If you didn’t live under a rock in the early 2000s, you will have seen and experienced the big hype around the Lord of the Rings movies made by Peter Jackson. The are, of course, the adaptation of the even more famous books by JRR Tolkien of the same name. And if you haven’t read them yet, I strongly recommend that you do.
Most movie buffs will know that the films were shot in New Zealand. And since I am here on business for a couple of weeks, I thought I’d take the weekend and go and visit the most famous site of film’s shooting: the town of Hobbiton.
If you are familiar with the material you will know that Tolkien’s vision of the Shire and the town of Hobbiton are the embodyment of a glorified rural England: rolling, green hills dotted with sheep, laid back people with a strong sense of unity and family living a simple life off of the land. Driving here from Auckland gives you exactly that sense, even if we are on the other side of the globe from England.
Once I got off the highway, the streets became more and more narrow and windy. The landscape is rolling, ordered and dotted with sheep and cows. And everything around me speaks of rural farmland. Even the weather is British: a mixture of sunshine and rain.
And then, in the middle of nowhere, a sign, a parking lot and a lot of tourists waiting to get onto one of the green tour busses.
Once I had parked the car and made my way to the ticket office, I found that they are running tours almost every 10 minutes. Lucky for me, there was even space for me on one of them – in an hours’ time. Seeing that one tour consists of a full busload of people, at NZ$ 79,- a head, this is one major operation.
The bus took us across the road, through the locked gate and down a winding road to the movie set.
The set itself was built in nine months during 1998/1999 for the three months of filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was then torn down and left, before being rebuilt with more permanent material for the Hobbit film. This time it took almost two years to set up, but only a few days to film.
Once we arrived, we got out for a guided tour and a walkabout. The level of details is astonishing. The “village” – mostly built to 60% of original size, to make normal people appeal very large – has 44 Hobbit holes, including one for the baker, the cheese maker, the fishery, the woodcutter and the honeymaker. All with their trades clearly displayed in the way their homes are decorated.
The tree on top of Bag’s End is the only artificial tree on the grounds. Originally a real tree brought in from the South Island, this tree was replaced for a construct of metal and styrofoam for the Hobbit trilogy, as it needed to be slightly smaller than the one used in the Lord of the Rings films, as the film was supposed to have taken place 60 years earlier.
The tour ended in the Green Dragon, where everyone got a drink on the house and was able to relax for 15 minutes before being loaded back onto the bus for the way out.
The whole tour lasted about two hours.
Was it worth the kind of money? Yes. Even though I am not a big fan of the movies (I haven’t even seen the Hobbit trilogy yet), and prefer the books, the sheer attention to detail and the obvious love that went into designing and maintaining this beautiful piece of movie history is definately worth a visit. I am happy I took the two hour drive from Auckland and can cross this off of my bucket list.