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Wednesday 20 Feb 2013
Matamata, New Zealand

"The path goes ever on and on..."

"...Down from the door where it began."

This is the start of the song the Bilbo sings as he is leaving his home in the Shire and setting off for Rivendell.  Standing on his doorstep at Bag End, I couldn't help remembering it as I looked out across Hobbiton towards the Green Dragon, the Water Mill and the rolling hills of the Shire beyond. In this small corner of a 125 Hectare farm in the North Island of New Zealand, it is very easy to believe in Hobbits, Dwarves and all things Tolkein.

The tour of the Hobbiton set starts off with a bus ride across the farm, pointing out the fields previously used for all the backstage set up - make-up, costumes, catering, etc - and the story of how this innocent sheep farm became the centre of Middle Earth.  The location was initially spotted from the air by location scouts.  Once the deal was made, the New Zealand army was brought in to build a road across the farm to the right spot and sworn to secrecy.  An airspace ban was also initiated - any planes seen overhead from that point on had their numbers noted.  By the time they landed, the pilot would have had his licence revoked for life and any recording devices on board would be confiscated. Several pilots lost their licence despite the warnings.

The location for Hobbiton itself was chosen because it offered a gentle slope down to a small lake and stream, perfect for the water mill, and had a well established oak tree that was perfect for Bilbo Baggins' party tree.  There are now 44 Hobbit holes built into the hillside, though sadly they are all for external filming only.  Bag End is the only one to have any internal decoration and that is only one panelled wall inside the front door.  The rest are designed with little more than a squeeze space behind the door so actors could be seen entering or leaving their holes.  All the internal scenes were shot in a studio.  Bag End was cleverly designed with interchangeable large and small fences and front gates for filming with Gandalf and the Hobbits, used to make the actors look bigger or smaller as required.  The book describes a large tree above Bag End.  The perfect tree was found in the South Island, so the film team cut it down and shipped it in pieces back to Hobbiton, where it was reassembled and held in place with wires.  After the filming wrapped up on LOTR, the tree was dismantled and left to decay... until they realised they would need to recreate the film set for the Hobbit.  As the original tree was unuseable, they had to build a replica out of wires, papier mache and hand painted leaves.  Two months worth of painstaking work and it appears on screen for less than 7 seconds!

We were taken around the set in small groups to allow everyone to take photos without hoards of tourists in the way - and take photos we did! As you can probably imagine, I have 'quite a few' photos of Hobbiton... :o) When I get a decent internet connection for long enough, I will add some to this blog.

The film set tour finished with a walk down past the watermill, over Gandalf's bridge to the Green Dragon.  The bridge was initially made out of plywood and polystyrene, made to look like an old stone bridge.  The story goes that when the farm owner saw that the lovely film crew had built him a bridge to save driving 10 minutes up stream, he drove down towards it at full speed on his quad bike (waving cheerfully back at the friendly crew who were waving at him from the hillside) and made it safely across to the other side, despite some ominous creaking.  After breathing a sigh of relief, the film crew then realised it made quite a good shot and strengthened the bridge so that Gandalf could drive his cart into Hobbiton that way.  In the Green Dragon - a fully fledged pub complete with thatched roof, wood panelling, a gorgeous open fireplace and a fish mounted over the mantelpiece caught by Old Took himself! - we were given a choice of apple cider or ale in a chunky earthenware cup.  A perfect end to a very nice walk.


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