A giant of an adventure in Hobbiton

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
A giant of an adventure in Hobbiton
Bilbo Baggins’ house in Hobbiton.
Photos by Joanne Rae Ramirez

We were told, upon landing in Auckland, New Zealand on a familiarization trip organized by Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Tourism New Zealand (TNZ), that we were stepping into the future. Not just because New Zealand has the modern trappings of a First World country, but also because we were literally in the future.

After all, New Zealand is in a zone that is four hours ahead of the Philippines. We had hopped over 240 minutes in time by flying 10 hours to New Zealand, one of the few times Filipinos can fly into the future. (We usually fly back to the past — six hours when we go to Europe and from eight to 12 hours when we fly to the US.) But in New Zealand, we were moving toward the future.

Even in this setting, however, one can also hike down to the past — to the “Shire,” the bucolic home of the Hobbits in the movie The Lord of the Rings, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Made into a blockbuster movie trilogy by New Zealand native Peter Jackson, much of The Lord of the Rings series unfolds in the Shire, in a fantasy epic that presumably took place centuries ago.

The view from a Hobbit Hole.

According to online sources, the trilogy had an overall budget of $281 million (some sources say $310 to $330 million), and the entire project took eight years, with the filming for all three films done simultaneously and entirely in New Zealand. This, however, has done wonders for New Zealand because it helped spark a tourism boom in the country. Tourism is the No. 1 industry in New Zealand, which has a population of about five million people and 28 million sheep!

In 2009, Jackson returned to film The Hobbit trilogy, and he left behind the beautiful movie set now called “Hobbiton,” which includes 44 permanently reconstructed colorful Hobbit Holes strewn over 12 acres (4.8 hectares) of green meadows. It is about 2 ½ hours away from Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city.

These 44 Hobbit Holes are tucked into rolling green hills, with lakes meandering in between. From afar, the “Shire” looks like one giant canvas with colorful red, yellow, blue and green toy houses.

From the entrance with its souvenir shop selling mementoes of the movie — from rubber elves’ ears to replicas of the “ring”  — we were taken by bus to the “Shire.” After a brief ride, we alighted in Hobbiton, taking a short walk down a winding path of brown soil till we arrived at the first enclave, a Hobbit Hole with its own vegetable garden.

(From left) Berg Go, Chino Hernandez, David Guison, PAL’s Jonathan Gesmundo, Pat Cendaña, TNZ’s Carole Tredrea and the author.

From there, it was like going trick or treating  in a myriad of colorful Hobbit Holes, making stops in each home, getting a visual treat in each stopover. Hobbiton is a fantasy you can believe in. Everything looks down-to-earth in Middle Earth, with clothes hanging from clotheslines, a chessboard on a table under the sun, a fruit stand in one corner, a pastry cart. It looks like a typical village in the English countryside, except that the houses are just over a meter high, and one must bend to enter their round wooden doors.

Actually, you would be surprised at what lies beyond the colorful doors of the Hobbits’ homes. I shall not ruin the surprise for you.

(For those not familiar, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is set in the fictional world of Middle Earth, and follows the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as he and the Fellowship embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring, and thus ensure the destruction of its maker, the Dark Lord Sauron.)

Sources say that when Peter Jackson first saw the Alexander sheep farm in Waikato, he concluded that the area was “like a slice of ancient England.”

The ‘Shire’ is the home of the Hobbits in the movie The Lord of the Rings. Photo from www.facebook.com/lordoftheringstrilogy

When location scouts saw the area, they knocked on the door of the Alexanders, who were watching a rugby game and they nonchalantly said yes to the idea, probably eager to go back to the game.

After negotiations with the owners, parts of the farm were transformed into sets for Hobbiton and other parts of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire in March 1999. The New Zealand Army was said to bring in heavy equipment to make 1.5 kilometers of road into the site from the nearest highway and initial ground works.

A happy Jackson was quoted as saying that with the transformation, “we ended up with an incredibly real place, not just a film set.”

I couldn’t agree more. In Hobbiton, nature turned fantasy into reality. Except for one fake tree above Bilbo Baggins’ house, flora and fauna in the sprawling movie set was for real. Even the little houses were made of wood, not cardboard.

For dinner, we were treated to a giant feast at the Green Dragon Inn — the feast on the table resembled that in Baggins’ home when gatecrashers partook of the mouthwatering spread. We even had “Middle Earth” wine to go with our meal.

A giant feast at the Green Dragon Inn.

After dinner, we were given lamps (in some rural areas in the Philippines, these are called “Aladdins”) to light our path as we had a final photo op in front of Baggins’ house, the biggest in the Shire.

That night, I wasn’t only in the future — I was in a different world. 100% pure magic!

(Philippine Airlines flies direct from Manila to Auckland thrice weekly. For inquiries, call PAL at 855-8888.)

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