Responsible Travel Guide: New Zealand
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Have you ever marveled at the mind-blowing scenery in The Lord of the Rings films and thought ‘There’s no way that’s real’? Colossal mountain ranges, sweeping plains, enchanting forests, ethereal lakes and crystal rivers; Middle Earth is made up of some extraordinary sites.
Sir Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings, was faced with the mammoth task of portraying these beloved places as J.R.R Tolkien had imagined. Having grown up in Pukerua Bay, just 30 minutes from Wellington, Peter was already well acquainted with New Zealand’s impossible beauty. He set off on a journey to find Middle Earth, travelling all over the country in his search.
The places he found became the filming locations for some of The Lord of the Ring’s most iconic scenes, and they look even more spectacular in the real world.
On the North Island, you can ramble through The Shire, climb Mount Doom and gaze out over the bewitching lakes of Mordor. You can wander through Rivendell, Osgiliath Wood, Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith, and the Outer Shire.
Venture to the South Island and you’ll be instantly transported to the supernatural beauty of Rohan, Lothlorien, Isengard, the Ithilien Camp, River Anduin, Ford of Bruinen, Amon Hen and the Misty Mountains.
Sean Astin, in Ian Brodie’s ‘The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook’, said: “'I recalled sitting in Queenstown against the mountain range aptly titled the Remarkables and feeling I was actually living the books. It was like Tolkien had walked across New Zealand.”
You can live it all too, and even if you’ve never seen The Lord of the Rings, everyone who visits New Zealand falls in love with its unparalleled landscapes. With over 150 filming locations strewn across the country, it can be overwhelming when choosing where to begin your journey through Middle Earth.
We’ve rounded up the top 40 Lord of the Rings filming locations so you don’t miss a thing.
1. The Shire and Hobbiton Movie Set
Enter the magical world of The Shire and Hobbiton, set in the lush, rolling hills of a 1250-acre sheep farm around the Waikato town of Matamata, near Rotorua. The Hobbiton Movie Set was created for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and rebuilt for The Hobbit trilogy.
It now remains a permanent attraction where visitors can immerse themselves in the idyllic world of the hobbits. The original movie structures still stand and you can explore Hobbit holes, Green Dragon Inn and the double arch stone bridge near the mill on the riverbank.
One of the most iconic sites of Hobbiton is the colourful, circular doors tucked into green hillside, surrounded by gorgeous flowers, and you can also see Bag End, where Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures began.
On set, there’s a Party Marquee, a festively themed tent where visitors can enjoy a feast while looking out over the stunning landscapes.
“I’m going on an adventure!” - Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
2. Mount Ngauruhoe
One of the most iconic sites is Mount Doom of Mordor (Mount Ngauruhoe), the final destination in Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring. If you walk to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing you’ll see this active volcano towering out of the earth.
To get a closer look, you can take an all-day hike to the peak of Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s a steep walk up ancient volcanic terrain, however those who make it to the top are rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the Red Crater and Emerald Lakes.
3. Tukino Ski Field of the Rangipo Desert
Head to Tukino Ski Field, the site where Frodo, Sam and Gollum look out over the Gates of Mordor. Many orc army scenes were filmed in Rangipo Desert and it’s also the location where the storming of the Black Gate was filmed. You can see the striking plains that were used as the backdrop as Gimli gave his rousing speech.
“Certainty of death, small chance of success… What are we waiting for?” - Gimli, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
3. Whakapapa Ski Field & Mt Ruapehu
You can take a day trip to visit many of dramatic Lord of the Rings locations in Tongariro. Visit Whakapapa Ski Field to see the site where Isildur cuts off Sauron’s finger in the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring and where Mordor’s armies leave Minas Morgul on the Orc Road.
In the summer months, you can take a walk to Meads Wall, where Frodo and Sam lose their way to the Black Gates of Mordor. This is where they catch Gollum for the first time and from where Gollum leads the Hobbits to Emyn Muil.
