The year was 1998 and Peter Jackson was searching for locations for his biggest-ever movie project, New Line Cinema’s three-part film adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The project would require more than 150 locations and a wide variety of spectacular landscapes to bring the epic story of the brave little Hobbits to the screen. Jackson scoured New Zealand’s North and South islands to find the perfect matches for the mythical Middle-earth.
In some ways everything has changed, and in others, nothing has. The small chunk of farmland is still a working farm, but it is also one of New Zealand’s most visited tourist attractions and some of the most famous countryside in the world.
Russell Alexander – general manager of Hobbiton Movie Set Tours and unofficial ‘lord of the Shire’ – would be the first to admit life has taken on a whole new landscape. “When they reached the location, it was immediately clear to them that they had found the perfect spot. The concept artists that were with the team just sat down on the grass and started drawing, placing Hobbit holes in the landscape.”
An army of workers – set builders, landscapers, and a thatcher or two – spent nine months on the farm during 1999 preparing the film set. After The Lord of the Rings Trilogy filming finished, the original set was dismantled but the setting developed into a popular tourist attraction. The fact that these significant artefacts left over from filming commanded such an audience is testament to the universal pull of these incredibly popular films.
The set was rebuilt in 2011 for The Hobbit Trilogy – this time in permanent materials, complete with Hobbit holes, gardens, bridge, and mill, and is now operated by the Alexander family in partnership with Sir Peter Jackson. In 2012, with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the Green Dragon Inn, the perfect pit stop for a pint-sized Hobbit, featured in The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies, was recreated on the site.
More than a decade on, the Hobbiton Movie Set has become a must-see tourist activity, attracting over 350,000 visitors per year – demonstrating the increasing popularity of the set and interest in The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.