New Zealand: Welcome to Middle-earth

New Zealand: Welcome to Middle-earth

Thanks to its hobbits, goblins and the fictional continent of Middle Earth, New Zealand has become a very popular travel destination for holidaymakers, adventurers and migrants in recent years.

Long before internet giant Amazon released the first installment of the first season of the much-anticipated series months ago, they had to prepare for visitors who wanted to know exactly. They used GPS data to verify individual filming locations for The Lord of the Rings. It's a huge undertaking, after all there are over a hundred of them. They are also widespread across the island's various landscapes. But this way you can get to know the whole country. And the people. Word has already spread that they are very polite and friendly towards visitors.

Naturally, director Peter Jackson is highly regarded by locals. It is thanks to him that The Legacy of JRR Tolkien was filmed in Wellington and the surrounding area.

Where is the Shire here?

When it comes to fantasy, cinephiles think of New Zealand, even before it became the film capital of Hollywood, since Tolkien's cinematic trilogy. What else, where can you find landscapes largely untouched by man in California? Or even a mountain of torment and the legendary Shire?

“We are all part of Middle-earth,” New Zealand Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford recently asserted, describing the film trilogy, which won a total of 17 Oscars, as “an important piece of popular culture,” especially for his countrymen.

For everyone who has basically understood train stations up to this point, what is this actually about?

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The “Lord of the Rings” novel trilogy is written by the British philologist John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973), and was published in 1954/1955, and is one of the most successful books of the twentieth century. The Ring plays a central role, as an evil force in the form of the Dark Lord Sauron will perish.

Four mythical creatures, called hobbits, represent the main characters, including the good Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo. Gandalf the Gray is the wizard who discovered the special powers of the hobbits.

Enter Gandalf

Since the early 1980s, Gandalf has also been the pseudonym of the world-famous poet-musician Heinz Strobl, who lives in western Vienna. Inspired by reading Tolkien, he developed his own magical musical style that oscillates between electronic and acoustic sounds. Perhaps it's not entirely a coincidence that he called his debut album “Journey to a Fantasy Land.” He had no idea that there were plans to make a film adaptation of his favorite book, but at the end of 1999 he felt the urge to record the album “The Lord of the Rings”.

It was finally released two years later as “Visions 2001” for its 20th anniversary. As for them, Gandalf recalls: “When I found out that director Peter Jackson was working on a film adaptation, I was somewhat skeptical at first. But after I saw the first film, I was very impressed by how well he translated Tolkien’s world into wonderful images. And with Howard Shore’s music , really manages to capture the magic of the story, and New Zealand's largely untouched landscape is certainly the perfect backdrop for this film.

Although he personally had never visited New Zealand before, he had read enough reviews and reports about it to be able to imagine that everything fit together well: the fictional country of Middle-earth and the very real New Zealand. Composer Gandalf also read media reports criticizing the fact that hundreds of film crew members left a huge pile of dung on the beautiful island.

Lawsuits of this type will likely not occur again. Amazon announced in the summer that it would move filming for the second season of the new series “The Lord of the Rings” to Great Britain. A shock to those New Zealanders who are already accustomed to being part of one of the world's most successful film productions in the coming years. Because you shouldn't forget: At least 20,000 Kiwis, as New Zealanders call themselves, have played larger and smaller extra roles in Peter Jackson's “Lord of the Rings” and his “The Hobbit” trilogy over the past 20 years. A lot for a country with a population of only about five million.

If you want to visit the filming location that featured in every part of The Lord of the Rings, you can't ignore the community of Matamata in Auckland District. Here is the Hobbiton movie village or “Hobbiton” which includes several cute hobbit caves, the Green Dragon inn, the windmill and the festival tree.

More sheep than people

On the way there, you pass the lush green mountain landscape of the Alexander family. She has been farming and raising sheep there for decades. Legend has it that director Peter Jackson flew over the farm more than 20 years ago in search of a suitable filming location. It was immediately clear to him: this is exactly where Hobbiton is. Film scouts, lawyers and soldiers from the New Zealand Army did the rest.

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After convincing the farmers to give up their ideal land to the film crew for a few months, the army built an access road and dug dozens of caves for the hobbit homes.

All this work was watched with suspicion by New Zealand's not-so-secret masters, the sheep. There are about 25 million of them, which is five times the number of humans.

Of course, there aren't as many animals grazing on Alexander's family farm, but there are still about 13,500 animals. Since they witnessed the filming, they have been posing like professionals when visitors chase them. They've been doing this all the time since farmer Craig Alexander expanded the film's location into a massive cinematic village for Tolkien fans.

The next huge event is just around the corner. December 10th marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of The Lord of the Rings in Hobbiton. And in true style with Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf – and plenty of sheep as spectators.

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