Hanging out in Hobbiton: The Hobbit's stunning movie set
Sir Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" will premiere in Wellington, New Zealand, on November 28, two weeks before the film's official release on December 14.
The director's latest blog account of the filming has also just been uploaded -- see it here.
But Middle Earth fans don't need to wait six months to see the spectacular locations used in the film.
Since the announcement that filming would take place in New Zealand for production of the two-part prequel to “The Lord of the Rings,” (LOTR) Tourism New Zealand has been getting ready to capitalize on the next round of hobbit fever.
Now travelers can get a peek of Middle Earth and even visit the new film locations before the movies are released -- here's a quick tour through a hobbit's world.
After landing at Auckland airport, any true Middle Earth fan is going to run off and visit the Hobbiton Movie Set in the North Island’s town of Matamata.
As an unprecedented convention-defying, Hollywood-style gift to the people of New Zealand and movie fans across the globe, Jackson has rebuilt the entire outdoor film set of Hobbiton in all its hobbit-hole, gardeny-green glory.
It will serve as a permanent tourist attraction -- it's made of actual wood and stone, no polystyrene.
Visitors can stroll through the lane where Gandalf first arrived in Hobbiton, pass by Sam’s house, gaze across the lake at the Green Dragon tavern, dance under the Party Tree and climb the hill to Bilbo’s house at Bag End, where J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic adventure begins.
It’s open to the public when filming is not in session.
Mordor (Tongariro National Park)
From Hobbiton, its straight to Mordor (yes, New Zealand’s Middle Earth map is a little scrambled), in Tongariro National Park.
The day hike along the Tongariro Alpine crossing and skirting active volcanoes and Emerald Lakes, with a detour to Mt. Doom (or rather Mount Ngauruhoe), is one of the best walks in New Zealand.
Several spots in the park were used as filming locations.
The walk normally takes seven to eight hours.
I did it 11 hours. My feet were so sore that my toenails fell out, I drank all my water hours before I finished and I missed my scheduled pick-up.
Thank God for attentive hut wardens and the folks at Howard’s Mountain Lodge, who came looking for me.
It’s a pleasant train ride south from Tongariro to the nation’s capital.
Wellington, affectionately known is “Wellywood,” is arguably the hottest spot in filmmaking right now.
Wellington’s Weta Workshop not only designed all the computer effects, props and sets for LOTR and “The Hobbit,” it continues to create effects for many of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.
Located on Miramar Peninsula near the airport, the Weta Cave, which sells books, souvenirs, replicas and movie maquettes (created by the same artists who make the movie props) is the only part of Weta that's open to the public.
However, it's possible to walk the streets of Miramar, between the surrounding studios, and get a glimpse of sets from “The Hobbit,” or even some of the actors.
The rustic wooden set for Laketown has been visible from outside the Stone Street Studios for several months.
Across from Weta’s famous "Tripod" sculpture is the Embassy Theatre on Courtenay Place, a grand period cinema tenderly restored to include a chic basement bar and upstairs café.
Embassy hosted the premier of “The Return of the King” in 2003 and is scheduled to host the premier of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
There are dozens of film locations in the landscapes surrounding Wellington.
The locations I found most worthwhile were Mount Victoria, where Frodo and the hobbits fled the shire to escape the Black Riders, and Kaitoke Park, location of several scenes in Rivendell (both landscapes which could conceivably appear again in the new movies).
The Misty Mountains (The Remarkables)
The Southern Island’s Queenstown (reached via short flight from Wellington) has been a base for filming many scenes in both LOTR and “The Hobbit.”
Nearby Paradise and Paradise Trust were used as film locations for the outskirts of Bree in “The Hobbit.” Speargrass Flat and Wanaka will comprise the Lonelands.
Portions of the Remarkables, a spectacular mountain range overlooking Queenstown, were used in LOTR shots for both the Snowy Mountains and the landscapes of Mordor.
They'll be used once again for the Misty Mountains in “The Hobbit.”
Even after a month in New Zealand I didn’t exhaust all of the Middle Earth locations and related activities that are possible to experience. To do so would be an epic adventure worthy of a true hobbit.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” will premier in Wellington in late November 2012.
A week-long festival for the premier is expected to dwarf that of 2003’s “Return of the King,” with an expected 100,000 visitors in attendance.
The worldwide premier will follow on December 14, 2012.
The second film, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” will be released on December 13, 2013.
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How to tour Hobbiton yourself
Embassy Theatre, 10 Kent Terrace, Wellington, +64 4 384 7657, www.embassytheatre.co.nz
Flat Earth, (tours of film locations around Wellington), +64 4 472 9635, www.flatearth.co.nz
Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours, 501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata, +64 7 888 1505, www.hobbitontours.com
Howard’s Mountain Lodge, Caroll Street, National Park Village, +64 7 892 2827, www.howardslodge.co.nz
Nomad Safaris (tours of film locations around Queenstown), +64 3 442 6699, www.nomadsafaris.co.nz
Weta Cave, corner of Camperdown Road and Weka Street, Miramar, Wellington, +64 4 380 9361, www.wetanz.com/cave
Lord Of The Rings Location Guidebook -- Extended Edition by Ian Brodie, Harpercollins, 2011
Tourism New Zealand, www.newzealand.com
New Zealand Department of Conservation (including national park brochures, maps and free cell phone apps), www.doc.govt.nz