15 January 2015

Hobbiton, the visitor gem of Middle Earth aka New Zealand

The Lord of the Ring movies have a lot to answer for. Sure, it's brought the stunning New Zealand scenery to the world, spawned remote farmyard bonfires where hollywood A-Listers gather to toast hotdogs (true story that, I'm still waiting for my invite) and brought millions of dollars into the New Zealand economy.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
Samwise's Home
  Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

It's also meant that Kiwis have spent years being teased about having hairy feet, jokes involving creepy little dudes who obsess about rings and the threats of Orc-ish behavior at parties (ok, I made that last one up). But let me tell you know, it's not true, and I have the photos to prove it!

 Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

On a slightly less irate note, one of my New Zealand wishes (A family Christmas / A day at the beach / Visiting Hobbiton / Cuddling my new nephew) came through thanks to my Dad volunteering to pop over to Matamata's answer to DisneyWorld - the Hobbiton Movie set. And yes, I realise I was perpetuating the hairy footed stereotype, but my fluttering tourist heart couldn't bear the thought of missing out on one of New Zealand's newest attractions - not to mention exploring the Lord of the Rings & Hobbit connections - stories I've loved since I was a kid.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
My Sister & Dad (Dad duly disguised as a tourist with a London cap...)

After navigating the back roads 15 minutes out of Matamata, you grab your ticket (prebooking at Christmas and New Years is absolutely essential - I booked our tickets almost as soon as I'd booked my flights!) and hop on a short coach ride through the working sheep and cattle farm.

After a cheeky spiel by the bus driver, the guide for the tour disembarked our group (of around 40 people) and took us around the winding site pathways. It's a super busy but efficient operation - think smaller scale Disney world - and there is SO much to see. Perfect replicas of 30+ character filled hobbit home facades dot the curving landscape, smoke curls from the chimneys and the vegetable gardens heave with real fruit, vegetables and flowers.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

The set was rebuilt in 2011 for the feature films "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again". It is now a permanent attraction complete with hobbit holes, gardens, bridge, Mill and The Green Dragon™ Inn.

We were simply amazed by the technical trickery; think wood chip, paint and yoghurt moss on the 'weathered' fences, beautifully constructed props laid in front of the hobbit holes according to the trade of the 'inhabiting' family and 3D house facades carved into the gently curving hill mounds.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
 Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
The views were wonderful, our guide was brimming with cheer and for a Lord of the Rings fan like myself, the experience was brilliant. There was a real range of nationalities, including a smattering of Kiwis checking out the tourist sensation for themselves.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

With boundless photo opportunities (there are a couple of stops the guides specifically offer to take your photo in and around the fabulous doorways) make sure you come with a fully charged camera (and selfie stick if that's how you roll - just know we can't be friends ok?) and a lot of patience for dealing with the other tourists in your group. The hobbit homes all vary in scale - from fullsize to hobbit size to allow for the many perspective tricks needed for filming.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Then, then you reach the crest of the hill, and the ultimate highlight - Bag End, Bilbo and Frodo's home.

The oak tree overlooking Bag End was cut down and brought in from near Matamata. Each branch was numbered and chopped, then transported and bolted together on top of Bag End (weighing 26 tonne). Artificial leaves were imported from Taiwan and individually wired onto the dead tree. 

Our guide also told us that Peter Jackson not being satisfied with the colour of the leaves had them repainted - from gantries. He also employed someone to walk to the washing lines every morning to create dewy trails in the grass. What a crazy legend.


Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

It. Was. So. Cool. My preciousssssssss

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
The party field all dressed for celebration.
Originally constructed to only last a few weeks for filming (the New Zealand Department for Conservations are super conservative) when the neighbours started asking for tours, the owners began taking people around the mostly taken down site and came to the realization that they could be sitting on a tourist goldmine. When the hobbit homes went back up for filming the Hobbit movies, the Alexanders agreed on condition that the sets were constructed to last for 50 years. Simply genius.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
 
"When tourists come here they don’t quite know what to expect," says Russell Alexander, the farm owner. "They have no idea how big it is, and the detail - I suppose for want of a better word - it actually blows them away, what’s involved in making a major movie."


"You can’t help but be proud of this place … and maintaining it there’s obviously a huge sense of responsibility. But you also have to have huge passion. If you haven’t got passion it doesn’t work to keep this place and keep the business."
 
Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
 
The Alexander family farm was scouted serendipitously by Peter Jackson and locations scouts searching by helicopter for a gently undulating countryside closely resembled that of the 'Shire’ in the popular classics by J.R.R Tolkien. Can you image getting that knock on the door? Rumour also has it that the owner was going to say no as he hadn't heard of the Lord of the Rings books, but his wife (who had) nudged him rather sharply.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Nearing the end of our tour, and the rolling in of storm clouds we made for the Green Dragon tavern - originally just a facade, the owners have developed it into a real working pub where you're shouted a complimentary drink by your guide.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
 
Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand
Cue the cheesiest photo I've ever taken in the history of blogging, but possibly the most satisfying, round doorways and all.
Long story short, Hobbiton is awesome, a LOTR tourist's dream.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

How cool is it? I'll let my companions <note the LOTR reference right there> demonstrate how much they enjoyed. It's a little on the pricey side as tourist experiences ever are, but definitely brilliant for what it is.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

Just be careful, they seem to like to farming tourists in Maramata ;)

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton, Middle Earth aka Matamata, New Zealand

36 comments :

  1. That is SO AWESOME! The detail is really impressive, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. How awesome would it be to have a party there? So fun.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! Just like the farm owner said, I didn't expect it to be so BIG! This is all so pretty. It just looks like you really went to the Shire! I love your pictures.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow...the Alexanders have such a beautiful place! No wonder they wanted to use it for the movies! I think I told you I never even made it through the first LOTR movie, but I still wouldn't mind seeing this. It's just so pretty!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Happyeverafter_Bride15 January 2015 at 10:55

    Love this post! I agree the Hobbiton is awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is actually amazing! I am putting this on my bucket list - I need to see it! What a brilliant post x

    ReplyDelete
  6. I haven't seen the lord of the rings movies (I've tried, can't get into them) but loved the hobbit books when I was younger. After visiting the harry potter studios I want to go on every movie set tour ever made now! It's so cool seeing what goes into the making of a movie.

    ReplyDelete
  7. EMMMAAA!!! Oh to have a drink at The Green Dragon! I have to say that I am now INSANELY jealous. I need to go within the next 50 years and THAT IS A FACT!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is so great! It looks so quaint there, I must do this on my next visit home.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh my gosh! I so want to visit Hobbiton!!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I drove up to Auckland from chch before I came to London and went to the Hobbiton set as I thought I'd check it out - $75 was a bit much for me to pay so sadly I didnt get to do the tour - but I had a panini in the cafe and bought some cider from the shop haha. Good to know it is worth the price, Im sure I can make it there sometime in the next 50 years!

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is just amazing! I would love to visit here, I would want to just move into one of those charming hobbit homes!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This looks so cool. I'm admittedly not much of a Lord of the Rings fan but I'm fascinated by film sets and the amount of detail they put into them. That story about transporting and rebuilding the tree was incredible! One day when I finally make it to New Zealand I'll be checking Hobbiton out.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Cool! Looks so much better than I expected! Really colourful too! Another one to add to the NZ to-do list later this year!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow, Hobbiton looks amazing. So cute that wish I could live there! Will have to settle for a visit.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Even if it's a little expensive, I think it would definitely be worth it for the experience. Really great photos!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I wish I could live there too - and not feel guilty about second and third breakfasts - oh to be a hobbit!

    ReplyDelete
  17. It's a pretty cool country Carina (I am of course ridiculously biased) and well worth a trip, but it is just so far from so many things!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Definitely - try to go on a sunny day, they give you umbrellas but it wouldn't be the same.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ditto that - especially Bag End it looks epic!

    ReplyDelete
  20. It was so clever what they did and had to do to create this little world, hidden in the middle of the farm.

    ReplyDelete
  21. It is a bit steep - definitely Tourist prices!

    ReplyDelete
  22. It was busy, but so very pretty! We loved picking out all of the fun details.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Definitely!! Go on a sunny afternoon :) Christmas and New Years is super busy though, you might need to book in advance.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Isn't the detail that goes into things you'd never even consider just incredible?

    ReplyDelete
  25. It's much more fun than 9 hours stuck at the cinema!

    ReplyDelete
  26. It was all kinds of awesome - and recounting it just reminded me!

    ReplyDelete
  27. You can have weddings there too - but they are serious, serious money.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Yes, please - I'm about the size of a hobbit, it'll work.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I bet! But how cool that would be! Though I would be scared that one of the guests would mess something up and then I'd have to pay for that on top of it all.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Haha this looks so cool! Might have to squeeze in a visit on my trip home :) Peter Jackson is such a legend - I love that little bit of detail about the dewy trails!

    ReplyDelete

So, what do you think? Comments are blogging mana; short, sweet, long, loquacious, deep and meaningful...