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On Walkabout At: The Hobbiton Movie Set of Matamata

For my wife and I no trip to the North Island of New Zealand would be complete without taking a tour of the Lord of the Rings Hobbiton Movie Set. The movie set is located about two hours from Auckland and near the small farming community of Matamata. From the town there are transportation options to be bused over the movie set which is about a twenty minute drive outside of town:

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My wife and I since we had our own vehicle just simply drove straight to the set that is well sign posted but definitely off the beaten path. The drive to the movie set was quite scenic and you can really tell how why this area was chosen by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to represent Hobbiton:

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The entire terrain around us was nothing but rolling green grazing fields filled with sheep. The movie set is located on one of these sheep ranches. As we drove down the narrow curvy road, eventually a sign for the movie set came into view:

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Of course the first thing you see when you park at the ranch is a whole bunch of sheep:

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The owner of the ranch also does shows with his sheep besides taking people on the movie set tour. Having seen plenty of sheep in Australia, my wife and I had no overwhelming desire to go on a sheep ranch tour. We were here solely to see Hobbiton.

We went inside the barn like building that serves as a cafe and gift shop and bought two tickets. We were a bit shocked when we found out how much it cost. It was $50 per person for the tour. That is extremely expensive to see a simple movie set and I actually felt like leaving, but I had come all this way and said screw it and bought the tickets. From there we boarded a large van with our tour guide that shuttled us over to the movie set:

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During the ride the guide explained the history of how the ranch became the setting for Hobbiton. When Peter Jackson was scouting locations for the film in 1998, he traveled around New Zealand by helicopter and he flew right over the 1250 acre Alexander family ranch and saw a large prominent tree that resembled the type of tree he needed for Hobbiton.

He landed his helicopter and immediately realized the ranch was perfect for Hobbiton because the tree was shaped perfectly as described in JRR Tolkien’s book and was located next to a lake. Additionally the outside world was not visible from the location. There was no power lines or homes that would make filming difficult; there was just green rolling hills as far as the eye could see:

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The guide also explained that the road we drove on did not exist when the location was chosen for filming. Peter Jackson had to make a request to the New Zealand government to deploy the New Zealand Army to build the road to the selected location. The New Zealand government was committed to helping Jackson with the film realizing the potential the trilogy had for promoting New Zealand. The army was deployed in March 1999 and the soldiers were not told why they were building road. Likewise the owners of the Alexander ranch could not tell their neighbors why the New Zealand army was building a road for them. Strict secrecy was a must to ensure the successful filming of the movie.

Eventually the van stopped and the guide explained that the field in front of us served as the base of operations for filming here at the ranch:

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Here is what the field looked like when filming of the scene started in December 1999:

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This base served as the home for roughly 400 people. That means that cooks had to cater for these 400 people three times a day as well as providing trailers for the people to live in. If you notice in the above picture the grass was very brown when filming began. This was because New Zealand that year had an unusually warm summer causing the normally green fields to turn brown.

Peter Jackson had to insert a sprinkler system to water the Hobbiton areas being used for filming to turn keep them green but also the trailers the actors and crew lived in were not installed with air conditioning because nobody thought they would be needed. To correct this logistics personnel had to go and buy air conditioners for the trailers which meant more electricity thus requiring them to bring in an even bigger generator. You can really see how costs for movies like this begin to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars to film.

From a hill the bus parked at we could look down towards the set and see the famous tree from the Lord of the Rings movies below:

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The hill also offered a great vantage point to view the surrounding area of the “Shire”:

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After checking out the views from the hill we reboarded the van and the guide took us down the hill to check out the actually movie set. Here is what the movie set looks like:

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As you can see the movie set looks nothing like the movie. After filming was complete most of the hobbit homes were destroyed and the decorations around the homes removed. Out of 37 hobbit holes that were constructed only 17 remain today. The Alexanders are not allowed to do anything to reconstruct the remaining holes to look like the Hobbit homes in the movies; that is why the remaining holes look so plain:

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At least the hobbit homes have something left to where you can imagine what was there; the lake on the other hand has nothing left to remind you a village was there:

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Here is what the village around the lake looked like during filming of the movie:

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If you look closely at the below image you can actually see Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson:

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All the structures and the bridge over the lake were taken down once filming was complete. After the tour completed checking out the area near the lake, the guide took us up to see the actual Hobbit homes:

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The homes are constructed out of untreated wood and polystyrene. They are by no means very sturdy structures. One of the homes they have reinforced and made safe for people to go inside and see:

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From up here on the hill there was an excellent view looking down on the lake and the famous party tree from the movie that caused Peter Jackson to select this site:

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What is interesting is that the Alexander’s actually had plans to chop this tree down before Jackson showed up and chose the property for his film. Now this tree is probably one of the most famous trees in television history. Here is how the view looked during filming of the movie:

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Our guide told us that there have been numerous marriage proposals made under the famous party tree by visitors and one actually contracted the ranch to put on his wedding ceremony under the tree. The guide also said many Lord of the Rings fan clubs have taken group trips to visit the set. He said the most dedicated fans were from Japan who dressed in full Lord of the Rings costumes while visiting the set.

Unfortunately we had no Japanese fans to entertain us on this day but we did have this sheep following us around:

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On this ranch they have only one black sheep that for some reason likes following visitors around. A random Lord of the Ring fact the guide told us was that out of all the sheep on this farm none of them appeared in the movie. The movie did have some sheep but none of them were from this ranch.

Another random fact is that in the movie there is a big oak tree above Hobbiton. Since the farm did not have an oak tree on top of the hill they had to buy one to put there. They bought an oak tree from another local farm for $17,000 that weighed roughly 26 tons. The set designers chopped the tree down and then labeled all the parts and then bolted the tree back together again above the Bag End hobbit home. Since leaves fell off during the moving of the tree; artificial leaves from Taiwan were ordered and glued on to the tree.

Today this is all that remains of the tree:

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Someone in our tour group asked why Peter Jackson did not just digitally create a oak tree for the movie instead of going through all the work he did for this tree. The answer is because if you can believe it, it was more expensive to digitally make the tree than it was buy, ship, and construct a real one on the site.

After checking out the remains of the oak tree the tour then ended and we reboarded the van to go back to the gift shop. All in all the tour lasted about an hour and a half. During that hour and a half there wasn’t much to see but the information given by the guide was quite interesting.

I for one had no idea about the legal battle between New Line Cinema who owns the rights to the Lord of the Rings franchise and director Peter Jackson. The New Line co-chairman Robert Shaye signed the native New Zealander Jackson to a contract to make all three Lord of the Rings movies when no one else in Hollywood would simply because he liked the books. After the success of the movies Shaye’s company had a new name brand industry on their hands and thus sold many games, toys, and other merchandise with the Lord of the Rings brand. Jackson was upset because he was not getting a cut of the profits from these products and thus sued New Line. This lawsuit is the sole reason why filming for the Lord of the Rings prequel, the Hobbit is being delayed.

The guide had plenty of more interesting information but for $50 bucks a person this tour is probably not worthwhile for those that are not big Lord of the Rings fans. I really liked the movies and felt a bit ripped off with this tour, but with bus loads of die hard fans showing up to see the set they are able to charge such a price. The cost of this tour caused us to avoid any other Lord of the Rings tours in New Zealand, but if you only want to see one Lord of the Rings set in New Zealand this place would be it.

Next Posting: Video of the Hobbiton Movie Set

Prior Posting: Video of the Craters of the Moon

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