A Day at the Shire

Somewhat unexpectedly, I accompanied Mom to New Zealand this week. John stayed behind in Australia. (He was meant to have a fantastic trip from Melbourne to Sydney along the coastal road, popping in for a hike at the Blue Mountains and having a grand ol’ time, but sadly the van’s coolant hose had other ideas for his solo days.) Mom and I, on the other hand, had a fantastic time in Auckland.

First on Mom’s list of things to do in New Zealand was visit Hobbiton – home of the movie set for the Shire that appeared in all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. They require guided tours and apparently can get quite crowded; we booked a tour that left our hotel at 5:40am in order to beat the crowds and have a great morning at the Shire.

The guided tour is pretty fun – they assigned our bus of fourteen people a guide who spouted off trivia fact after trivia fact as we meandered through the site. She told us about birds flying backward on film and crew spraypainting leaves to make them green enough for Peter Jackson’s liking. Each hobbit house door and garden is unique, with painstaking attention to detail shown – the fishmonger’s house had (fake) fish hanging in the yard, and many houses had laundry out to dry. The tour and hospitality staff assist with maintenance. Our guide pointed out the section of grass she had cut that morning with scissors. A lawn mower would apparently cut the grass too uniformly for the atmosphere of the venue.

We took dozens of photos, but none of the hobbit house interiors because they don’t actually exist. Or, not at Hobbiton. These doors were used for outdoor shots; the interior of Bilbo’s house is still viewable at the studios down in Wellington. Very few minutes of the films show these hobbit houses; most of the movies were filmed down in Wellington in indoor studios. I found one exception to that rule surprising – the party scene with three-hundred people was actually filmed outdoors at Hobbiton over the course of a few days, she told us. After our tour, we had a beer in the Green Dragon Pub; the beer is specially produced for Hobbiton and only available there!

The scenery beyond the Shire and on the whole drive out to Hobbiton was breathtaking. Rural roads weave among fields after field of sheep, cattle, and even polo horses. The rolling hills and rows of trees extend in every direction as far as the eye can see. Apparently it’s all meant to be quite parched and brown this time of year, but because they received above-average rainfall this year, the hills were a vibrant green. Amidst all of that very real nature – grass and dust and dirt and gravel and trees – was this tiny plot of land turned over to Hollywood. Brightly colored doors lead nowhere, and apple trees are stripped of their leaves so that individual plum leaves can be adhered on – because Tolkien referenced plum trees, so plum trees must be built.

The LOTR crew built this detailed, high quality movie set sprawling across hills in strict accordance with Tolkien’s descriptions. Tolkien is the world builder, but they brought it to life – this rustic, quaint seventh-century village based on the English countryside and plopped down in rural New Zealand. And we had a great time experiencing it!

2 years ago

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