As you make your way along the Meads Wall Track, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of Mount Doom and Mount Ruapehu, the filming location for Hidden Bay, the entrance to the Lonely Mountain in The Desolation of Smaug.
5. Mangawhero Falls
Take a short walk along the Mangawhero River Track to see the Mangawhero Falls. Commonly known as Gollum’s Pool, the falls were used for the Forbidden Pool scene in The Two Towers, where Gollum hunts for fish.
The location is instantly recognisable as the site where Frodo and Faramir see Gollum enter the Forbidden Pool and catch a fish. Faramir threatens to have his archers shoot Gollum, but Frodo goes down to him.
The Tawhai Falls near Whakapapa village were also used for this scene.
"Now we wish, to catch a fish, so juicy sweet!" - Gollum, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
6. Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop in Wellington
Although not a filming location, Weta Workshop is one of the highlights of ‘Wellywood’, New Zealand’s movie-making mecca. It’s the place where many of the props and costumes were made for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.
You can walk through Weta Cave, a mini museum with original memorabilia from the films, or take a privately guided tour of Weta Workshop. Here you’ll learn about the history of the workshop and go behind-the-scenes to watch props being made for new movies.
Take a chainmaille workshop and try your hand at creating some, just like the chainmaille suits in The Lord of the Rings. You can even take some home for a special souvenir.
Weta Studios are also the creators of the huge sculptures of Gollum catching fish, found in Wellington Airport.
7. The Putangirua Pinnacles
Venture around two hours out of Wellington city to the Wairarapa region, to see the eerie Putangirua Pinnacles. These otherworldly rock formations were used for scenes in The Return of the King, when Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn sought the Army of the Undead along Dimholt Road.
8. Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt
Take a walk through leafy Harcourt Park, the site of the Gardens of Isengard in The Fellowship of The Ring. Imagine yourself strolling with Gandalf and Saruman through the gardens, as this is the location for the scene where Gandalf first warns Saruman about the One Ring.
"So, the Ring of Power has been found." - Saruman, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
9. Kaitoke Regional Park, Upper Hutt
Continue through the Upper Hutt region to Kaitoke Regional Park, the filming location for Rivendell, the enchanting home of the elves.
You’ll see the gateway to the site where the Fellowship of the Ring leaves Rivendell and you’ll also see a large elven arch, although this was a recent addition and not used in the films.
10. Mount Victoria
Beautiful views over Wellington
Wind your way through the beautiful forested trails of Mount Victoria to see the sites of famous scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring. You’ll see the Outer Shire, the site where Aragorn and Theoden watched over their soldiers and where the four hobbits raced to the buckleberry ferry.
You’ll also arrive at the site where Frodo shouts ‘Get off the road!’ and where the hobbits hid from the Nazgul under tree roots. If you look deeper, you may also find the spot where the hobbits discovered some mushrooms and the tree where Frodo smoked a pipe.
Be sure to make it to the lookout at the top of Mount Victoria, for panoramic views over Wellington.
11. Dry Creek Quarry
This modest quarry had a spectacular transformation during the filming of The Two Towers. The sets for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith, the fortresses of Gondor, were built here and the quarry was used for the famous last battle scene in The Two Towers.
Hailed as one of the greatest movie battles of all time, the climatic clash at Helm's Deep took 120 days to film, mostly at night in inclement weather.
"The battle for Helm's Deep is over... the battle for Middle-Earth is about to begin." - Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
12. Waitarere Forest
An idyllic forest used to film scenes in Osgiliath Wood, this is the site where Frodo, Sam and Gollum walked after leaving Faramir in the Two Towers. You can picture Gollum scampering along the forest floor with the hobbits, as you take a peaceful walk through the towering trees.
13. Jens Hansens Goldsmiths, the Ringmaker Store and Workshop
This isn’t a filming location but it is the place where The One Ring was created. Jens Hansen Goldsmiths designed and made the iconic ring used in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films.
