“By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed) – Gandalf came by…”
“…Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good-bye!”
“With that, the hobbit turned and scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he dared, not to seem rude. Wizards, after all, are wizards…” – J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit, “Chap.1: An Unexpected Party”
This is how Tolkien, years ago, wonderfully introduced a peculiar little hobbit to the world. We met a hobbit and a wizard who, one good morning, unexpectedly and out of nowhere, appeared on his doorstep at Bag End, his home in the peaceful village of Hobbiton, and offered him an adventure. And it was not just any adventure, no, no. But one that was about to take him to unimaginable places and make him do unimaginable things. One that would change his life forever.
In a way, it is not that different from the time when the Alexanders, a family residing in tranquility, raising sheep and cattle on the outskirts of Matamata in New Zealand, got an unexpected visit of their own one morning in 1998. When a man, not known to the world that much back then, came to their house unexpectedly and asked if they would be willing to share an adventure with him.
He needed a world where there was less noise and more green, and they were living a peaceful life in a place exactly as he was looking for.
Unlike that particular hobbit in that particular adventure, these folks weren’t aware that a powerful wizard had arrived on their porch that morning. Nevertheless, they did say, Good Morning! to the man and invited him in for a cup of tea. They were too kind and too well-mannered to shut the door and send him away without hearing him out first.
He said the adventure was daring, it was hard and long, and there would be no going back afterward. Their lives would never be the same. But it would be worth it. He assured them they would manage. They hesitated a bit, who wouldn’t after all. But in the end, with all the courage in the world, they said yes to this Kiwi wizard named Peter Jackson and his long but charming adventure in six parts. One that, over the course of the next 14 years, would take them “There and Back Again.”
As the story goes, the director spotted this family’s beautiful farmland while he was flying over New Zealand, scouting for suitable locations for shooting. He’d got a green light from the producers, and the cast was all assembled, more or less. He now needed places where he could bring Middle Earth and its characters to life, and show us what we previously could only imagine. Those gorgeous farmlands in the countryside were perfect for the Shire and Hobbiton. No tall buildings, no roads, no power lines, just rolling green meadows, grassy hills, large trees, and a small lake.
With their permission and a lot of dedication, Jackson, with his crew, turned the place into a proper home suitable for the smallest of people of Middle Earth. Even the army of New Zealand was there to aid and built a road leading to the set. Along the road came all kinds of heavy machinery. Trucks, bulldozers, diggers, anything that you can imagine. But the director, adoring his homeland, ensured everything stayed untarnished and preserved. One tree, in particular, was even relocated and planted here; it was to be The Party Tree of Bag End. It was hard, but it was worth it at the end.
In no more than a few months, they managed to turn a beautiful countryside landscape into the Shire. It was a village for Hobbits that was left to the Alexanders to live in and savor as they pleased after the official filming of The Lord of the Rings trilogy came to an end in December 2000. Luckily for us, they decided that it would be probably for the best if they let the place be savored by everyone.
“I think it was basically the day after the première of The Fellowship of the Ring … I made contact with New Line Cinema in America, and I think that took me eight months to get their approval to do what we are doing today in tours,” recalls Russell Alexander, the general manager of Hobbiton Movie Set Tours and today the unofficial “Lord of the Shire” in an interview for 100% New Zealand about how it all began.
But it wasn’t all that rosy at the very start. This was a film set where an adventure took place for a couple of years at first, a place where up to 400 cast and crew worked day and night, but it was still a home for Russell Alexander and his family. And home was not as it was when they first started this adventure. They knew it was to be changed forever, but still. Home for them, albeit changed and left magnificent, was a movie set left behind. It was authentic and all that, but it wasn’t meant to last for long. For the purpose of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, everything was created to endure only for a short while, and it did. Made out of temporary materials like 7mm ply and styrofoam it deteriorated quickly.
The Alexander’s family estate attracted a lot of attention right from the start. According to 100% Pure New Zealand, “tourists from all over the world have been flocking to Hobbiton to get their own insider’s view of the epic filming projects.” The first tours in 2002 were, as they say, informational, or focused around about what happened when and where during the filming and nothing more really.
But then, in 2011, Jackson took the family once again on an adventure, with Martin Freeman as the reluctant hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, unwilling to leave his home behind, offering them a partnership deal to rebuild Hobbiton once again. Only this time, for the filming of The Hobbit, it was built to be much longer lasting. After the filming was over, it became a Hobbiton for everyone and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. So you see, in a way, they truly went “There and Back Again” indeed.
It is strange how a simple knock at the door can change the lives of people willing to accept an adventure. And how one man’s vision, and the zeal of a family kind enough to say good morning and embrace an adventurous idea over a cup of tea, can leave a treasure behind for everyone to enjoy. And for a change, not just on the screen. But inside the magical world, where more than 800,000 visitors have stepped over the last two decades. There is even a weekly night-time tour with a lantern to guide guests as they explore the rambling paths the hobbits walked on.
Taking a visit to Hobbiton, drinking ale at the Green Dragon, or just standing in awe in front of the seasonal gardens and breathing in the freshness outside the World of Men, one soon understands what comfort and tranquility truly means; why hobbits use Good Morning so much and why they dislike adventures.
No big folk who come to the Alexander’s Shire want to leave it, ever! Just as no hobbit in Middle Earth wished to leave their Shire either. For there is no place like the Shire, and nothing compares to the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, New Zealand.