Penny Walker takes a look at the global destinations that you can visit, and, using a little bit of imagination, see Tolkien's most beloved of creations
The recent release of the first installment of The Hobbit has smashed box office records and inspired thousands to hunt for flights to New Zealand. Even the title appeals to the minds of the well-travelled. The film, directed by Peter Jackson, follows in the same vein of the highly acclaimed The Lord of the Rings trilogy and features New Zealand in all its glory. But you don't have to travel half-way around the world to hunt down a Hobbit-themed trip. We've scampered to Middle-earth and back for these top Hobbit-esque destinations.
Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein on 3 January 1892. He did not spend long there and moved to the UK aged just three years old. While he had no memory of South Africa beyond a hot, parched country with a blazing sun and eucalyptus trees, stories told of his birthplace to the young Tolkien are believed to echo throughout his narrative. While this bears more resemblance to Mordor than to the Shire, it is believed that he was told of his birth place in his youth. The area surrounding the home of his parents bears a resemblance to the green, rolling hilltops of the Shire, especially the leafy suburbs of Beinsvlei, Hillsboro and Langenhovenpark.
Hogsback is a beautiful area in the south of the country. It has often been lauded as the inspiration for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, most often as the site of Mirkwood. The area has stunning mountains, a vast indigenous forest and beautiful tumbling waterfalls. However, the accuracy of the claim has been dismissed. Bloemfontein is a fair distance from Hogsback and Tolkien is never believed to have even visited the area, leaving South Africa at the age of three.
The visitor's brochure still asks you not to step on any fairies during your visit, and the Hobbiton activity centre appeases the thirst of Tolkien-lovers. You can visit the house where Tolkien was born and the church where he was baptised. The home of the 'Tolkien Trail' hasn't been quite as successful as New Zealand in its bid for Tolkien tourism, but the landscape more than makes up for the lack of a substantial claim.
The UK was Tolkien's home for most of his life. Having moved to England at the age of three, he lived in the Midlands, spending a portion of his youth in Edgbaston in Birmingham. Various parts of the surrounding scenery have been attributed as inspiration for the setting of his novels.
In 1968, Tolkien wrote “Sarehole Mill dominated my childhood”, and it is not hard to see the influences of the mill in the character of Sandyman, the miller of Hobbiton. The imposing towers of Perrott’s Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks have also been highlighted as the inspiration for The Two Towers. The surrounding sites of Moseley Bog and the Clent, the Lickey and Malvern Hills are all redolent of the scenic narrative in Tolkien's books.
For the hard-core fans, Tolkien fever sweeps through Birmingham every May as it is transformed into Middle-earth, with elves, goblins, wizards and hobbits descending on The Shire Country Park, Hall Green for some Tolkien-themed fun.
Tolkien spent his later years in Oxford, where he wrote The Hobbit in 1936. Bordered by the Thames, the surrounding areas, such as Port Meadow, are reminiscent of The Shire, and it is not hard to find inspiration for the pastoral life that Tolkien creates in his narrative.
In 1911, Tolkien went on a backpacking trip through Switzerland. The breathtaking scenery of the Alps is thought to be the inspiration for many of his places in Middle-earth. Tolkien journeyed from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and went on to camp in the Moraines beyond Mürren.
Tolkien remembered the 'eternal snow' of Jungfrau and Silberhorn and described the latter as "the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams". Tolkien's trekking team made their way across the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald, across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen and then through the Grimsel Pass to the upper Valais and Brig and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt.
Some have concluded from Tolkien's illustrations of Rivendell have been based on the Lauterbrunnen Valley. "The hobbit's (Bilbo's) journey from Rivendell to the other side of the Misty Mountains... is based on my adventures in 1911"(in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, number 306). A new Tolkien museum is set to open in Switzerland next year.
No hobbits have been filmed here, and Tolkien certainly never visited, so it has not inspired any part of the tale. What was discovered here in 2003 was a new species of human dubbed “the hobbit”. The remains of Homo floresiensis were found on the remote Indonesia island of Flores, the name inspired by their small stature. Unlike modern pygmies, whose brains shrivelled with disease, these human were just three feet tall, stunted by natural selection over millennia as a result of insular dwarfing.
Although Tolkien never visited New Zealand, it is not hard to see why the site was selected as Middle-earth on Earth. The devastatingly beautiful landscape offers a spectacular back-drop to Bilbo's tale, and represents Tolkien's imagery perfectly. You could almost believe that New Zealand is Tolkien's imagination come-to-life.
The scenes from The Hobbit were filmed across both the North and South Islands. While the locations have not yet been officially released, it is possible to glean some useful information from the production blogs. Here's a list of known locations:
Matamata – home of the Hobbiton Movie Set
Te Waihou Walkway, Putaruru – Bywater Countryside
Mangaotaki/Denize Bluffs – Trollshaw Forest
Aratiatia Spillway, Taupo – the film crew dropped 20 to 25 barrels down the rapids to show an adventurous journey downriver
Turoa Ski Area, Mount Ruapehu – Gollum's fishing pool
Ohuto Station, Okahune
Stone Street Studios, Kong Stage, Wellington – Elrond's Chambers
Harwoods Hole, Takaka – a massive sink-hole 15m in diameter dropping to a depth of 200m
Pelorus Bridge – more barrels plunging down the scenic waterway for the filming of a perilous journey undertaken by Bilbo Baggins and the dwarfs
Braemar Station, Tekapo – Just off Lake Tekapo, the cast has been shown as running from wargs in this remote and rugged location
Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Rd, Wanaka
Earnslaw Burn, Glenorchy – A stunning location and, according to Belindalee Hope, 2nd Unit Production Manager, “the most spectacular shooting location we've seen yet".
Paradise – Outskirts of Bree and Beorns
Greenstone Station, Greenstone
Speargrass Flat, Otago – Speargrass Flat and Wanaka will comprise the Lonelands
The Remarkables – this breathtaking mountain range has been already used in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and is the site of the Misty Mountains
Eweburn Station, Te Anau
Rock and Pillar Range, Otago – Dale Hills
Strath Taieri, Middlemarch – this field of scattered, sharp boulders has been used for an epic and classic Peter Jackson shot featuring the dwarves running across the scene
Eweburn Station, Te Anau
Lake Pukaki, Canterbury – Shores of Laketown
Wellington has been renamed as 'The middle of Middle-earth' and the preview of the film was held here at the end of November 2012. There are plenty of hobbity things to see around the city and the experience starts at Wellington airport, where an enormous statue of Gollum has been constructed to greet visitors.
If you have Tolkien fever, you can also find a list of New Zealand locations used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings trilogy here.
And in the words of Gandalf: “Home is now behind you. The world is ahead."