Up early after a not so great sleep. The bed a bit to short with a footboard and so very hot. We are off to Hobbiton, the highlight for what Bob really wanted to do in New Zealand. For those of you who are Lord of the Rings and/or Hobbit fans you would love it … for the rest just look at the pictures and move on.
This will be a short entry just about Hobbiton and our journey north.
Hobbiton is the movie set for the 2 Trilogies, on the Alexander Ranch outside Matamata. While scouting for locations, Peter Jackson, discovered this spot and its trees while doing an aerial search. It perfectly epitomized the Shire as described in the books.
Initial construction, for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, began in March 1999 with the NZ army construction of a 1.5 km road into the site. From there 39 Hobbit homes were created in untreated timber and polystyrene. An oak tree overlooking Bags End was cut down and transported in. The Mill Arch bridge was built out of scaffolding and the thatch roof of the Green Dragon Inn and The Mill were made of local rushes.
Needless to say, they weren’t built to last and when they went to film the Hobbit Trilogy, they decided to make them more permanent structures. So, the reconstruction began. They started in 2009 and all was completed two years later. In order to make it look old cracks in the wood were hand carved and moss was made out of paste and yogurt so that eventually real moss might grow. There was a replacement for the Oak tree, made artificially and smaller, as the Hobbit was an earlier series. Made with over 200,000 fake leaves individual wired on the steel base and branches. It is the only fake tree in the place, and you can’t tell unless the wind is really blowing.
While construction took over 2 years, they only used the site for 12 days of filming. However, they already knew they wanted to have the permanent place so fans could visit the Shire. In addition, 5 more hobbit homes were built, just in case. Peter Jackson wanted to ensure that it looked like a larger town so in case filming angles were in that direction he didn’t want it to look like empty fields.
Peter Jackson was a stickler for accuracy to the book. For example, the Hobbits are said to enjoy plums under the trees but there were apple trees here. So, he had plums and plum leaves wired onto the tree to make it appear like a plum tree. There was also a little lake, so he had its man made. But then local frogs made it home and were very loud frogs. So loud he couldn’t hear the dialogue over the frogs, so he had them removed to a pond farther away. The next morning, they were back so every day of the 12 days of filming someone had to start the day by removing the frogs.
A lot of cinema tricks were deployed to give the illusion of hobbits being small as they were to range from 2-4 feet with an average of 3 ½ feet. No one over 5’6” was hired to play a hobbit. Gandalf was meant to be twice the height at 8 feet. So, in the Fellowship of the Rings where Gandalf and Frodo ride into town on the cart they had Frodo sit 3 metres behind and then filmed it to look like there were sitting together.
Taller hobbits had shorter doors and Gandalf was filmed in front of smaller doors. This area was strictly for exterior shots so there is nothing inside any of the houses. Only the one of Bilbo Baggins had props inside the doors but just enough to see the entry, otherwise the camera crew, sometimes 40 in number crammed into the 5m space.
The party scene for Bilbo’s birthday at the beginning of Fellowship of the Rings was filmed in a large field under the tree that first attracted Peter Jackson to this spot from the air. Problem was the party was meant to be in the evening and Bilbo’s house faces east. So, scenes of him and Gandalf watching sunset where actually shot at sunrise.
The party took 3 days to shoot for only 3 minutes of filming. All the crew and cast were invited to have relatives come as party goers. Peter Jackson had specially brewed 1% ale served so that it would be somewhat authentic, but no one would get too drunk. Filming took place each night till 4 am and in order to keep the children awake he fed them copious amounts of sugar.
The tour takes us past all the various homes; baker, fisherman, cheese maker, blacksmith, wood worker, and Sam’s place. The guide tells a lovely story of the final scene in the last of the LOTR trilogy when Sam returns after a long absence to Hobbiton. He is greeted by his little daughter who runs into his arms. Turns out it was Sean Astin’s real daughter who had not seen him, because of 3 months of shooting, and the emotion was all real.
Finally, we cross The Mill bridge and into the Green Dragon Tavern. It is really spectacular, and we are treated to a mug of ale ourselves. This, of course, means many pictures at the bar.
The tour ends with a lovely lunch, many choices, all delicious and finished off with a superb apple crumble. This should hold us over for our long 6+ hour ride to the Bay of Islands.