A visit to the North Island can’t be complete without a tour of Hobbiton, the only movie set of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogies still standing. However, behind the scenes of Hollywood’s most successful film trilogies, there are several stranger-than-fiction facts.
Located in Waikato region approximately 178 kilometres from Auckland and 74 kilometres from Rotorua, it’s one of New Zealand’s biggest tourist drawcards.
But what’s so special about this «real fantasyland» that keeps people visiting?
44 hobbit-holes, lying amongst emerald hillsides and luscious gardens are waiting to be explored; seriously, it doesn’t feel like anything else you have ever visited.
During the two-hour Hobbiton Movie Set tour, you’ll be entertained with stories about Peter Jackson’s legendary attention to detail, learn about filming tricks, figure out how movie scouts uncovered the location and get a clear insight about how it was initially built and maintained. Sir Peter Jackson was very specific about what he wanted to create and capture.
The lengths he went searching for authenticity and the work required for props that were only featured in the movies for a matter of seconds is truly remarkable. In this article, we have gathered all those fascinating Hobbiton facts as described by the people who were lucky enough to take part in the filming and turned Hobbiton from fiction to reality.
It’s hard to tell what’s real or fake
Walking around Hobbiton you will pick amazingly detailed work and a plethora of wonderfully realistic props. Fake beehives, artificially weathered wood and concrete bricks, gardening tools, water wells, lush vegetation, blossoming flowers; it required over 70 builders and designers to complete the movie set. Your eyes will have a hard time telling the difference between real and fake.
Hint: The aged appearance of the garden fences is created by harvesting real mould from a yoghurt mix and gluing it over them.
The lush vegetation of Hobbiton is 100% real
Did you know that there are between 30 and 200 plants around each hobbit-hole? The foliage of the land was allowed to take over, barberry shrubs were brought in and gardens are being cared of throughout the year. The grass is intentionally left untended to grow enough between the pathways giving the impression of an actual living village. Since all vegetables, fruits and flowers are seasonal, Hobbiton employs 8 full-time gardeners (5 during winter) to keep everything perfectly groomed.
Hint: Obviously, all the goods grown in those beautiful grounds shouldn’t go to waste; the produce of Hobbiton is used in the kitchen of the Green Dragon inn. Therefore, make sure to stop by in order to taste authentic Hobbiton products!
It’s all a matter of perspective
While strolling around Hobbiton you’ll notice that not all hobbit-holes and doors are of the same size; some are small, hobbit-sized, whereas in others a full-grown human (or better enough, a Wizard) can comfortably step in. Those different scales were used to create perspective between the various races – the short dwarves & hobbits and the towering wizards. Similarly, the gardens are filled with oversized plants so that the hobbits would appear to be smaller.
As a general rule, the hobbit-holes used by hobbits and dwarves were built taller, at a 90% scale. On the other hand, Gandalf was portrayed on hobbit-holes that were built at a 60% scale. But what about the scenes featuring both hobbits and Gandalf simultaneously? Well, Peter Jackson’s bag is full of tricks; that’s when the split-screen technique comes in to save the day.
Hint: The tour starts with a walk down a very narrow path, known as Gandalf’s Cutting. In order to make Gandalf look taller, a pony was selected to pull his cart.
Move along … frogs!
In the middle of the movie set, right below Bag End, there is an area (The Dell) with a small pond which wonderfully adds to the picturesque scenery of Hobbiton. But, what happened when a large family of frogs decided to claim the man-made pond? Well, extreme measures had to be taken since, at times, they were croaking so loud that the actors couldn’t hear each other.
Eventually, Peter Jackson had someone collect the amphibious creatures every morning and relocate them to a different pond within the farm. However, they always made their way back to the pond to carry on «disrupting» the filming. Therefore, a new job role was created; of course, the frog population was reintroduced to their initial location afterwards.
Hint: Did you know that frogs aren’t even native to New Zealand? They were introduced from Australia in the 1860s; the species found in Hobbiton are known as the Green and Golden Bell Frog.
