I'm beginning to wonder if J.R.R. Tolkien invented Hobbiton specifically to make me jealous. "But, he never knew you existed! He died before you were born!" you'll protest. I say, he knew what he was doing.
The best thing about this beautiful movie-set garden is that aside from the things on the table, it's all real, thanks to North Island's glorious climate and a dedicated team of gardeners. The gardeners just have to keep it looking all idyllic and lovely, and they get to take home whatever the garden produces. What a cool job!
Some cool things we learned:
The houses are made at various scales to make the actors look bigger or smaller by standing next to them.
Casting required that hobbit extras be 5'2" or under, so I'm actually at the tall end! I must give off a smaller than life impression though because when our guide asked people who fit the hobbit requirements to raise their hands he looked at me like, "No kidding."
The tree on top of Bag End isn't real. It's a huge, half a million dollar movie prop. Originally they wired together pieces of a real tree for the LOTR movies, but when they did The Hobbit Peter Jackson insisted that the tree should look younger since the story took place much earlier.
He also assigned PAs to walk to and from all the clotheslines for 2 weeks so that the grass would show signs of being regularly trodden by hobbits going about their daily activities. This guy's attention to detail is impressive.
All the interiors were shot in a studio in Wellington, so if you're imagining going inside Bilbo's house, it's not exactly like that. You can physically go inside, but there's not much to see. There's enough room for a handful of people to stand and not much else. I did find umbrellas in one of them though, so, score!
The field where Bilbo's birthday was filmed used to be a swamp, so the New Zealand Military came to help fill it in. I really hope they include that in their recruitment ads.
The soldiers also acted as extras during the battle scenes. They were asked to really give the audience a fierce battle, but when they delivered, Jackson had to ask them to tone it down because they were too intense!
Being the last tour of the day does come with an extra benefit: we got to see the lanterns lit at dusk and the last moments of daylight turn the sky opal--something we would have missed any earlier in the day. Afterwards we went to a pub in the real world, had an especially delicious dinner, and ended the night with our necks craned back to stare at the Milky Way; a reminder that while fantasy is a beautiful thing, real life can be just as commanding. Definitely a date for the books.