The new addition to the movie set would not only wow new visitors and encourages them to stay in the mighty Waikato a bit longer but might also inspire previous visitors to come again.
The Matamata movie set has 44 Hobbit holes, but previously, visitors were only able to see their iconic front doors.
Now, the Proudfoot family, relatives of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and the Twofoot family, both living on Bagshot Row have opened their homes to the public.
Hobbiton chief executive Russell Alexander said the new attraction has been in the works since 2014.
“We had so many visitors saying they would love to see inside a Hobbit hole, so we thought let’s do it.
“Not in my wildest dreams I would have thought Hobbiton would turn into this. It was the missing ingredient, it makes the experience complete.
“I’m absolutely rapt. It was a massive undertaking that turned out way above expectation.”
Hobbiton was used as an external movie set only, meaning all inside scenes were shot inside a studio in Wellington.
For the movie set to open the two Hobbit holes to the public, the team had to re-build them from scratch. But it was worth it, the new Hobbit holes and their interior have been handcrafted with an incredible eye for detail.
Set decorator Kathryn Lim said a lot of the items were also made from scratch, like wooden beams, furniture and books.
“We got some things, like chairs, from the op-shops. But everything has been modified. We added carvings and paint for example.
“It’s not just an exhibition. We wanted it to look like it’s someone’s home.”
Visitors are invited to have a closer look and touch the exhibits. However, Hobbiton Movie Set Tours general manager of tourism, Shayne Forrest, said keepsake hunters won’t get lucky.
“Everything smaller than a handbag is glued and screwed on.”
He said a lot of movie set visitors hadn’t seen the Lord of the Rings movies or read the books, so it had been important to the team to cater to the individual’s needs.
“We have hidden little Easter eggs for different levels of fandom, so that all visitors can enjoy the experience.”
Lim said in a movie, people only got to see what the director wanted them to see.
“As a visitor here, people can decide what they want to explore. It’s an individual experience and what you see will be different to what other people might see.”
Hamilton and Waikato Tourism chief executive Nicola Greenwell said Hobbiton was one of the most visited attractions in the country and the two new Hobbit holes were an exciting addition to the Movie Set.
“Hobbiton is a bucket-list experience for a number of international visitors who put the mighty Waikato on their itinerary, and as the regional tourism organisation we encourage these manuhiri to extend their time in the region.
“As one of the most visited attractions in the country, Hobbiton Movie Set plays a key role in providing employment... and vibrancy of place for its nearby Waikato communities.”
She said the movie set, like all tourism businesses, had a halo-effect on the local communities.
“[They] not only offer employment for locals but also provide economic benefits to businesses... [like] cafes and retail, the mechanic who services the business’ vehicles, electricians, accountants, and local producers.”
Matamata-Piako mayor Adrienne Wilcock said she has visited the set at least four times and remembers reading The Hobbit in third form.
“It’s fabulous. I’m delighted this project has come to fruition. The ambiance [of the new addition] is just beautiful.”
She said opening the Hobbit holes was great for the whole country.
“This is not just about Matamata-Piako... we are just very fortunate to have it in our backyard.
“Those that visited [Hobbiton] before might now come again... I’m confident that this was a very worthwhile addition ... [and will have] an economic spinoff.
“People will be visiting and might want to stay a bit longer... Tourism is changing, people don’t just want to race through. There is so much on offer here, the hotpools, Wairere Falls, the Rail Trail.”
Waikato MP Tim van de Molen echoed Wilcock’s statement saying the new attraction will drive “a whole new interest” into Hobbiton.
“It will also be an opportunity for the Waikato that we might not quite realise yet.”
He said with the holiday season being close, Hobbiton’s new addition would contribute to a “strong summer” for the region.
“It’s been a tough few years, not only because of Covid but also because of the weather. So the timing for [opening the new attraction] is fantastic.”
The 5 hectare movie set is located on a working 500 hectare sheep and beef farm.
The farm, originally run by Ian Alexander, is now operated by his son Craig, Russell’s brother.
The “legend” has it, that the Lord of the Rings movie location scout was tasked with finding the ideal spot for Hobbiton and took a helicopter flight around the region.
Attracted by the luscious green grass, big trees and lake on the farm grounds, he knocked on the Alexanders’ door to ask if he could have a closer look.
The family was watching a rugby match on TV, but luckily it was half-time, so they could answer the door. An interaction that would change their lives.
At the conclusion of the filming, Hobbiton, like all the other sets around the country, were meant to be destroyed but weather delayed the work.
Before it could begin, so many movie fans came knocking on the Alexanders’ door to look at the site that Russell persuaded director Sir Peter Jackson to allow him to conduct tours of the site.
Danielle Zollickhofer is a multimedia journalist based in Hamilton. She joined NZME in 2021 and is writing for the Waikato Herald.
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