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Ringer Celebriel just returned from an LOTR locations tour in New Zealand. Today starts her day-by-day account of the visit.
Day by Day in Middle Earth: Celebriels New Zealand Visit with Red Carpet Tours: Day 1
Mileage: 293 K/ 182 Miles
Film Sites visited: Hobbiton
Our tour of Middle Earth started appropriately enough in The Shire. The Hobbiton set is located on the Alexander farm outside Matamata, about two hours south of Auckland. The farm covers 1250 acres and is used to raise Romney sheep and Angus cattle. The location is as magical in real life as it appears in The Fellowship of the Ring. The landscape has about 80 shades of green and light that casts a golden glow at certain times of day.
About Our Fellowship
There are eleven people in the tour this month, all of us from the United States (California, Maine, and Texas). Usually the group varies between 9 and 15. In addition to the USA, many visitors come from the UK, Canada, and Australia, but groups have included people from Croatia, Finland, Taiwan, Japan, Siberia, even Antarctica!
How It Came To Be
The entrance to the farm is called Buckland Road, perhaps a positive omen for Peter Jacksons location scouts, who first visited it in late 1998, seeking a place with a good tree, a lake, and flat land that could be used for the party scene in The Fellowship of the Ring. They soon realized that the Alexander farm could be used for all the Hobbiton scenes, and canceled other locations they had identified.
Site construction started early in 1999 and continued through the year. Crew gathered thatch and used it to thatch the roofs of all the Hobbiton buildings. Thirty paddocks were set up on the hillside and crops grown. Sheep were used to nibble the fields to make them appear natural.
Filming took place from December 1999 to February 2000.The contracts indicated that everything had to be removed after filming and the site restored to its original condition. Within ten days, half the set had been removed. But then the rains came, and removal was put off for six months. In that time, increasing numbers of people contacted the Alexanders and neighboring farmers about seeing the set. The Alexanders in turn contacted New Line, and following months of discussions, they had agreement to keep what was left of the original set and allow people to visit. They could not modify the sets or put back what had been demolished.
We toured Hobbiton with local guide Eric Jackson. Eric took us first to the animal kingdom (where the horses, sheep, and other animals were cared for), technical car park, and general base camp, explaining that the New Zealand army built the road to the site and then the technical car park, designed for up to 170 vehicles. Eric noted that local sheep were not used (even though New Zealand has 40 million of them) – the production obtained English Suffolk sheep that would have been familiar to Tolkien.
The base camp included a large area for trailers, makeup and costuming tents, showers, and a sewer system. There was also a food tent that could accommodate 400 people for 3 meals a day with 2 course lunches and 3 course dinners. The many extras arrived by van. Hobbit auditions were held in Matamata. Over 1000 people were interviewed, all of whom were under 54, rotund, and had nice smiles! This area also had a satellite dish to enable Peter Jackson to keep in touch with other locations, and a generating plant for electricity, and air conditioning. Hobbiton occupied only 10 acres, a very small part of the farm, but it was the biggest green site in the films.
No one stayed on the premises except security cast and crew were put up at the Novotel in Hamilton. Security was so tight the area was declared a no-fly zone by New Zealand air traffic control!
What are most memorable in Hobbiton today are The Party Tree and Field, Bag End, and Bag Shot Row. From the Party Tree, no modern buildings can be seen in any direction. The tree is about 160 years old. Although its now one of the most famous trees in the world, at one time Mr. Alexander thought of cutting it down, as the livestock would get stuck near it.
You can visit Bilbos house at Bag End, and from his door you can see The Party Tree and Field. You can also go atop Bag End, where Bilbo and Gandalf had their smoke, and see the remains of the oak tree that hung over Bag End. Oaks are not native to New Zealand, so one was bought and transported to the site. The tree was photographed, cut, pieces numbered, and then bolted and wired together at the site. It was put in with a crane. Students taped on 250,000 oak leaves. A real tree was needed so its leaves would rustle in the wind and show realistic patterns of light and shadow. The tree is onscreen in Fellowship for about 25 seconds.
While Sam and Rosies house was lost and the market area burned for the Scouring of the Shire scenes, there are still many hobbit holes to visit and photograph. The site has numerous markers illustrating the town with photos taken on set.
Eric told us that five marriage proposals have taken place at Hobbiton, not counting Sam and Rosie, and two couples want to be married under the Party Tree. In February 2005, Hobbiton hosted a party for 600 people from a Crystal Cruises ship, complete with costumed Black Riders. The Alexanders are planning to expand the Hobbiton catering business. So maybe those weddings are not out of the question!
Not far from the Alexander farm is the farmhouse rented for four months by Peter Jackson and Barrie Osborne. Rushes were flown to Wellington each night and returned by 7 AM the next day. One room of the house was turned into a studio.
In addition to operating the farm, the Alexanders also run Matamata-based tours to the Hobbiton site. More than 60,000 people visited Hobbiton in the first two years it was open, and the local tours have created jobs as guides, drivers, and café workers, and brought additional money to the local farming economy. The local tours run every day except Christmas. For more information, visit hobbitontours.com
Tomorrow: The Emyn Muil and Mordor