There are tons of reasons to visit New Zealand, but the one I was most excited about was seeing some of the Lord of the Rings filming locations. Matamata, New Zealand is home to the Hobbiton film set, and it’s the most impressive of the filming sites since it most closely resembles what was shown in the movies. Since I’ve received lots of requests for the pictures from Hobbiton and because I fangirled pretty hard on my visit there, I’m planning several posts to cover various aspects of my visit there in late December, so stayed tuned in the next few days.
What was most interesting to me is nothing from the films would exist there at all if things had gone to plan. The Hobbiton site is on a private farm, owned by the Alexander family. The film crew scouted the location back in the late 1990s via helicopter and saw the large oak tree on the premises, thinking it would make a perfect fit for the Bilbo’s Party Tree. They approached the family, who agreed to allow the filming to proceed, not really having any idea what the whole thing was about. One condition of the agreement was the entire Hobbiton set would have to be removed after filming was complete, so the Alexander farm would return to its normal sheep-and-cow-occupied state. The New Zealand Army built the road into the site, and construction began on the Shire.
The construction was completed in a handful of months as all of the materials used were temporary: cardboard, styrofoam, and other materials skilfully disguised to look old and lived-in. Filming was completed for the original trilogy, and most of the set was destroyed, allowing the Alexander family to resume their lives a little richer and a lot more famous.
That would have been the end of it had it not been for Warner Brothers’ decision to make The Hobbit. Realising that they wanted to reuse any Lord of the Rings locations that make an appearance in The Hobbit, the film crew again reached out to the Alexander family who agreed but specified a couple conditions: 1) all the materials used had to be permanent, 2) the location could be opened to fans after filming was complete so people could visit Hobbiton themselves. It turns out the family had received numerous visit requests in the years between Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and wanted to share their farm with fans.
Construction began on the new/old Hobbiton – remember, the events of The Hobbit take place over six decades before the events of Lord of the Rings – and took two years to complete. After filming was complete, the family was allowed to open the site to visitors, and what an experience it is! Tomorrow I will go into more detail about the many intricacies that went into bringing Tolkien’s world to life.
Title quote: J. R. R. Tolkien as Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring