One Sunday afternoon in September 1998, a New Line Cinema film executive knocked on the door of a farmhouse in Matamata, 175 kilometers from Auckland.
The owner, Ian Alexander Sr., got up from his chair in front of the TV reluctantly and answered the door. The gentleman from Hollywood told him he wanted to discuss the possibility of using the Alexander family’s cattle and sheep farm for a movie.
Mr. Alexander replied, “Can you come back later, mate? I’m too busy watching rugby.”
Henry Horne, sales manager of Hobbiton Movie Set, is laughing when he tells us this story. “That was a great way to start a relationship, eh?”
Well, it was. Everyone knows better than to get between a Kiwi and a rugby match (as it happens, it was Waikato vs. Auckland for the national championship). Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson — born in New Zealand capital Wellington — certainly knew this as he scouted locations for JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Until he signed a confidentiality clause, Alexander didn’t know what movie they were going to shoot on his farm — or that the filmmakers had a NZ$350 million budget and it would be one of the biggest movies in Hollywood history. He had no idea who Tolkien was — much less Peter Jackson.
And so the books loved by generations of readers became film legend, shot entirely in New Zealand’s North and South Islands, from up in Waikato and down to Queenstown. And at one time there were nine units filming simultaneously in the rugged landscapes, on this farm and in sound studios in Wellington.
Here in Matamata, one of the richest agricultural and pastoral regions of the country, lies the heart of Middle Earth: the Shire, home of the Hobbits.
“For the time will soon come when Hobbits will shape the fortunes of all,” says Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring. This has certainly been the case for the 250-acre farm of the Alexander family.
While Peter Jackson and his cinematographers may have fallen in love with the idyllic, rolling terrain of the farm, Hollywood still came with its idiosyncrasies. Even though the farm had 12,000 sheep, not a single one was used. Instead, they brought their own sheep and 34 other species of animals.
“Not one of ours was apparently good enough for the camera, they just didn’t have the right look,” says Henry.
The terrain, however, was perfect for the Shire and the Hobbit Holes or underground homes found on hillsides. At Hobbiton Movie Set, which was rebuilt in 2009 for the filming of The Hobbit trilogy, Hobbit architecture (round doors and windows with grass roofs) makes use of eye trickery.
The houses are scaled differently, from 35 to 100 percent, depending on how small they wanted the Hobbits to appear or how big they wanted the wizard Gandalf to tower over them.
Even if you are not a hardcore Tolkien fan and the first time you heard of the Hobbits was through the movies, there is a moment of amazement when you see a Hobbit house for the first time — or a few of the 40-plus houses sitting side by side as you are standing on top of a hill and looking down on the winding dirtroads. (Would you believe that 40 percent of those who visit Hobbiton haven’t read any of the books or seen the movies?) You feel like you are part of the movies which, more than a decade ago, had the most anticipated premieres around the world.
Indeed, you are in a movie set, a living one that is maintained all year round — the grass is real, it grows, it needs to be cut and in certain foot paths need to be replaced every two to four weeks especially during high tourist season (New Zealand’s summer months, December to April); the houses or at least their facades are real (they are empty and shallow inside, all interior shots were filmed in Wellington) and need repainting once in a while.
But there is a moment when for me reality becomes literally small. We are walking on a narrow path and Henry tells us this is where Gandalf rides in with his cart and sets off the first of his fireworks for the children when he arrives at the Shire.
It certainly looked bigger in the movie.
Before that scene, Frodo Baggins had been reading under a tree when he hears the wizard singing in the distance, “Down from the door where it began, now far ahead the road has gone…”
Frodo runs through the Shire and comes to a stop on top of a hill and after chiding Gandalf that he’s late, he jumps into the wizard’s arms and says, “It’s wonderful to see you, Gandalf!”
23 thoughts on “A short post about Hobbits”
Oh my gosh! I am so jealous! I want to visit the set! I love the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies (and books!)
I never actually read the books — and it wasn’t for lack of trying as an adult — but loved the movies. 🙂
These hobbit houses are so cool looking! I’ve never seen the Lord of the Rings movie, but I’ve been seeing more and more of these houses all over Pinterest and they are so intriguing 🙂
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I loved those books! I never actually got around to seeing the movies. That must have been one heck of a marvelous experience seeing where the movie was shot. I would love to go and see that. I am glad that they have kept it up.
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Yes, they do maintain it quite well. And being in NZ, the steaks and seafoods are great!
This is a great experience. I not too much a fan of the book and movie genre but seeing the houses would have been engaging. I’m particularly fond of the vibrant colors and awesome architecture.
Those pictures are amazing! I would love to visit the little hobbit town.
I’ve never watched the movies but the set sure does look cool. How fun that you went to visit.
Wow I haven’t watched all of the new hobbit movies but this really makes me want to. I love the original trilogy and that set is just so detailed!
I love the story of the farmer, LOL! Visiting Hobbiton is one of my BIGGEST dream trips! I hope we get there some day!
This is on my bucket list. Looks beautiful! One day, some day…
Frau, go for it! And don’t forget the south island’s Queenstown, ang ganda!
I am DYING to visit Hobbiton in NZ! Very jealous
What an amazing place to visit!! I have not seen the movies or have I read the book.
Wow. I’m so jealous. That would be an amazing set to be on. I am in love with the setting of Hobbitton
I love that they have different scales for the houses. I know that must make for interesting viewing. What a fun visit!
I had no idea Peter Jackson is from New Zealand! Hobbiton looks like an amazing place and I really hope that one day can visit it myself! Great pictures!
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The photos in this post are just magical…absolutely love the color. I did not know that rugby was an important sport for New Zealanders. That is so cool that this movie set is still maintained and continues to ‘grow.’
What a beautiful area! It would be so much fun to visit and see where the movies were made.
That’s so cool! I love the little house that they used for the movie!
So cool! I remember a friend posted pictures of the same place on Facebook and it just looks magical. You took great pictures!
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I loved Hobbiton, and in fact wrote a whole post about it, the story about the tree was really fascinating wasn’t it?! 🙂
Great photos, despite the rain! 😀
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Watched all of them movies hahaha!!wish I could go there too!;-)