In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Anyone who watched the three Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies, all filmed entirely in New Zealand, has to have fallen in love with Hobbiton, the idyllic pastoral hobbit village in the Shire where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins lived.
If you’ve read the books or seen the movies, you also know that hobbits are short, about half the height of humans, and live in houses with characteristic large round doors built into the side of hillsides. Hobbiton as constructed for the movie had dozens of these houses spread out across a hillside of lush green grass amidst a scattering of large trees. A large pond was situated at the base of this village with a mill and a water wheel along with a hobbit pub and inn, The Green Dragon Inn.
The actual movie set for Hobbiton was constructed on a large farm several miles outside of Matamata, a small rural town a little more than an hour’s drive from where we live. Most of what follows is from what was presented on the guided tour we took of the movie site.
There was much secrecy involved with the making of the LOTR movies. The location of Hobbiton, a 1250 acre farm, was selected on an aerial search and kept secret. Everyone involved in the film had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to not reveal its location. A 3-mile no fly zone was even established over the spot.
For the Lord of the Rings movies, Hobbiton was constructed as a temporary set with thirty-nine hobbit-holes. After the movie was filmed, the set was to be removed and the farmland restored to its original condition. However as the set was being removed, a storm came up and delayed the removal for several months. During this time—the films had already been released—local people figured out the location of Hobbiton from scenes in the film, particularly ones that showed the Kaimai mountain range in the background, a distinctive mountain range that runs down the north end of the North Island. People began to come in fairly significant numbers to view the site.
Years later when the Hobbit series of films were to be made, Sir Peter Jackson, the director, decided to use the same location for Hobbiton. The farmer who owned the land agreed but this time with the stipulation that Hobbiton would be constructed in a more permanent manner and that after the films were completed formal tours would be given at the site.
And thus the Hobbiton Movie Set was established.
Hobbiton Movie Set is a large tourist operation. In fact, all LOTR things have been a big tourist draw for New Zealand. After driving through the rural New Zealand countryside, signs direct you down back roads to the ticketing facility and a large gift shop. Huge modern green tour buses come and go at frequent intervals carrying scores of visitors to the actual movie set a few miles away.
My initial fear was that this would be a tourist rip-off; the two-hour tour was expensive. But I was pleasantly surprised.
After a short bus ride, each tour group of about thirty people is then lead by foot by a knowledgeable guide. There is plenty of time to look at all the hobbit houses, ask questions and take photos.
The first glimpse of Hobbiton itself was a magical experience. For us, Rebecca, myself and some friends visiting from the United States, the weather was perfect—a warm day with a bright blue sky and a smattering of clouds. Coming around a corner, you suddenly see numerous tiny colorful hobbit houses each with small fenced yards built into the side of the hillside. Off in the distance, sheep graze on the lush farmland and farther away, the Kaimai mountain range is a blue smudge against the horizon. It feels as if you are truly suddenly transported to the magical realm of Middle Earth.
On closer view, what impresses you most is the intricate artistic detail given to each house. Each hobbit house has a distinctive character. All have a small gardens with glorious flowers in bloom in front of them. Some of the houses reveal their occupants trade by the items and implements surrounding them: carpenter, blacksmith, farmer.
Wheel barrels, carts of fruits and vegetables and tools rest in the front yards of the hobbit houses just as a hobbit might have left them. Hobbit clothing was drying in the light breeze on several hobbit clotheslines. The story is that Peter Jackson wanting to make things look as real as possible had several women walk back and forth on the paths each day leading to the clotheslines to give them a natural worn appearance.
After listening to the guide, you realize that much of what you see, despite being built with such painstaking accuracy and attention to detail was often only seen for a few mere seconds in the movie.
Thirteen thousand sheep graze on the Hobbiton location farm but at the time the Hobbit films were being made, the director felt that this particular variety of New Zealand sheep looked “too modern”. So instead, despite an obvious abundance of sheep in New Zealand, sheep that looked more in line with Hobbiton were shipped in from England.
Again, in Peter Jackson’s eye, four things were particularly needed for Hobbiton: a large spiral-shaped tree, a lake, a hill and an oak tree. The first three were present at the site and presented no problem. However, there was no oak tree, so an entire oak tree was taken apart in sections from another location, transported to Hobbiton and then reassembled like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with a steel trunk for support. Then fake leaves—thousands of them—were attached to the limbs. When Jackson saw the tree, he was pleased . . . but the leaf color wasn’t quite right and they all had to be repainted.
Multiple stories similar to these are related by the tour guides.
One of the highlights of the tour is seeing the actual hobbit house where Bilbo Baggins lived—well, at least in the movie. Unfortunately you can’t enter any of the houses, since they don’t actually have any interiors. All the interior scenes were filmed at the studio in Wellington.
After viewing all the hobbit houses and their surrounding gardens, the path leads down to a tranquil small lake with the hobbit mill with its slow turning water wheel. Crossing a small bridge you arrive at a larger building, the Green Dragon Inn, a location used in several of the films where hobbits would meet, eat and drink.
On close observation one part of the inn is actually foreshortened in size. This allowed the tall Gandalf the wizard in the film to stand alongside the actors playing hobbits and for Gandalf to appear much taller despite their actual relatively similar heights.
Actually for the films the interior of the Green Dragon Inn was again filmed on a set in Wellington, but an exact replica of the interior has been made here at Hobbiton. Here guests on the tours are offered their choice of beverage including beer and cider and food items such as hobbits might partake. You also have the option of dressing up in articles of hobbit clothing.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the tour which was professional and well-run. It was more than just seeing a movie set. It gave us a glimpse of the painstaking detail and artistic effort that went into making the films. But for all of us, it also inspired our own creative energies, and perhaps evoked at least a little longing to live in a place as simple, tranquil and beautiful as Hobbiton.