I have been so excited about telling you guys about this! I had such a great birthday weekend with tons of fun activities, but this one I came away from feeling full of inspiration. We visited the real Hobbiton set in Matamata!! I thought it was great value at $75 per person with a guided tour. We were lucky enough to catch the last tour of the day at 4.15pm with Xanthe, who was great, and it because it was the last tour it meant that the set was not busy and we could spend as long as we liked at each stop.
So when we got off the bus we found ourselves waking along the very same track we see Gandolf plough down on his horse and cart in the film. As soon as we said what lay ahead our eyes were filled with wonder and my miniature radar went into over drive! The houses really are tiny, no camera tricks there. They were originally made from polystyrene and paper mâché which enabled them to be light enough to be moved around on the set during the first Lord of The Rings films. Then when the Hobbit was to be filmed, each hobbit house - and there are 44 of them, were built right into the hills, each tiny detail minimicked from their polystyrene prototypes.
Xanthe explained that Peter Jackson was bigger on creating absolute realism in all of his scenes and the hobbit village was quite possibly the biggest nightmare for his film crew.
At the very beginning of the Hobbit film, for a split second as the camera passes over the scene, you will notice Hobbits are picking plums from a tree. Great! But on this farm, in this field, there were apple trees. Because Tolkein specifically mentioned the hobbits were picking PLUMS Peter Jackson ordered for all of the apples to be removed from the apple trees and to be replaced with plums. Remember I said the trees were only in shot for a split second - and then you never, ever see them again.
Another point of realism was the vegetable patch just as your enter the village. This patch is tended all year round and grows real seasonal vegetables. Pretty amazing huh?
As you walk around the set you begin to notice more of the little details that really make this place special. Up on the hills by some of the houses there are little washing lines with hobbit sized clothing. Peter Jackson invited locals from the surrounding villages to run up and down these hills to the washing lines to create tracks - thus making the set looked "lived in".
Each house is unique and features gorgeous little details. Each one has it's very own mail box and some of the houses hints at the interests and hobbies of its occupants. One had a bakery stand, another had a painting set, another had log chopping and one occupant was clearly into their gardening!
Another point of realism was the tree above Bilbo Baggins's house. This tree was found locally in Matamata and was brought to the set. The tree was then given a steel frame silicone to keep it upright and lifelike. Obviously the tree lost all of its leaves, which posed a problem again for Peter Jackson. So, 200,000 leaves were shipped in from China. Each leaf was hand painted by University Art Students in the South Island. They were then attached, one by one, to the tree. Ten days before filming Peter Jackson decided that the leaves were the wrong shade. A local women was then brought in to painstakingly paint each leaf, one by one, a very, very, VERY slightly lighter shade of green. Not that anyone other than Peter Jackson really noticed...
As you may have noticed by now, Peter Jackson was incredibly strict on recreating every tiny detail mentioned in the book! One problem that he faced was the direction in which the sun set. In the book, Tolkein describes Gandolf and Bilbo sitting outside of Bilbo's house watching the sun set. Unfortunately for Peter Jackson, Bilbo's house faces the East. Thankfully, he had a trick up his sleeve. He made sure that all of the characters and film crew were on set and at the house ready by 4am - baring in mind it took Make-Up & Costume 3 hours to prepare the characters for filming! When you watch the film, you are actually seeing Gandolf and Bilbo enjoying the sun rise, played backwards. Nifty trick aye?!
Bilbo's house is the only part of the set that you are not allowed to walk on. Strictly speaking, you aren't supposed to walk onto any of the hobbit house gardens to preserve the details, but the tour guides don't mind as long as you are extra careful. Bilbo's house however, is strictly off limits. There's nothing stopping you having a cheeky photo outside of it though :)
Next up we wandered down to the Party Tree. I probably should've mentioned this at the start of the post, but it is because if this particular tree that Hobbiton is even located where it is. When Peter Jackson's location scouts were flying over New Zealand they discovered this very big tree in a very big field in the middle of a sheep farm. They reported back to Peter who came to the farm himself to check it out. Rumour has it that he paid the farm owners a hefty cheque to vacate their home for 3 months while filming and work commenced on their land. Well, no one saw them for 3 months so I guess that confirms that rumour. I should also mention, had the film locators flown over this farm 10 days later it is highly likely that Hobbiton would not be located in Matamata. The farm owners had planned to cut down the tree as it is fairly large and it was considered a nuisance. I think we call that fate.
This very fence is the one which Bilbo hops over when he is running to catch up with Gandolf and the dwarves. This is the scene in which we see the rest of Hobbiton and the other 44 Hobbit homes. A neighbour enquired as to where Bilbo is going in such a hurry to which he answers, "I'm going on an adventure!" Before he hops this fence.
Check out that rainbow as well.. How cute?!
Another bit of info for you - again, Peter Jackson was big on detail and since Hobbiton was a newly built village he decided it needed aging. So the set designers set about covering all of the fences in mould. But this isn't just any mould! Xanthe asked us to guess what was used on the fence to create the mould. I was about to suggest Polymer Clay or some kind of paper clay, well why not? The kid next to me suggest avocado?! The mould is made from yoghurt, vinegar and paint! Bet you didn't guess that!
The party field is sometimes set up in the summer months and is available for weddings. How magical would that be?! But all we got to see was the string thing.
Next we wandered down to the Green Dragon Inn, which was probably my most favourite part of this tour! You can see it in the background of this photo if you squint. Sadly I didn't catch any photos of the outside as my camera was nearly out of battery.
The Green Dragon Inn is such a homely little pub. They make small snacks in the kitchen including pies, muffins and biscuits. Tea and coffee is also on offer. The pub has 5 or 6 beers which is exclusively brewed just for the Green Dragon Inn and cannot be bought elsewhere. We enjoyed a cold pint of apple cider while we took in the atmosphere and details.
Xanthe even let us play bar tenders!
All in all I highly recommend a visit to Hobbiton should you ever get the chance to come to this amazing country! It's such an experience and the obvious attention to detail is break taking. Here's some more photos!
As I mentioned before I got tons of photos. Should anyone like to see a photo of anything specific drop me a comment below and I'll see if I have one for you.
Now go back and take another look at those photos - you might've missed a detail!
Have a great day!
Edit: I thought I'd stop by just to add this link to a video I found on Youtube. It's really great for an I site into how the set is made up and I hope it adds to how you can imagine Hobbiton is set out.