The weather, cold, wet, and windy, dampened some of our plans for hiking on the North Island, but the day we scheduled to visit the Hobbiton set near Matamata turned out to be sunny, with occasional strong gusts of wind. We arrived at the Shires Café and after a few minutes wait, boarded a bus to take us and about twenty others onto the Alexander’s ranch which Peter Jackson had picked out to build the Hobbiton set for his movies: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Hobbit movies.
To get all the equipment out to the area of the farm picked (a place with a lake, a large party tree, hills that resembled JRR Tolkien’s descriptions, and no evidence of modern society) a serviceable road had to be built. The New Zealand army was recruited for this task and once done, the set construction began.
The sets for the first movie were built mainly from plywood and Styrofoam and wouldn’t stand the test of time and so were mostly torn down after the filming was completed. For the Hobbit movies the construction was made to be more permanent. Bricks, wood beams, stone, and cement were used to build the Hobbiton that stands today. Great care was taken with all the details. Real pegs were used when nails painted to look like pegs would have sufficed. Real arcing branches, hewn into the visible beams for the tops of the Hobbit holes were used to increase the authenticity of the fronts of the holes. Each door was designed to be able to be opened so Hobbits could be seen going in and out or looking out from the doorways. Most of the Hobbit holes have very little interior space. There are 44 doorways and 48 chimneys but no fireplaces inside the mounds. Each day of shooting involved lighting and placing smoke pots inside the chimneys so each would be smoking for the camera.
A special item that Peter Jackson needed was an evergreen oak tree. There were none available in New Zealand of the size that he needed (all were deciduous) and he couldn’t get one from overseas, so he built one. The oak on top of Bag End Hill is fake. Each leaf on the tree was put on by university students on holiday. During the spring winds a lot of the leaves have been blown off, leaving the tree half bare. For any additional filming that may need to be done, new leaves will have to be made and put back on. Consequently, the leaves that are laying around Hobbiton that have come from the “oak” are available to take as souvenirs. Danny, our guide, said that each leaf probably cost the studio about ten dollars. (I don’t know if this is true or not.)
We had a great time walking around the Hobbit town, peering into windows, looking through doorways, squeezing into a Hobbit hole, and listening to which scenes were shot where, and how they arranged Gandalf’s arrival and the streets his wagon traversed. They were not connected, but shot at different locations around the set, but nevertheless, looked continuous in The Fellowship of the Ring. Both Cindy and I agreed, this was the best part of our trip to New Zealand and leaves us with a very positive impression of the time we spent here.