The fake steel giant in disguise
There is no chance someone could notice that the massive 26-tonne oak sitting atop Bag End is fake. The tree is made of fibreglass and all its 200.000 artificial silk leaves were imported from Taiwan. Can you imagine how many weeks it must have taken them to individually wire each leaf to the tree? Even today, after a strong wind, any leaves that have fallen off must be collected and stapled back on.
To make matters worse, Jackson thought the shade of the leaves wasn’t quite right, so all of them had to be repainted by hand (it took 15 hours of work per day for 10 continuous days). All of this work for a prop that only aired for 10 seconds.
Hint: The great oak featured in the first trilogy was real but it had died by the time The Hobbit went in production. Therefore, a fake tree was constructed, a replica of the original.
13.000 sheep didn’t make it through casting
Even if the Alexander farm had approximately 13.000 sheep, none of them made it to the big screen. Peter Jackson thought they look too modern so all of the farm’s livestock had to be removed during filming. Instead, 39 Suffolk «stunt» sheep, a British breed with black faces and legs, were brought from the South Island to replace them.
Apple and pear trees bearing plum fruits
In the last chapter (The Grey Havens) of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien mentioned that children “sat on the lawns under the plum-trees and ate, until they had made piles of stones like small pyramids or the heaped skulls of a conqueror”.
Naturally, Peter Jackson desired to put a bit of this detail onto the movie. Apparently, New Zealand’s plum trees were deemed too big for the little hobbit children. Instead, apple and pear trees were planted; as soon they fully bloomed the fruits were stripped and replaced by artificial plums.
Hint: Don’t remember the scene? Well, despite all the hard work, the scene never made it to the final cut.
Mind your head, wizard!
In the first movie of the original trilogy, Ian McKellen, the actor that portrayed Gandalf, smacked his forehead in Bilbo’s ceiling. Word around the internet has it that it was an unscripted accident. Indeed, it was unscripted, but it wasn’t an accident at all.
According to Ian McKellen himself on his website “Peter (Jackson), for once, is wrong. The head-banging was my idea but I’m glad if it seemed spontaneous, the aim of all actors”. After the intended bump, he carried on with the scene professionally and stayed in character, so the director kept the unscripted moment in.
Hint: Peter Jackson in the DVD commentary says that it all was an unplanned accident; well, he must have misremembered that particular day of shooting or, most probably, he was totally convinced by Ian McKellen’s unrivalled acting ability.
Being drunk on the job is fun!
Peter Jackson wanted to make Bilbo’s 111th birthday party scene look authentic so he let the actors participating in the celebration drink real alcoholic beverages. However, that not only impaired their performance but also made a couple of actors fell ill. Therefore, a special brew, called SobeRing that contained only 1% alcohol, was created exclusively for the crew.
Hint: “Harrington’s SobeRing Thought” is a handcrafted ale brewed in Christchurch specifically for the Lord of the Rings movies; it was later released to the public, being available up until today.
Are you hobbit enough?
Ever thought of making an acting career as a hobbit? Well, according to the official casting requirements you had to be “five-foot-two and round-of-face”. Around 2.500 auditions were needed until the final hobbit-crew was selected, entirely composed of local New Zealanders.
Ever watched a sunrise in reverse?
Of course you did! Remember the scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring” where Gandalf and Bilbo are viewing the party preparations smoking a pipe, right after the sunset? Apparently, Bag End faces east (the sun always sets to the west), so the crew had to get up at 02:30 AM and film a sunrise, so they could play it in reverse, afterwards. It took Peter Jackson 7 sunrises to get the scene right; during the supposed last shooting a distant barn was spotted, so they actually had to redo it for a 7th (and final) time.
Hint: If you’d paid really close attention to the original cinema scene, you could spot birds flying backwards; unfortunately, it has been removed shortly after.
That attention to detail
Five hobbit-holes were built over the hill, just in case the camera catches a glimpse of them accidentally; apparently, it didn’t.
How many hobbit-holes can you visit?
Even if it’s wonderful to think that hobbit-holes are actual houses with tea rooms, tube-shaped halls, polished chairs, cellars and dining rooms, only the outer facades are real. Bag End is the only hobbit-hole with a small interior – to provide a sense of depth. All the items and the actual interior of the hobbit-holes were designed and filmed in a studio in Wellington.
