Having experienced the spectacle of Hobbiton, as well as myriad locations featured in The Lord of the Rings movie, our trip to new Zealand wouldn’t have been complete without a tour of Wētā Workshop. The company, based in Wellington, is the creative home of special effects and props, and they have been producing sets, costumes, armour, weapons and creatures for television and film since 1987. Sneaking past the huge stone trolls cavorting on the lawns
we made it through the Hobbit door entrance.
There was no shortage of memorabilia in the gift shop
and I wondered what was lurking under the loincloth of Lurtz.
The first part of the tour led us on a discovery of miniature effects including real television shooting stages for Thunderbirds Are Go! I remember the original TV series in the 1960s and couldn’t pass up the chance to ride up front with Virgil Tracy in Thunderbird 2.
We were then taken on a fascinating journey through the creation of props, costumes and creatures for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Photography was only allowed in designated areas throughout the tour, hence the absence thereof. At the end of the tour, we were ushered into a room, seemingly guarded by a life size figure of Orc-lord, Azog.
Here we met special effects artist, Warren Beaton, his appearance the epitome of a mad professor.
Various heads kept watch from above
as he demonstrated his expertise of making prototypes using tin foil and a spoon.
I’m sure it’s not as easy as he made it look, the results are remarkable.
With a fond farewell to Bert (stone trolls need love, too) we headed off in search of sustenance before our next adventure.
The reason we chose to stay at Matamata was its proximity to Hobbiton, the film location for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy. You don’t have to be a fan of these literary works to appreciate the beauty of The Shire but it adds to the fascination if able to picture the movie scenes as you wander around. Sir Peter Jackson spotted the 1,250 acre sheep farm while aerial scouting for film locations in September 1998. He, apparently, knocked on the door of the Alexander home, explained what he wanted, and was asked to come back later as they were watching the rugby! The original set was never intended to be a permanent fixture and was dismantled at the end of filming The Lord of the Rings. Two years later, The Shire was rebuilt for The Hobbit, this time from wood, concrete and bricks instead of polystyrene and plywood. We learned a lot of interesting facts on the bus ride through the farmland, arriving in Hobbiton eager to see more.
A short walk from the car park along Gandalf’s Cutting, we halted to take in the scene before us. Hobbit holes, 44 in all, dotted the green rolling hills, their chimney stacks and enchanting windows emerge sporadically from the landscape.
I can’t think of a job I would rather have than tending the gardens in Hobbiton. There are between 30 and 200 plants around each hobbit hole and all the fruit and vegetables are seasonal.
During filming, a person was employed to walk to the clothes lines and back to make a well-worn track.
Not all hobbit holes are equal. The poorer inhabitants live lower down the hill and the further up the hill you go, the homes are bigger with more manicured gardens.
Bilbo, at Bag End, is one of the wealthiest. The magnificent oak at the top of the hill is actually made from fibreglass and the silk leaves, imported from Taiwan, were individually painted and wired on to the branches.
The occupations of the residents are depicted in great detail by some of the exterior props including beekeepers, loggers, bakers and cheesemakers.
Local frogs soon moved into the man made pond and they were so loud during filming, someone was paid to collect all the frogs and relocate them to another pond on the farm.
Most of the hobbit holes are just facades, the interior shots were filmed in a studio in Wellington, although the half open door at Bag End gives a hint of a cosy abode.
There was no need to manufacture leaves for the Party Tree, the perfect specimen as described in the books was found on the property.
The morning sunlight shone beatifically on some of the hobbit doors, Bag End is one that faces east. To create the scene where Bilbo and Gandalf are sitting facing a sunset, the crew had to get up early to film sunrises and play them backwards. It took seven attempts to capture the one we see in the movie.
The hobbit holes were built to two different scales. The smaller ones at 60% scale were used for scenes with Gandalf to make him look larger. To be cast as a hobbit you had to be 5’2” and they were filmed around the 90% scale doors.
There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings book where children are playing under plum trees but Peter Jackson thought plum trees would look too big. Instead, he had apple and pear trees planted and just before filming, all the fruit was stripped from the trees and replaced with fake ones. After all that effort, the scene never made it to the movie.
Samwise Gamgee lived at number 3 Bagshot Row, a lovely terrace of hobbit holes
with convenient access to the Party Field.
With the Green Dragon Inn in our sights,
we meandered our way to the double arch stone bridge and the Old Mill where the large water wheel still turns.
The Green Dragon Inn was added to Hobbiton in 2012
and the interior has been reconstructed to appear as it did in the films.
Our tour included a complimentary beverage from the Southfarthing range; Girdley Fine Grain Amber Ale, Sackville Apple Cider, Oatbarton Traditional English Ale or Frogmorton Ginger Beer. All are brewed at the Good George Brewery in Hamilton and available only at the Green Dragon Inn.
Our circuitous route returned us to the car park past flourishing vegetable gardens