On the Alexander family farm in Buckland Road – Peter Jackson found the perfect movie location for the Shire. The film crew of Lord of the Rings built the farmer a nice gravel road into his sheep farm and erected a whole hobbit village out of plywood and styrofoam in the rolling hills of the Waikato country. Due to copyright, most of the movie set was dismantled after filming and only a few, quickly decaying plywood hobbit holes remained at the farm. Nethertheless an increasing number of Lord of the Rings fans knocked on the surprised farmer’s door and asked for a glimpse of the remnants of Hobbiton. Soon he realised that he had a formidable business opportunity at his hands and struck jackpot when Peter Jackson announced to film the Hobbit trilogy. As proud owner of the Shire he granted the film crew permission to film on his land again (I’m sure the charges were no bargain this second time) under the condition that Hobbiton is rebuilt using permanent materials this time. Considering that approximately 1-2 million visitors are willing to pay the $75 entrance fee each year I assume the farmer is keeping his original sheep farm as a mere hobby these days!
When we landed in New Zealand we had not been to keen on visiting a purpose built movie set for $75, because neither Warner Brothers Movie World nor the Universal Pictures studio tour in Hollywood had lived up to our expectations. But the people of Weta workshop did an amazing job creating a life size hobbit village with an incredible attention to every tiny little detail (“See that moss on the fence over there? That fence was only built one week before filming, so it had to be painted to look old and the moss is made out of paint and glue to create the illusion of an old hobbit fence”). Peter Jackson wanted everything to look 100% authentic without a single glitch for critics to complain about (imagine fake plums and leaves glued to apple trees). Nowadays several gardeners are taking care of Hobbiton full time, the veggie garden supplies the Green Dragon Inn and the hills are covered by 60-90% scale hobbit holes. If there would be real rooms behind those colourful doors we would have moved in on the spot and never moved out again!
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 thing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
When we finally stood in front of Bag End it looked … well just like in the movies 🙂 We half expected Bilbo himself to come out of the green door to smoke his pipe on the front porch. And again we were speechless by the attention to detail Peter Jackson and the team from Weta spent on the set: originally there was no tree on top of the hill that became Bag End. So for the Lord of the Rings movies they looked for a real size tree elsewhere in New Zealand, cut it into smaller pieces, transported everything to the movie set and re-assembled the tree on location with hundreds of thousands fake leaves glued to the branches. Of course when they filmed the Hobbit a few years later, the storyline precedes the Lord of the Rings by roughly 50 years in the books, so they needed the same tree to look 50 years younger (not that anybody other than Peter Jackson would have noticed). Because there was no way they could find an identical looking 50 year smaller tree on earth they build a completely new tree out of plaster and plastic with over half a million of fake leaves!!
After passing some more hobbit houses our next stop was the place of Bilbo’s 111th Birthday.
By now we were already quite thirsty and were looking forward to a nice cool South Farthing Ale at the Green Dragon! We could see the Inn on the other side of the lake, so we hijacked a beer cart and quickly drove past the mill and over the bridge 🙂
Who wouldn’t love to have a tavern like THIS around the corner to enjoy a cold pork pie with a nice cold beer after work?
When it was time to head back we just didn’t want to leave this lovely piece of Middle Earth, but the next tourist bus was already waiting …