field. He found them at Russell Alexander’s farm near Matmata on New Zealand’s North Island. Alexander agreed to Jackson using the location for his film, provided the site was returned to its natural state after filming. With the help of the NZ army, a corner of the Alexander farm was turned into Hobbiton. Holes were dug and round doors made of plywood were hung. Paths were constructed and gardens were planted at every doorway a year before filming. Jackson wanted the set to be lush and colourful and authentic. He wanted it to look real.

(With my geek/writer hat on, Tolkien was a young officer amid the horrors of the mud and trenches of World War 1. He grew up in a land where industry was gradually destroying the green and verdant hills of his childhood. Hobbiton was a picture of what the hobbits stood to lose in the War of the Ring. The scenes in Hobbiton showed what they were fighting for, as well as providing an introduction to these small, nimble characters.)

The three movies were released and became an international hit. Tolkien’s books already had a cult following and as so often happens with cults, the Hobbiton film set attracted visitors. Alexander started conducting tours to the deconstructed set in 2002. There wasn’t much to see – doorless holes, the party tree and its field – and yet they came.

When Jackson decided to film The Hobbit he constructed what is now Hobbiton properly with permanent materials. It has its own vegetable garden, the watermill was built with the adjacent bridge which Frodo and Gandalf crossed in a cart in an early scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, and the Green Dragon pub was constructed as a fully-functioning ale house in 2012. Seven extra hobbit holes were added, making the total forty-four. That was done for the scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo rushes down the hill shouting, “I’m going on an adventure”.

So… our Ultimate coach pulled in at Hobbiton’s reception area. All the other visitors are taken to the site in smaller buses, designed for the narrow, twisting roads, but in keeping with our Ultimate status, we picked up our guide and carried on. When we arrived at Hobbiton we were taken to a marquee for a rather good buffet lunch before our guide returned to conduct us around the set.

The hobbits live underground in holes dug into the hillside. The higher up the hill you lived and the more windows your house boasted, the more important you were. And richer.

The higher-up houses are more elaborate. Note the chimneys in the hillside and the line of washing.

A more industrial part of town
This hobbit is rather better off. Note all the details like the barrow full of firewood
If you’ve seen the movie you’ve seen this view of Bilbo’s house, Bag End

This is the bench where Bilbo is sitting reading and smoking his pipe when Gandalf arrives at the beginning of The Hobbit. (Note the book and the pipe.) Bilbo wishes him a good morning.

‘Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat. “What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” ‘

The tree above Bag End is artificial. When Jackson filmed LOTR that tree was up there. In the years that followed it was destroyed in a storm. But since it had been there in LOTR, Jackson decided it had to be there for the Hobbit, which took place about sixty years earlier than The Fellowship of the Ring. That tree is completely artificial, with thousands of leaves manually stuck on.

Although it all looks real, the hobbit holes are nothing more than a shallow cave. All the internal filming was done on a studio set but the feel of the place is authentic.

Little details like the cake on the outside table make visitors feel as if the owner has just popped out for a minute.

This is the party field where Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday takes place.

This is the bridge across the Water next to the water mill. An early scene in the The Fellowship of the Ring depicts Gandalf and Frodo crossing this bridge in a cart.

This is the outside of the Green Dragon pub
And this is the inside, where we all enjoyed a drink at the end of the tour

The Green Dragon guest book signed by people like Peter Jackson, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and other important members of the production team. Oh – and John Keys.

I loved it all. It was so real. But as it happens, after the movie was shot the Hobbiton scenes were edited to enhance the colour to make it greener and add just a hint of a fantasy element to the footage. The soldiers who helped construct the original Hobbiton (the fake one) were rewarded for their efforts by being cast as orcs in the pivotal battle for Helm’s Deep in the second LOTR movie, The Two Towers.

Personally, as a Tolkien tragic, I’d love to see more of the LOTR sites made into tourist attractions. For example Edoras, the home of the Riders of Rohan and rather Viking in appearance. Jackson’s people took nine months to build the set – but nothing remains. This website (Lord of the Rings Filming Locations) is a directory of the locations used for the movies.

I’d hardly finished writing this blog when news came that there is to be a B & B at Hobbiton. Visitors will be able to stay in Bagshot row. Two of the current facades will be excavated to create real rooms for people to stay in. Here’s the story.

I have to say, though, the gift shop at Hobbiton was very disappointing. The T shirt I wanted to buy (it depicted Smaug) was only available in kid’s sizes and the models were nowhere near the quality of what I’d seen in the Weta Workshop gift shop in Auckland. What made it worse was I’d seen a brilliant Smaug T shirt in that gift shop – and I hadn’t bought it. It burns, precious, it burns.

And to finish, here’s a picture of the dragon Smaug taken in the Weta Workshop gift shop tarted up with a background created in Midjourney and tweaked in Photoshop.

Back on the coach, tired but happy, Linda hit the road to Rotorua. Join us next time, won’t you?

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.

  1. Laurie A. Green

    Looks like it was a pretty fascinating tour. I’d love to see some of the sets, but that will probably never happen because…time and distance. Sorry you missed out on the Smaug t-shirt! Maybe you can order by mail?

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