|Pukeko Pictures' Martin Baynton, Weta's Richard Taylor and The Hobbit's Evangeline Lilly at a fundraiser for The Neonatal Trust.|
|Stephen Hunter (Bombur) and James Nesbitt (Bofur)|
I stroll through the lane past Gandalf’s Cutting, where the old wizard rode into the village past round, brightly-colour hobbit doors and rustic gardens. Across the quiet lake sits the cozy Green Dragon tavern, now open for human-sized customers to sit and enjoy a pint.
One of the other guests on my tour proudly tells me how a family member was an extra there on set. She too had been an extra herself, but for The Lord of the Rings. It seemed everyone in New Zealand had a family member or friend involved in some way.
|The Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata|
I turn the corner and walk past the home of Samwise Gamgee and then up the hill to Bag End. I stand on the porch, where Martin Freeman and Sir Ian McKellen filmed their scenes as Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins, looking across the hobbit homes and on to the green rolling hills beyond.
Just over the hill are several Hobbit holes designed by Guillermo Del Toro. Their diamond-shaped windows and stylized look departed from Peter Jackson’s vision and were kept off-screen in the new trilogy.
|The "Dead Marshes" from Return of the King, near Queenstown|
Incidentally, I’m told that those rabbits were originally intended to have more screen time, complete with a bit of "boxing" between the rabbits and dwarves (which sounds rather like an old Warner Brothers cartoon), along with a number of talking animals peppered throughout the films (which if I remember correctly, talking birds, spiders and other critters was an idea that is faithful to the books). These were likely among Del Toro’s various ideas that Peter Jackson discarded when he took over the director’s chair for the trilogy.
|Mount Victoria Park in Wellington, where the hobbits tumble down the hill and then are nearly captured by a Nazgul.|
A great deal of filming took place further south around the capital, Wellington. On a tour with Jack Machiela of Wellington Rover Tours we visit the sites where Frodo tells Merry, Pippin and Sam to “Get off the road!” as they flee from the Nazgul (Mt. Victoria). We also explore the River Anduin (The Hutt River); Sauruman’s Gardens of Isengard (Harcourt Park); and Rivendell, the home of Elrond and his elves (Kaitoke Regional Park).
|Aidan Turner (Kili)|
Jack is one of three founders of “Welly-moot,” a local chapter of the UK Tolkien Society, and a living encyclopedia on things of Middle Earth. He was an extra in King Kong. His wife however, was an extra appearing in The Hobbit. Welly-moot meetings are held in The Embassy Cinema, host to world premiers of The Hobbit and Return of the King.
Peter Jackson’s movie empire is based in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. Large film sets are constructed at Stone Street Studios. In 2012, The Hobbit’s Laketown could be seen here from the streets and hillsides around. Further down the road is Park Road Post Production, where the editing, sound design, mixing and otherwise putting-it-all-together happens.
|Andy Serkis (Gollum)|
Just around the corner is Weta Workshop, where the physical effects, props and models are made, and Weta Digital—where all the magical computer effects are done. The Workshop and Digital are not open to the public. However the Weta Cave and “Window into the Workshop” are.
|The Weta Cave|
On our tour we meet a man who was an extra on set at Laketown. While he couldn’t tell us anything about his role or the movie itself, he gushed about what a wonderful experience it was and how well Peter Jackson treated all the cast, crew and even the animals on set. He also said he’d never been fed so well in all his life.
|Cate Blanchett (Galadriel)|
While there’s no arguing that New Zealand’s natural scenery is a highlight of every visit and inseparable from the movies filmed there, it’s the gracious and welcoming spirit of the local people—and those involved in the movie business—that really seal the deal.
|Gollum at the Wellington Airport|
Peter Jackson is known for being particularly generous with fans. At the Red Carpet party for the premier of The Hobbit last year, he and other cast members made a surprise appearance, and though swarmed by hundreds of fans, Jackson stayed to greet each one, pose for photos and sign autographs. Throughout production of his films he makes special efforts to show fan appreciation.
|Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel)|
While Wellington has been nicknamed “Wellywood,” what truly sets it apart from Hollywood is its family-friendly environment, the down-to-earth openness and approachability of its filmmaking community, and the warm hospitality of New Zealanders in general. The people I meet on my many travels in New Zealand are who ultimately bring life to Middle Earth.
|Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Jed Brophy (Nori)|
All photos copyright Adam Bray and may not be reprinted without permission.