The next port of call on our New Zealand cruise was Tauranga, where we had booked a tip to Hobbiton. Both my husband and myself are fans of The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, so this was a must – booked well in advance to ensure a place!
In 1998, Peter Jackson discovered the Alexander farm, set in rolling grassland, during an aerial search for a suitable film set for the Shire, a region of J.R.R,Tolkin’s fictional Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings. Constructing the film set was a mammoth task, using earth moving machinery to build a 1.5km road, then to make the facades of 39 hobbit holes, complete with gardens, hedges and fences; a mill, the Green Dragon pub, both thatched with local reeds; and a double arched bridge. Filming for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy commenced in 1999 and continued for 3 months. The set used untreated timber, plywood and polystyrene so was not very durable. The set was rebuilt in 2009 for the Hobbit trilogy, using permanent materials. The reconstruction took 2 years. After all this effort, filming only took 12 days! Today the set is maintained to keep the magic of the Shires alive, and to be a very lucrative tourist attraction. Tours of the 14 acre site began in 2002.
I was a bit concerned that such a popular attraction would mean crowds of people, spoiling the ambience of the place. I need not have worried, the organisation for visitors was very good. Coaches arrived at a large car park, which had a gift shop and a cafe, which acted as a holding area before visitors were bused to the film set, so numbers entering at one time were controlled.
Once there, we were escorted round in small groups, at a leisurely pace. The paths were narrow, and some steep, but it was manageable by all. We were told the significance of each area in the stories. A pond and trees had been created for a shot that lasted only a few seconds! There was the road Gandalf came down, there was the village green where a party was held. We were enthralled as each new vista evoked familiar stories. The part every-one wanted to see was Bilbo Baggin’s house, and although we could peep inside there wasn’t much to see, the interior of the house was built in a studio on Wellington. The paths, house facades and gardens were in immaculate condition. It really looked as if people lived and worked there, I expected to see a Hobbit round every corner!
The mill and Green Lion pub were buildings rather than facades. You could go into the pub and sample the local beer. As we were on an organised tour, we had our own refreshment area, an awning to shelter us from the sun, where we sat and had free snacks and beer.
An excellent excursion, recommended to all who love the books and films.