Today is the tenth anniversary of the premiere of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” It was the day Peter Jackson and his team of filmmakers first introduced audiences to New Zealand as Middle-earth, and now for many fans, the two names are synonymous.
The films have literally transformed the landscape of New Zealand. Ian Alexander, a sheep farmer, was watching a rugby match on his farm outside of Matamata, when the location scout knocked on the door. “Lord of the What?” he asked. Now, years later, his farm is known internationally as Hobbiton, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. His old wool shed has been remodeled into the Shire’s Rest restaurant and thousands of visitors have explored the hobbit holes scattered across his farm.
The site was in use as film set again in 2011 for the filming of “The Hobbit” films. This time around, director Peter Jackson owns a 50% share in the attraction, and he not only restored Hobbiton to its former glory, but he left the set dressings for future visitors to enjoy.
Most Lord of the Rings tourists who visit equip themselves with “The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook” by Ian Brodie. Brodie recalls, “The first print run was 20,000 copies, and we sold 19,000 in the first weekend. To date we’ve sold nearly half a million copies.” His book is so popular, that it is one of New Zealand’s non-fiction bestsellers.
Armed with Brodie’s Guidebook, fans traipse around the countryside dressed as elves, hobbits, and wizards, speaking elvish and sometimes engaging in elaborate stunts to recreate moments from the films. One young woman hired a helicopter to fly her over New Zealand’s equivalent of Mount Doom in Tongariro National Park and to dramatically drop her replica of The One Ring.
In another part of the country, a Nomad Safaris “Safari of the Scenes” tour takes explorers on a four-wheel drive Jeep tour along the Arrow River to the location of the Ford of Bruinen scene. And just outside of Queenstown, Toni Glover serves food to visitors at her Kinloch lodge. She says of the Lord of the rings, “It’s still very much front of mind.”
Chief executive of Film New Zealand Gisella Carr says, “A movie was able to shift the way people thought about New Zealand. And that’s remarkable.”