Hobbiton Movie Set is a quite unique place. It was created for the needs of the Lord of the Rings movies but was later used in the Hobbit trilogy. It looks exactly like the movies and is a must-see place for every Tolkien fan. And we could not miss it!
How Hobbiton was built
The Shire from the movies was built on only 12 acres (less than 5 hectares) of land. This small part of over 500 hectares of Alexandra family farm, full of sheep and cows, turned out to be the perfect place to create a Tolkien Middle-Earth.
When Peter Jackson was looking for a place to shoot the Lord of the Rings in 1998, he saw a huge pine growing on the shore of the lake through the helicopter windows. Perfectly resembled the image of Party Tree from the books. There were only sheep flocks around the lush green fields. The idyllic landscape of gently undulating terrain was not disturbed by a single building, road or high voltage lines. He saw Hobbiton in that particular place.
Work on the movie set was launched in 1999. It began with the construction of an 8-kilometer road connecting the future Hobbiton to the nearest highway. This task supported by the army of New Zealand, providing all necessary heavy construction machinery. It was only after that the main work had begun.
37 hobbit-holes were created for the Lord of the Rings movie. Work was fast, as most burrows were built into existing natural hills. Also, the material used didn’t require too much processing. Fake houses were made from unprocessed wood, plywood, and polystyrene, and have been painted to look as if they were used for many years. After 3 months of shooting, a part of the plan was dismantled, and the remaining 17 Hobbit-holes were switched to house the Alexander family sheep.
The new face of Shire
In 2011, for the Hobbit trilogy, the entire Shire was re-created. 44 unique burrows in different sizes – from 60% to 90% of the size of normal homes were created. Everything was meant to optically fit the races – hobbits were usually shot next to larger ones, and Gandalf at smallest to make him look much larger than Hobbiton residents.
In addition, the mill and bridge were built on the set, and in 2012 the Green Dragon Inn. This time, more durable materials were used, and professional gardeners were employed to create and maintain gardens. What’s more, several people were hired especially… to walk the paths across the Shire so they would look frequently used 😉
Most of the work was put into the creation of an old oak growing in Bag End. Originally, there was no tree growing in this area, so when planning to shoot the Lord of the Rings, the crew was looking for the right oak in the area. And it was found near Matamata. Weighing 26 tons oak was dug and transported in parts to the shooting set. After re-assembling it, Peter Jackson stated that the tree had not enough leaves. So the crew manually installed additional artificial leaves on each branch.
Over time, the tree died. So when preparing for the Hobbit started, a completely artificial tree was built. The new oak, the perfect replica of the previous one, is a steel frame, polyurethane foam and liquid silicone, and 376,000 hand-painted fiberglass leaves imported from Taiwan. As a curiosity, it is worth adding that Peter Jackson did not like the color of the artificial leaves, so he hired interns to repaint them. All that work for a 20-second sequence in the movie itself…
Movie Set Tour
We learned all about this during the Hobbiton Movie Set tour, as part of a guided hike. Every day hundreds (or even thousands) of tourists, walk the paths of Shire, listening to stories about movies and trivia about the set.
The first commercial tours began in 2002. For a long time, the place was not really resembling a real Hobbit village. A more accurate description would be “sheep village”. You can see what we mean by looking at these old pictures. The Lord of the Rings film set was 17 holes – mostly inhabited by Alexander family sheep. But it didn’t stop Tolkien’s fans from visiting Hobbiton.
After making the movies about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a decision not to disassemble the plan was made. It has been made open for tourists in the exact same condition as in the movies. In addition, a group of maintainers was hired (mainly gardeners) who constantly care about the look of this place. So everyone can feel just as if they moved to the world from the movies. For many travelers from all over the world, this is a must-see place in New Zealand. Which might be surprising considering that about 30% of them admit that they have never read any of Tolkien’s books nor seen Peter Jackson’s films.
The tour starts at the “Shire’s Rest” Center. Tourists are divided into groups, each boarding a separate bus, which departs at the appointed time to Hobbiton. Already during this short (about 20 minutes) ride, the guide tells the first interesting stories. The whole tour – with a bus trip and visit to a souvenir shop – takes about 3 hours.
The tour around Hobbiton has one fixed route. It runs close to almost all 44 burrows, between gardens, to the most famous one – Bag End. Later on to the square under the Party Tree, next to the mill and finally for a little longer break at the Green Dragon Inn.
Everyone can see that the burrows are actually of different sizes, and take a look inside some of them. You can look at all these details – big and small, but significant. In the gardens, you can find real fruit, vegetables, and flowers, and the only artificial plants in the whole shire are the oak tree over Bag End and three big pumpkins that can be seen in the movies.
The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn, where each of the visitors is served one of four beverages – apple cider, soft ginger ale, and two traditional ale. None of them is available in stores or bars, as they are prepared only for Hobbiton needs. With a clay mug, full of tasty drink, you can sit in a comfortable chair by the fireplace or stand at the table-barrel in the beer garden. You can also sit in the inn and order a piece of cake or something for a bigger appetite, but it’s for an extra fee.
When the whole group will take their rest, eat and/or drink, you will have to take a walk to the parking lot where the return bus to the Shire’s Rest Center will be waiting.
- When going to Hobbiton, you can not forget about 3 things – camera, water, and sunscreen. A camera is quite obvious. The trip takes about 3 hours, including about 1.5 – 2 hours of walking the Shire paths. There are not too many places to hide in the shade. So it’s better to bring a lot of water, a hat, and a sunscreen.
- Hobbiton is a very popular tourist attraction. The trips here depart from Shire’s Rest Center, Matamata, Hamilton, Rotorua and even Auckland.
- The standard Hobbiton tour is 79 NZD (55 USD). This is the price of a trip from the “Shire’s Rest Center” and Matamata. In the case of other cities, the cost will be higher, because of the distance – for example, from Rotorua it costs 114 NZD (79 USD). It’s advised to book early. However, we can say that in the high season (mid-January) we had no problem buying a tour for a given day and we could even choose the time we wanted to go.
- For those who are willing – there is a possibility to buy a private guided tour. The price of such fun is 750 NZD (520 USD) for a group of up to 4 people, and for each extra person, you will need to pay 79 NZD more. The tour begins with a visit to the picturesque Alexander farm – 1250 acres and later follows to Hobbiton. In addition, there is the opportunity to have a lunch with a prior reservation. Also for the willing – there are tours at dusk with a traditional feast.
- All information can be found at www.hobbitontours.com
- The Green Dragon Inn is only available to guests of Hobbiton. You cannot simply order a local beer without going on a tour. You can rent the Inn for private parties, so if you’re looking for something like this, it is best to contact the owners.