Film: On the Trail of the Hobbit in New Zealand

Film: On the Trail of the Hobbit in New Zealand

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On the Hobbit Trail in New Zealand

Sunday 30 November 2014 | 12:33

dpa/Hobbiton Film Collection
The fictional village of Hobbiton in Matamata, New Zealand, was permanently recreated in 2009.

When Shane Forrest guides visitors through the set of The Hobbit, he regularly experiences a full range of emotions.

“Some of our fans even shed tears of joy. “They've been waiting to come to Middle-earth for a long time,” smiles Forrest, who is the marketing manager for the Hobbiton facility in New Zealand. “Some of the die-hard Hobbit fans even come in costumes – it's always fun,” Forrest says. “.

In the final part of the “The Hobbit” series, which will be released in cinemas next December under the title “The Battle of the Five Armies,” the lush green hills in front of the city of Matmata were the appropriate location for Tolkien’s Hobbit village. The film, set in the North Island, is now one of the most popular travel destinations in the country. In the permanently recreated fairytale village, visitors can also visit the hobbit tavern “Zum Grünen Drachen”. As in the movie, the innkeeper serves specially brewed hobbit beer. The spectacle doesn't just attract die-hard Tolkien fans. “Forty percent of our guests don’t know the movies or the books,” Forrest says. According to him, the number of visitors is expected to reach 300,000 this year.

Tolkien tourism is big business in New Zealand: since the first Lord of the Rings film hit cinemas in 2001, visitors have been flocking to the film's filming locations. For many vacationers, the fantasy series is the reason for their trip.

A visit to Weta special effects workshop in Wellington gives you a look behind the scenes of the film series. Here guests learn how to make heroes' weapons and armor. “Chain armor, such as those worn in the Middle Ages, would be too heavy for the actors,” armor expert and tour leader Daisy Jane explains to her visitors. “That's why Weta makes its own designs out of plastic.”

One participant was amazed to learn that weaving plastic rings is hard manual labor. “This difficult work requires patience and is not for everyone,” Jane admits. “After long days of work, weaving haunts my dreams,” she says. For the technicians, it is an honor when every prop, every mask and every helmet leaves the workshop in perfect condition, even if the part can only be seen later in the background.

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The Hobbit movie locations are scattered throughout the island nation. Using Ian Brodie's travel guide, fans can get an overview and explore the South Pacific version of Middle-earth. The author and illustrator is a devoted Tolkien fan himself. “Since I first read The Lord of the Rings in 1972, I've always imagined Middle-earth to be like the New Zealand landscape,” he enthuses.

After 13 years of hoopla over The Hobbit, tourists remain equally fascinated by Middle-earth. Even if some New Zealanders are tired of the hype surrounding the fantasy series, that shouldn't dampen visitors' enthusiasm.

2014 Warner Bros.
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