Day 7, Cambridge NZ — December 8, 2003

We’ve gone to Hobbiton! I’m still recovering from the flu but feeling much more alive today. This was the day I was most looking forward to. We drove to the down of Matamata and boarded a bus that took us to the movie set for Hobbiton. There’s quite a story to tell here.
When New Line Cinema sent out their location scouts across the width and breadth of New Zealand one of their aerial scouts spotted the perfect piece of land for Hobbiton, near the town of Matamata. The land was part of the largest sheep farm in the area. Once identified, New Line sent their representative to contact the owners about filming on their property. Their first attempt was not as successful as they’d have liked because they came during the middle of a rugby match. When they knocked on the door, they were greeted and told to come back after the match and the door was promptly closed again.
Their second attempt was successful. The family agreed to allow the use of their land for Hobbiton and the three-month process of contracts and paperwork began. All of the filming was done in secrecy. Once all of the legal necessities were out of the way, work began to prepare the set. The New Zealand Army was brought in to build roads. Thousands of man-hours spent constructing hobbit-holes, hills, and trees. The tree above Bag End was actually bought from a farmer, carefully cut down, each piece labeled, and then reassembled on the set. Then artificial leaves were imported from Taiwan and wired to the tree. The party tree, which Bilbo stands beneath during his farewell speech, is an original part of the property, and one of the key features that attracted the location scouts. Standing in front of the party tree, you can circle 360 degrees and not see a single man-made structure. It was a perfect location.
What was amazing is that, normally when a set is done being used, it is completely torn down and destroyed. It’s standard policy to return the set to its original state. In the case of Hobbiton, there was a change in the weather while the set was being torn down, leaving seventeen hobbit-holes remaining. Apparently, the family was so helpful during the filming of the Hobbiton scenes that New Line decided not to tear down the remaining set and allowed the family to host tours. They’ve been in operation for just one year as of today. It’s pretty amazing. As we were gazing around the set and listening to the tour guide narrate a pair of sheep decided to try climbing in one of the hobbit-holes.
There are a few things I found interesting about the set. First, the amount of effort that went into its construction. Some things were obviously built only for a movie set. Most of the structures were built with untreated lumber, which starts to rot away after a year exposed to the elements. We saw this in a few of the hobbit-houses, where the roofs had collapsed. Luckily the farm was just given permission from New Line, who still own the actual structures, to restore the set to it’s original state when they left it. All of the hobbit-holes were about a foot deep, save for Bag End. Any filming done inside one was done in a studio in Wellington. Bag End was a little deeper, with enough room for a few people to climb inside and look out a window.
By and large this was the best stop of the trip so far. It’s the only set still intact from the trilogy. The party tree was simply amazing and I find it somehow fitting that Hobbiton has become home to grazing sheep.
Interesting fact: Peter Jackson couldn’t use sheep from the farm for the movie because they have white faces and Tolkien specifically mentions the black faces of the sheep.
Interesting fact: So much polystyrene was used to build the set that it was manufactured on-site. Apparently Peter Jackson was none too pleased, when arriving on set one day, a “Pollywood” sign in the spirit of the famous Hollywood sign.
Interesting fact: I saw much discussion of a possible oops in the first movie, especially visible in the extended edition, where dust rising from a car could be seen in the distance. That, in fact, is true. They pointed out the road the car was on when it happened.
Interesting fact: When Sam says “If I take one more step it will be the farthest I’ve ever been from home”, he is actually about 150 meters from the party tree.

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