The town of Matamata, 100 miles from Auckland, is home to the Hobbiton film set, now open for tours.(Photo: Jayne Clark USA TODAY)
The way New Zealand is carrying on about the Nov. 28 world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,
you'd think it was part of a movie franchise that has grossed more than
$2.9 billion and sparked an international tourism windfall.
Oh, yeah, that's right. It has.
So no amount of hype over Peter Jackson's fourth screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series could be deemed too over the top in New Zealand. (The movie opens Dec. 14 on this side of the globe.)
three LOTR films showcased the country's gorgeous, otherworldly
landscapes and showed millions there's more to New Zealand than sheep.
In the years since, international visitor numbers rose 40%.
Among the doings brought on by a serious case of Hobbit fever:
? The government has issued limited-edition, legal-tender coins marked with wizard Gandalf's face.
Thirteen really tall dwarves and a giant Hobbit have taken up residence
(until early 2013) on a fifth-story platform at Wellington's New
Zealand Post House.
? A 40-foot-long, 1.2 ton sculpture of the
creepy Gollum character is suspended from the roof of the Wellington
airport. It was created by Jackson's Weta Workshop, which is
headquartered in the city.
? The Auckland airport, where most international arrivals land, is sporting a Weta Workshop installation and will host Hobbit-themed activities.
? Air New Zealand's new safety video features elves, hobbits, wizards and a cameo from Gollum.
New Zealand branded the country "Middle-earth" in honor of Tolkien's
imaginary land when the first of the LOTR movies opened in 2001, and
it's continuing to frame the nation as a "fun, must-see tourism