"Life is always evolving and never standing still."
That sounds like a quote straight out of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings, but it's actually the philosophy of Russell Alexander, the CEO of the Hobbiton Movie Set Tours. And it's an apt one that summarises his experiences, having seen the set transform from a mythical place for the films, to a tourist attraction for Tolkien fans from all over the world, to having had to evolve with the pandemic and its challenges.
The Hobbiton Movie Set is where scenes taking place in the eponymous Hobbiton and the surrounding regions of the Shire were filmed in the The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit film series. The movies, which take place in a fantasy world where noble Elves, stoic Dwarves, homely Hobbits and diverse Men live, tell epic tales of good versus evil. Hobbits are the smallest race of creatures in the world, with adult Hobbits being barely larger than the size of a human child. The Hobbits were characterised as the most peaceful and domestic of the races, loving nothing more than comfort and good food to pass their days.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." - Gandalf the Grey
Situated in the North Island of New Zealand, the Hobbiton Movie Set is southwest of the town of Matamata in Waikato. The story of its conception is much like that of how great stars are found. The Hobbiton Movie Set has humble beginnings as the Alexander Farm (owned by Russell Alexander's family). It was spotted in 1998 during an aerial search for the location scouting of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. After negotiations with the Alexander family, work began on transforming the farm into a movie star in its own right in March of 1999. Viewers worldwide got to see it when The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring hit cinemas in 2001.
The unprecedented popularity of The Lord Of The Rings, with its Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits having captured the imagination of audiences globally, made opening a temporary movie set the next logical move. So in December 2002, the Hobbiton Movie Set opened for tours — albeit temporarily (at the time).
But it was in 2010 that the Hobbiton Movie Set took the next step in its evolution. The Hobbit trilogy was greenlit for production and Hobbiton was going to hit the screens once more. So the set was rebuilt, this time in a more permanent fashion, for the films' production in 2011.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
"Not all those who wander are lost." - Bilbo Baggins
Today, the Hobbiton Movie Set is home to a variety of different tours, each focusing on a different aspect of life in Hobbiton. Eagle-eyed (and mathematically-inclined) readers will have noticed that 2021 marked the 20 year anniversary of the first The Lord Of The Rings film. To celebrate that, a special 20 Year Anniversary Celebration tour was organised, complete with a movie screening, for fans young and old.
Highlights of the tours include a visit across the 12-acre set, with 44 Hobbit Holes (the homes of the hobbits), the Mill (the water-mill of Hobbiton) and the Green Dragon Inn. Visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set during different seasons yields very different experiences, shared Alexander.
"Spring is new life," he said of the colourful flora and fauna of the season. "And the sun is very different in summer." He also noted that the autumn leaves were a distinctive mark of that season, and winter provided a colder, unique look at the Hobbiton Movie Set. Because of its varied outdoor locations, flowers and colours look different in every part of the year.
But the highlight has to be the Green Dragon Inn, which is where the Hobbits would gather for drink and merrymaking.
"There's a lot of infrastructure required to keep it looking really pristine and authentic," shared Alexander, who likened the running of the location to having to oversee multiple cogs in a system. And what inn is complete without good drinks? Amber Ale and the Hobbiton Movie Set-exclusive Southfarthing ales are available for those who want to lead the life of a Hobbit — while they're there, that is.
He opined that what visitors really want is an authentic experience when they came to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Visitors "want an authentic experience and real people, original to the movies. So it's about training the staff to give an authentic experience, a real experience."
For those who love picturesque scenery, nearby is the Putangirua Pinnacles. The Kaimai Ranges are also visible from the set.
“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” — Galadriel
Like many other places, the pandemic has been challenging for the Hobbiton Movie Set. But Alexander looked at it positively. "Life is meant to test us," he shared "and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
"The light at the end of the tunnel is not too far off."
So has Alexander met any of the Hobbits? Sort of. His favourite Hobbit is Samwise Gamgee, the stoic companion to main character Frodo, played by Sean Astin. They had many conversations during the filming of the movies.
"He invited me to his caravan. He's a warm, welcoming person — neat, warm, and hospitable. I enjoyed his character and his company."
Much like how visitors enjoy the Hobbiton Movie Set, no doubt.
Alexander concluded by noting how "it's just been a wonderful journey", and how he hopes to share that journey with others.
And for those coming to the Hobbiton Movie Set, the journey is just beginning.
“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” — Gildor
So what can you do at the Hobbiton Movie Set? Here are some ideas:
Instagram yourself as a hobbit in a Hobbit Hole (using perspective trips)
Earn bragging rights for visiting the Mill
Have a Southfarthing ale at the Green Dragon Inn
Marvel at the view of the Kaimai Ranges from the Hobbiton Movie Set
Feast like a hobbit at the Green Dragon Inn
Travel along the wandering paths of The Shire at dusk
Watch a specially recorded video by Peter Jackson
Check out the Putangirua Pinnacles nearby
Had breakfast already? Have second breakfast at the Green Dragon Inn
Use a lantern to light the way in The Shire at night
Discover fascinating details about The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy
Relax in front of the crackling fire of the Green Dragon Inn
Buy the One Ring or Gandalf's cloak (only replicas, but they're still your precious!)