Journey to The Shire

In Stories, Tales by Ariel0 Comments

I believe that I have to admit that I’m a bit of a nerd… especially as concerns the Lord of the Rings. This is not entirely my fault since my dad read us the Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings when we were little – way before the movies and all the hype. So when I went to New Zealand this past fall I had to go to Hobbiton.

We were staying with my aunt in Te Awamutu for the two weeks we were in New Zealand. The one thing we wanted to see for sure was Hobbiton and we wanted to see it in the best conditions possible. However, it was spring in New Zealand so the weather wasn’t always ideal. The weather forecast though was much more accurate than it ever is in Alberta. The only day that it was supposed to sunny and good weather all day was our second last day of our trip. So for almost two weeks we waited and did other things and hoped that the weather would be good on that Wednesday.

And it was, it was a beautiful spring day. We got up and headed out to find Hobbiton. It was supposed to be about a 30-45 minute drive from my aunt’s. In fact, we’d seen the turn-off two days before when we were returning from Rotorua. So we knew where we were going. Right?

Not so much. I don’t even know where we went wrong but somehow we ended up driving in the opposite direction from where we wanted to be. I believe the thought was that we wanted to drive different roads see some other things on the way… and we definitely did that. Our 30-45 minute drive took about two hours. And we approached Hobbiton from the opposite direction of what we intended.

The saving grace is that the New Zealand countryside is absolutely gorgeous, especially in the spring.

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As we took the turnoff to the Hobbiton Movie Set Tourist Farm we drove through the rolling green hills of the sheep farm that Hobbiton was built on. Because it was spring the hills were dotted with sheep and cute little frolicking lambs.

We drove up to the tourist centre on the property – which is as far as you can go by yourself. We hadn’t booked our visit, we just showed up. Tours were every half hour so we figured we’d be fine. If you’re visiting Hobbiton – book your time. In order to keep the set from being overcrowded there’s a limited number of space on each tour and they try to keep everything timed so you can explore without a huge crowd of tourists. Which is actually really nice. But we didn’t book, so we had to wait for just under two hours.

There’s a nice little cafe/restaurant on the property as well as the obligatory souvenir shop. This is where my nerd really comes out… I had to buy things (I actually had to limit how much I spent). So the wait was spent doing our shopping before our tour, instead of after. To be fair, I also bought stuff for my dad and brothers who are also fans.

When our time came for our tour we loaded on a bus and journeyed further into the farm.

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The story goes that the location scouts were flying over this particular farm at the end of a long day. One of the things they’d been looking for was a perfectly circular tree for the “party tree” at Bilbo’s birthday. And they found it. The studio went to discuss using the location with the farm owners. Husband and wife met with the studio reps and he had no idea what Lord of the Rings was – so the wife gave him a kick under the table and told them of course they can. She, obviously, had read all the books and new what a fabulous success this was bound to be.

The "Party Tree"

The “Party Tree”

And then we entered Hobbiton. And it was the most amazing experience, ever. Back over in Canada we’d heard from some people that Hobbiton wasn’t much… just the hills and farmlands where Lord of the Rings was filmed. And that was true… at one time.

The set of Hobbiton was built out of non-permanent materials and disassembled when filming was completed. After the success of the Lord of the Rings movies the owner of the farm started giving tours of the place where Hobbiton had been built. So yes, initially it was just the hills and farmlands.

When the movie reps came back to request to film the Hobbit trilogy of course the owners agreed. With one stipulation – this time the set would be made with permanent materials… and they would leave them when the filming was done.

And so we entered the Shire…

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Everything growing in Hobbiton is real. The only things that are props are vegetables and such that are sitting in wheelbarrows or similar. Everything else is real. They keep a whole staff of gardeners to keep the property looking like the Shire.

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As we proceeded through the set it was like stepping into the movies. The only disappointment was that there were no hobbits running around. Or any other Middle-Earthlings. Because Hobbiton is not owned by the studio the staff is not allowed to dress up as Hobbits or others. So the only people in costume are those visitors who choose to dress up while visiting (not me).

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Everywhere we walked little chimneys piped out fake smoke and windows peeked through the hillside. Every little detail was planned down to the last mailbox, tiny ladder and little bench.

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As we travelled along the winding paths everything was leading to that one place in Hobbiton we all know the best – Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

The one problem with the site they chose for Hobbiton was the lack of an oak tree. In the books it is very specific that Bag End was built in the hill under the oak tree. So the only fake thing in Hobbiton is the tree above Bilbo’s house. 200,000 leaves were painstakingly wired onto the tree by hand and when Peter Jackson saw it he declared the leaves to be the wrong colour. The colour had faded since first being applied to the leaves.

So what to do? They hired university students and hung them suspended over the tree to repaint them the correct colour – 200,000 leaves were repainted by hand. And now when the wind blows a few leaves fall off every time. And guess who found one to take home…

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After dragging our captivated selves away, we wound down the hill and through more of Hobbiton, making our way to the Green Dragon Inn.

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And there she was, the only fully functional building on the Hobbiton set. Situated perfectly across the pond in full view of all of the Hobbiton homes.

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In we went. Part of the tour included a drink at the Green Dragon Inn. On offer were three Southfarthing selections: Girdley Fine Grain, Sackville Cider and Frogmorton Ginger Beer for the kiddies. These three brews were specifically created for the Hobbiton Movie Set Tourist Farm and they own the recipe. You can buy bottles to take home from the gift shop but otherwise the Green Dragon is the only place you can get it.

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You get your choice of one of the three. Or, if you’re like my mother, you get all three… She chose the ale, I chose the Cider and we shared. But the guide had told us how good the ginger beer was… so we had to try that too. In the special way she has, my mom convinced the bartender to give us some ginger beer as well. If we’d had the time I have no doubt she would have charmed them of as much to drink as we wished. However, they only gave us about 15-20 minutes in the Green Dragon (and downing a pint in that short amount of time is not that easy).

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And that was it. We had to leave. On the way to the bus we had our last wander through Hobbiton, snapped our last pictures and re-boarded the bus. And it was all over.

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So, if you’re in New Zealand and even a teeny, tiny fan, you have to visit Hobbiton. Stay at the front or back of the tour group. We stayed to the back  – that way we were able to take all the photos we liked without any pesky tourists in the shot. However, that means you might miss some of the little tidbits the guides are full of so maybe the front will do the same and you’ll still get to hear everything. But I can guarantee that dragging along at the back is easier than fighting for position in the front. In my opinion, the view is worth it.

 

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost; 

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring; 

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien

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