Hobbiton: New Zealand for LOTR fans

New Zealand is full of stirring landscapes, from the Remarkables mountain range to gorgeous Milford Sound. But it would be unthinkable to visit this beautiful country without seeing its most pastoral site – Hobbiton, the movie set of the hobbit village featured in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.

Since I stayed nearby overnight, I opted for an early morning tour, hoping to avoid big crowds. Many of Hobbiton’s visitors are day-trippers from Auckland, and I assumed the crowds would build later in the day. (They did – my tour had only five people, while the site was quite crowded when we left, just before noon.)

I didn’t know what to expect from the other fans. Of course I’ve watched the LOTR movies dozens of times, but I thought I might be touring with fans dressed as Legolas, and possibly communicating in Elvish. But when our driver took a poll, I was the only one who had read the books, and two passengers hadn’t even seen the movies. (Wait, there are people who haven’t seen the LOTR movies??)

As we drove to the site, we watched a couple of films about the making of the movies and the farm the set was built on. The set of Hobbiton had been torn down after the Lord of the Rings movies, but was rebuilt for the Hobbit trilogy, this time designed to last.

One of the reasons director Peter Jackson chose this property was the 120-year old radiata pine – it’s the tree Bilbo Baggins stands under when he speaks at his eleventy-first birthday in the Fellowship of the Ring. Our guide, Chris, told us the farmer hadn’t read the books and didn’t know who Peter Jackson was, but agreed to let him lease the land. Because the property is so huge, he farmed the rest of his land while Jackson and the film crew worked their movie magic in that section.

Speaking of the party scene, listen for a high-pitched scream when the dragon fireworks go off. That’s Billy Boyd, the actor who played Pippin. He wasn’t expecting the fireworks to actually detonate – he thought they’d be dubbed in later – and he screamed in terror when they did. Jackson loved his impromptu reaction and kept it in the movie.

Hobbiton is charming, built to look like a small English town. There were many sheep on the farm, but Jackson thought they looked too modern, so he hid them and instead imported Suffolk sheep to appear in the movie. The sheep earned their keep, eating the grass in the village to keep it short.

The books mentioned plum trees which Jackson, a stickler for detail, wanted to recreate. However, plum trees aren’t native to New Zealand, so the crew cultivated apple and pear trees, and a staffer spent hours affixing fake plums on the trees. Unfortunately, after all that work, the scene was cut.

The hobbit holes are charming, and the tour took us past over 40 of them, some with children’s toys, a weaving loom, or a table of fresh baking in the front. Of course, the highlights were Frodo’s house, Bag End (with a green door) and Sam’s house (with a yellow door). Chris told us duplicate doors for these houses were scaled to size, so the hobbits stood next to the taller doors to look small, while Gandalf stood next to shorter doors to accentuate his height.

The pond has its own story. Before the start of filming, Jackson created the pond in the village to add to its pastoral feeling. However, a group of frogs moved in almost immediately, and made so much noise they were drowning out the dialogue. So Jackson hired a diver to remove the frogs, returning them to the pond after filming was finished.

Hobbiton is popular for wedding photos, and a bride and groom were posing next to the Mill while we visited. (I’m pleased to report that they weren’t wearing hobbit ears or feet.) I just hope they’re as happy as Samwise Gamgee and Rosie Cotton.

We finished with refreshments at the Green Dragon. There was no second breakfast on offer, but I did enjoy a Girdley Fine Grain amber ale by the fireplace. As Merry and Pippin sang in The Return of the King:

“The only brew for the brave and true
Comes from the Green Dragon!”

It was a perfect way to end a visit to Middle Earth.

Where to stay

Eldonwood Bed and Breakfast: Set about a kilometer outside the nearby town of Matamata, Eldonwood is a cozy, comfortable B&B with lovely hosts. Breakfasts were delicious, filling, and completely homemade: eggs, potato hash browns, and granola with yogurt will fill you up nicely for a visit to Hobbiton. Hosts Fay and Willie are friendly and hospitable, welcoming visitors to chat or watch TV with them in the evenings.

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