A visit to ‘Lord of the Rings’ set in New Zealand

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The author is about to enter one of 40 hobbit holes houses constructed in the town of Matamata for use in two Peter Jackson’s films.

The author is about to enter one of 40 hobbit hole houses constructed in the town of Matamata and used in two Peter Jackson films.

By Wendell Gaa

Thanks to “The Lord of the Rings” films based on the classic novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, the remote, beautiful island country of New Zealand is portrayed as the fantasy world of Middle Earth. Kiwi director Peter Jackson filmed every one of his Tolkien-inspired movies in his native homeland.

The sites for Jackson’s Middle Earth movies were located in different parts of New Zealand, yet a majority of them, save for one, needed to be taken down due to environmental concerns. That one production site, which is open for the public to explore, is the Hobbiton movie set in the Matamata area, which is some two hours driving distance from Auckland. Being a huge fan of the Tolkien movies, as well as his novels, visiting Hobbiton was a high priority on my itinerary.

It was super convenient that Auckland was the final destination in the two-week cruise my mother and I took from Australia. We hired the same cab driver who took us from the city’s seaport to our hotel to drive us all the way down to Matamata. An Indian immigrant to New Zealand, he was well aware of which highway route to take, given that the road networks in the countryside appear quite simplistic and well organized.

The scenery which greeted us was tranquil, green and rugged. I saw how the open space was quite ubiquitous, which is another urban landscape characteristic that New Zealand is renowned for. Our driver stopped over at a lookout point from where we could take a few selfie shots with the breathtaking landscape.

On arriving at the entrance to the Hobbiton movie set, I was already charmed by the location itself, rich with green rolling hills and pastures. From first glance, I could immediately understand why Peter Jackson and his crew settled upon this exact site to film the hometown scenes of the Hobbit characters.

The movie set is a tourist attraction .

The movie set is a tourist attraction .

Our young Kiwi tour guide was no doubt an expert on Jackson’s Middle Earth films. We walked inside the narrow pathway leading to the “hobbit hole” houses that were constructed during the filming of “The Hobbit” trilogy, which began in October 2011 and took only 12 days to complete. The entire filming set indeed does have a fascinating history which has become legendary amongst the locals. We learned how at the peak of filming, 400 people — comprising actors, filmmakers and crew members — were on site, including at various times the cast members Sir Ian McKellen who played the benevolent wizard Gandalf, and Elijah Wood, Martin Freeman and Sean Astin, who respectively portrayed the Hobbit heroes Frodo, Bilbo and Samwise.

The guide further narrated to us how Peter Jackson and the New Line Cinema studio “discovered” the filming area — or the Shire as it is called in the books and movies — which is a broad 1,250-acre sheep and beef farm, during an aerial scout for ideal filming sites. Actual construction of the Hobbiton set began in March 1999. The New Zealand Army provided the heavy earthmoving machinery in developing the set, as well as built a 1.5 km road into the site.

Each of the small 40 hobbit hole houses we saw were well intact and complete with actual props used in the movies. Even though the interiors for each of them were barren, taking selfies outside the houses was more than a satisfying experience for us. A couple of the houses we saw had chimneys with actual smoke coming out! Needless to say, we imagined how laborious yet enjoyable it must have been for the filmmakers and actors when they were shooting here and seeing how small in height many of the houses were. We heard from our guide how special camera visual effects were used to make the actors, who portrayed the Hobbit characters, appear smaller onscreen.

A few of the houses were big enough for us to pose in front of, and the guide graciously took a few photos of my mother and I standing at the doorstep of one such house, which by itself was already the perfect souvenir of remembrance for me after finally seeing for myself New Zealand’s only permanent movie tour set of one of the greatest fantasy film epics of all time.

© The FilAm 2019

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