Hint: There is only one hobbit-hole you can actually step in and get a shot. And guess what? It’s not Bag End.
Unique job opportunities made available during filming
Paths between the clotheslines on top of the hobbit houses had to be naturally worn; it’s a real village we are talking about, after all, right? Well, a lady was employed to repeatedly walk between them for some weeks just to make sure they seem just right. Another man was hired to light bee’s wax on the hobbit residences so that there is real smoke emitting from the chimneys.
During filming more than 25 species of animals could be found around Hobbiton; 3 specially trained vets travelled all the way to New Zealand from the United States to take care of them.
There is one permanent resident in the Hobbit village
Thrown out from a truck in a bag when she was only 6 weeks old, Pickles was rescued and adopted by one of the gardeners working in the movie set. The hobbit cat is a special little creature roaming the village, making sure no one steps on the flower beds.
Once per day, the cat heads down to the Green Dragon inn to get a taste of authentic Hobbiton cuisine; sometimes she may be also found sleeping happily in front of the fireplace. It was a love/ hate relationship with Peter Jackson as she kept getting in the way during filming.
Hint: Several pictures of the cat are being taken to publish a children’s book “Pickles goes to Hobbiton – Happiest Cat Ever”.
Who owns Hobbiton?
Russel Alexander, the unofficial “lord of the Shire” is the general manager of Hobbiton Movie Set Tours with Peter Jackson owning just about half of it.
Hobbiton attracts its own wildlife
It all began with some ducks making their way to the pond by the Old Mill, soon to be followed by swans and eels. They all made Hobbiton, their home.
Not all hobbits live in wealth
How can you say which hobbits are richer? Well, the lower down the hill a hobbit lives the poorer he is. That’s the reason Bag End, the Bagginses’ residence, with its manicured gardens and lucrative rooms, sits on the very top of the hill.
A record worth beating
How many pictures can you shoot in two hours? The current record for the most photographs taken during the tour is set to 3.500 pictures. Would you care to try beating this?
Are you into cosplaying?
Always dreamed of entering Hobbiton dressed as Gandalf riding your own cart filled with fireworks? Well, you might want to put your plan to a halt because it is specifically prohibited to re-enact scenes from the movies within the movie set. However, many a time, groups of cosplayers can be found roaming quietly around taking pictures on specific movie locations.
More interesting & weird facts about Hobbiton
- 21 marriage proposals were made on Hobbiton since tours have begun.
- The locals named the mountain behind the movie set, Mount Hobbit.
- Bilbo’s eleventy first’s (111th) birthday cake caught real fire and had to be extinguished!
- The thatch that can be found on the roofs of the pub and the mill was cut from rushes around the Alexander farm.
- The length of the grass within the village was regulated by having sheep eat it during or before filming.
- The set for the first trilogy along with the 8 km tarmac road leading to the Alexander farm was built by the New Zealand Army.
- Up to 400 people were on-site daily; three times per day, a two-course meal was served to all the crew and cast.
- Not all fireworks during Bilbo’s party were artificial; real ones were also fired.
- Almost 40% of the visitors haven’t seen the movies.
My main takeaway, after visiting the movie set, is that Peter Jackson is clearly a perfectionist. His attention to detail and the depths he dived to bring Hobbiton to life is truly spectacular. Along the tour interesting behind-the-scenes facts about Hobbiton were revealed and I had the chance to speak with people that had participated in the actual filming of the movie trilogies. Hobbiton is a location like nothing you’ve ever seen, an experience you won’t find anywhere else making it impossible to resist its charm.
Farm Area: 1.250 acres
Farm Livestock: 13.000 sheep, 400 beef cattle
Movie Set Area: 12 acres
Official Website: Hobbiton Movie Set Tours
Gardens: 2.3 km and growing
Party Tree: 70 – 80 metres tall
Produce: ales, cider, ginger beer, fruits, vegetables, lamb, beef, wool
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies are indeed a success story but the stories behind their filming is another, legendary one.