HOBBITON, New Zealand – Like the “Lord of the Rings” saga, the tale of the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour has grown in the telling. And like this year’s most famous hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, the folks behind the tour are scrambling to prepare for much more company.
The tale began in 1998, when “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson was looking for a New Zealand locale suitable to serve as the home for Bilbo, Frodo and the other 3-foot-6, hairy-footed characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga.
Ian Alexander’s 1,250-acre sheep and cattle farm near Matamata fit the bill, and construction workers turned the place into the pastoral Shire, complete with dozens of hobbit holes. The set was mostly dismantled after the filmmakers were finished; nevertheless, one of Ian’s sons, Russell Alexander, started taking “Lord of the Rings” fans on walking tours in 2002.
Fast forward to 2011: Jackson had the set rebuilt for the new film trilogy based on “The Hobbit,” and partnered with the Alexander family to preserve the set after the filming was done. This time, the structures have been built with solid wood and stone rather than plywood and styrofoam. There’s a sturdy stone bridge and a mill, a Shire-worthy pond frequented by swans, and a fully operational pub.