Fans can tour the set from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies on what was once just a farm in Matamata, New Zealand.
Here, General Manager and unofficial ‘Lord of the Shire’, Russell Alexander, tells us about his journey, the tours and his plans for the future.
"We first signed up to The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1999 and the temporary set was constructed in eight months by the set builders. The original set built from temporary materials — such as ply and styrofoam — was largely deconstructed at the end of The Lord of the Rings filming, but it was rebuilt in 2011 for The Hobbit trilogy. This time it was with permanent materials, complete with hobbit holes, gardens, a bridge and mill, and we now operate Hobbiton in partnership with director Sir Peter Jackson.
And every day of the year it’s on show to swathes of visitors - more than 800,000 people over the past 13 years have arrived through the farm gates.
The biggest change in my life is that I got married and now have three kids! But from a Hobbiton perspective it means I’ve had new challenges and more responsibility. This new career has opened up my world to a lot of fresh experiences, which is what life is all about.
Once I arrive at work my job is mainly to manage and oversee whatever project or operation is going on at that time, such as overseeing productions and facilitating photo shoots, I am just a small part of a fantastic team of people.
When tourists arrive they don’t quite know what to expect. They have no idea how big it is or the detail that goes in — it actually blows them away how much is involved in making a major movie, so it’s exciting for them to learn about it.
We’ve grown hugely. When Hobbiton started we had one dedicated staff member and within a year that increased to ten. We now have over 50 permanent members of staff, which increases to up to 180 in the peak period.
The tours, which begin at The Shire’s Rest café at the farm gate, operate every half hour in the summer season, with a truly magical experience on offer once a week: a feast fit for a hobbit at the Green Dragon dining room. After each tour, guests are invited into the Green Dragon Inn at Hobbiton to enjoy a complimentary apple cider, ginger beer and a variety of beers — all custom-brewed locally. We also cater for special events, large groups and even weddings, and we’re always looking to improve.
Our success is that we’ve developed slowly but surely over time and there’s enough room here to keep that going! My philosophy has always been to add something new each year. Hopefully this can continue, but the progress we’ve made already when I reflect on things is really quite humbling."
Want to visit Hobbiton? Find out more about the dedicated Hobbiton Movie Set Tour.