What I Did on My Autumn Vacation, Ep. 4

Given that I was (and am) a major fan of the Lord of the Rings movies–enough of a heretic to suggest that they are, in some ways better than the books–I would’ve had my Geek Card revoked if I didn’t visit the Hobbiton movie set while I was in New Zealand. After quite a bit of discussion and little success arranging said visit from the U.S., I found out Trafalgar offered the tour locally (it would’ve been nice if they’d said that in the first place, but that’s a discussion for another day). What follows are pictures and thoughts from the trip to Hobbiton and another tour I took out of Queenstown to some other LOTR sites. Enjoy!

Hobbiton, Matamata, North Island

So, first a little introductory blahblahblah: Peter Jackson found the site for Hobbiton via helicopter. It was in the midst of a working farm, and he had to negotiate to use the site, as I understand it. When the set was built for Lord of the Rings in the late 1990s/early 2000s, the work was somewhat temporary, in that while great pains were taken to make it look realistic (more on that later), it was taken down after production ended. When Jackson and crew came back in 2010 to make The Hobbit, they decided to make a more permanent establishment. Onward!

You don’t just drive to Hobbiton. As I said, it’s in the middle of a farm, so there is a separate place of the main road where people drive, and then the farmer’s company (who set up a joint venture with Jackson) has buses to take you to the actual site.
Interesting bit of trivia: In an effort to raise money to make LOTR, Peter Jackson approached the government of New Zealand. NZ refused to provide financial aid; however, they did loan him use of the NZ Army, which built the access road from the main road to the movie site and provided extras in the form of soldiers (elves, Orcs) for battle scenes.
This map shows the Hobbiton site as built. It does not quite match up with the map of Hobbiton that appears in The Hobbit, but it was similar enough that it could be used.
Am I seriously going into this place? Yep.
The Hobbit homes were individually designed, painted, and gardened. The gardening is sort of a messy but organic style, which matches the Hobbits’ mindset pretty well. Random factoid here: as part of the year-long site prep, Jackson planted site-appropriate flowers and edible plants and then let it go sort of wild. He wanted it to have a “lived in” look to it, so he did things like have someone walk out to the clothesline every day to put up and take down the laundry using the same footpath.
Some of the little touches make the difference in individual Hobbit holes, such as windows, skylights, and chimneys (next photo).


The signage also had a “lived in” look to it…pay no attention to the human holding a smart phone…
Little touches–barely seen in the films–included items like this local bulletin board.
The local woodcutter’s home.


The foreground shows more “messy” gardening…in the background, that hill with the tree on top is Bag End, home to Bilbo (and later Frodo) Baggins. The tree was artificial, with the leaves manufactured and painted in Taiwan. The leaves had to be repainted on site several times because they got faded from the sun.
I liked this little touch: an unattended fishing rod, which looks like the user could return any moment.
The beekeeper’s home, which had a lot of extra flowers (seen here and below).


Jars of “honey.”
The local baker’s home, with loaves of bread and bags of flour out front.
The gate to Bag End.
Only a small part of the interior of Bag End was built and furnished. The floor was dirt. The rest of the interior was filmed on a studio set.
A happy geek in front of Bag End.
This is the “party tree” from Bilbo’s 111th’s birthday celebration. The tree’s lost a few limbs/leaves since the movies were made.
Geek with Maypole on the party grounds.
Hobbit ale wagon. A must for any occasion!
More of the property. Really, the site was just stunning. And all the extra touches sold me on the reality of Middle-Earth.
More bulletins.
The mill.
Back of the mill.
The end of the tour lands visitors at The Green Dragon, where they can enjoy a free cup of ale, cider, or something nonalcoholic. The beer was made especially for the site, and the red ale I had was quite good!
Another nice touch…
Green Dragon exterior.
Another testament to Peter Jackson’s attention to detail: he had a professional roof thatcher brought down from England to make the roofs of the regular buildings. The thatching is supposed to be good for 30 years or so.
I just liked the lamps.

Queenstown and Glenorchy, South Island

Having gotten a taste of LOTR scenery, I couldn’t resist when I found out there was an additional tour available out of Queenstown. I believe the company name is Pure Glenorchy.

This site might look familiar…it appears in The Two Towers, as Frodo and Sam are observing the marching of the Haradrim in Ithilien. If none of that made sense to you, move on.
The landscapes of New Zealand were characters unto themselves.
This snowy peak served as Caeradhras, the snowy peak the Fellowship attempts to climb in Fellowship of the Ring.
Our tour guide, Serena, was a real pro, but also a serious fan, which made the tour much more fun for the geeks like me. Along the way, she showed clips from the movies so you could see where different bits of scenery appeared in the films.


This site was interesting because it was where the armies of Rohan were filmed in Return of the King. Peter Jackson didn’t think the mountains were “dramatic” enough, so he had some other mountains superimposed over this one.
If I recall correctly, some of this territory was used for Weathertop.
Another shot of the mountain (Mt. Cook?).
I was not taking good notes because I was too busy gawking at the scenery, but I believe these mountains stood in for Ered Nimrais.


This site appeared in LOTR/The Hobbit three different times…no, I don’t remember when. Sheesh! 
This mountainside looked, to me, like the forest of Fangorn. I was told it wasn’t, but really…am I too far wrong?
This bit of forest appeared multiple times in LOTR. Two times I recall for certain: as part of Lothlorien and also as the forest where Boromir got perforated by several large arrows.
Okay, so Serena had costume stuff in the trunk of her SUV…she seemed to think I’d make a good Gandalf, so…
The swords were impressive. They were made by a local blacksmith who made some of the swords in LOTR but, alas, no longer makes them. This is a replica of Aragorn’s sword, Anduril.
Bart the Wizard, commanding a tree to stay put.
Here’s Sting. It did not glow blue while we were out and about, which was a good thing.
Closeup detail of an Elvish sword. Fantastic workmanship and design!
Serena showing us where the bit of forest appeared in the films.
As part of Lothlorien, the forest colors were enhanced to make things more “golden.”
I took this picture on the tour and included it in my Episode 2 entry, but really, this sight just blew me away. If anything, LOTR undersells the New Zealand scenery. It really is almost too gorgeous to believe. Like a magical world of its own, you might say.

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