“Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits.” Such were the parting words of Bilbo Baggins on his 111th birthday, in JRR Tolkien’s book about tiny people and big adventures.
22 September marks the birthday of Bilbo Baggins, the eponymous hole-dwelling creature from The Hobbit.
The Hobbiton Film Set on the edge of Matamata has turned the date into an annual event for the tourist destination. Each year the attraction holds a day-long event with games, themed performances and food for fantasy fans.
Fancy dress is optional, but fantasy fans need little encouragement.
After paying $220 for a ticket – attendees tend to go “all-in” on costume.
However, it’s a day that other New Zealand tourism businesses also celebrate.
National carrier Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand have also made tributes to the fantasy films this year. After all, these are the movies that launched a million long-haul airfares.
Since Sir Peter Jackson’s 2001 film trilogy, New Zealand has had a monopoly on Middle-earth inspired tourism. In less than a decade the phenomenon helped grow New Zealand’s inbound tourism by 50 per cent, according to Forbes.
The ongoing enthusiasm that for the films and the scenic Kiwi landscapes recently convinced Amazon to spend a record US$1 billion ($1.5 billion), when they committed to bring a spin-off TV series back to film in the country. The production in Kumeu Studios in West Auckland is the most expensive TV commission ever made.
However, with international borders closed this year due to Pandemic travel restrictions all operators which rely on international tourism are struggling. New Zealand is without its usual quota of inbound film buffs.
“International Hobbit Day” 2020 will be an occasion for the odd movie marathon – but geeking-out over a trip to New Zealand will have to be put on hold for overseas tourists.
Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand
The imposing conical volcano of Mt Ngauruhoe was chosen as the setting of “Mount Doom” – the goal of the questing hobbits in the 2001 movies.
On the side of the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most scenic day-hikes, this Lord of the Rings inspired adventure is extremely achievable. Even for hobbits.
Malvern Hills, England
This ‘Area of Natural Beauty’ on the borders of the English “shires” has inspired a number of fantasy writers, including Tolkien and C S Lewis – author of the Narnia books. Oddly enough, the film adaptations of their works are invariably made in New Zealand.
The Worcestershire Way is a 50km trail through along the spine of these dramatic border hills.
The Swiss Alps – not to be mistaken with the Southern Alps – inspired young Tolkien, who took a hiking trip through the Interlaken area in 1911. He based many of his fantasy illustrations on the Lauterbrunnen Valley’s hanging waterfalls.
Cheddar Gorge, England
Famous among cheese-lovers, the world over. What is less known about the area of Gloucestershire is that Tolkien took many holidays here, including his 1916 honeymoon – shortly before deploying to France for the First World War. He wrote in later life that the area was the inspiration for some of his fantasy creations.
Sarehole Mill, and the Birmingham Black Country
Tolkien’s childhood home, after moving from South Africa, Sarehole Mill was a bucolic idyll on the side of one of the country’s most industrialised cities. The stark contrast of the rural town on the side of the early 1900s Black Country – named for the soot belched by factory furnaces – set the young author’s mind racing.
It also made him a lifelong Luddite.
The Somme, France
In 1916 Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme in Northern France, one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles – leaving half a million dead on both sides.
It was a far cry from the fantasy battles depicted in his books. The Somme Valley today is still full of the scars of trench warfare.
Ivory towers, secret courtyards and the impressive domed Bodleian Library – Oxford might be the closest thing you’ll find to a Tolkien-like fantasy town. The author lived here for 50 years as an academic. A good portion of this time he spent with his literary friends in the Eagle and Child pub, which is still there today.
After a hole in the ground, a hobbit’s natural habitat is a pub.