You can take a look around the store and even get your own replica ring, crafted to the exact proportions of the original movie ring.
They cannot always allow people into the workshop, but at Wayfairer we can make a special request to arrange a private workshop tour for you.
14. Takaka Hill
The peak of this rugged mountain was the filming site for Chetwood Forest, where Aragorn led the hobbits as they fled the Black Riders from Bree. Takaka Hill is a spectacular site, strewn with marble, limestone caves, rocky outcrops and beech forest.
15. Pelorus River
The crystal clear waters, rocky gorges and giant beech forest of Forest River are very real and you can see it all at Pelorus River. Situated halfway between Blenheim and Nelson, this stunning river was used for the scene where the dwarves escape in barrels in The Desolation of Smaug.
16. Mount Olympus
We recommend taking a thrilling helicopter tour to soak up the Tasman’s treasures. Begin your tour with a flight to Mount Olympus, the filming location for the South of Rivendell. You’ll land on the mountain, an area only accessible by air, to take in the remarkable pinnacles and rock formations.
This is the site where the Fellowship rested before spotting the crebain crows of Saruman searching for the One Ring. They hid from the crebain spies behind these same rocky outcrops.
“Not all the birds are to be trusted” - Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
17. Mount Owen
You’ll continue to Mount Owen, surrounded by the unspoiled landscapes of Kahurangi National Park below.
This is the site of Dimrill Dale and Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring and was used to film the exit from the Mines of Moria. It was here that the Fellowship emerged from the mines, overcome with grief at the loss of Gandalf.
18. Salisbury Falls
Take in the stunning views of the Salisbury Falls
Venture on to the Salisbury Falls, the site where Tauriel and Legolas meet before going to Lake-town, in the Desolation of Smaug. The cascading falls are situated in the Aorere River at the start of the Kahurangi National Park’s Heaphy Track.
Your helicopter tour will conclude with some dazzling views of the Tasman Bay before arriving back in Nelson.
19. Lake Pukaki & Mount Cook
This brilliantly blue lake and the Southern Alps were the backdrop for Lake Town in The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
Situated near Twizel, it’s easy to drive past Lake Pukaki and you’ll also see Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, in the background. Visit Braemar Farm, on the edge of Lake Pukaki, to see the location of the warg chase scene in An Unexpected Journey.
On a vast stretch of grassy countryside near the town of Twizel in Mackenzie Country, lies the scene of the epic Battle of the Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King. The fields are the largest single location used in The Lord of the Rings films, used to portray one of the most crucial events in the whole saga.
It was here that the men of Gondor and Rohan clashed with thousands of Sauron’s orcs. The filming of the battle took 32 days and had up to 1,700 people on set, including almost the entire town of Twizel who helped as extras.
The location is on private land, however you can arrange a tour and even spend the day reenacting the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
"Ride now, ride now, ride! Ride to ruin and the world's ending!" - Théoden, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
21. Mount Sunday
This majestic mountain was the location for Edoras, the capital of Rohan in The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The film’s production crew took nine months to create the set, building the Golden Hall at the top of the cliffs and the gatehouse at the foot of the mountain.
Although the sets were completely dismantled after filming, it’s well worth a visit to the mountain to see tremendous views of the Rangitata River and the Hakatere Conservation Park. It’s a great stop on a scenic drive through the south and can be accessed on your way to Lake Heron and Lake Tekapo.
22. Mount Gunn
Mount Gunn was used as the backdrop for the iconic lighting of the beacons scene.
Situated on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, this towering mountain was used for the backdrop in the famous lighting of the beacons scene in The Return of the King.
You may recognise it from when the warning beacons of Gondor were lit as Minas Tirith came under siege. Their flames dotted the White Mountains that run between Gondor and Rohan.
The best way to see this location is by hiking along the Franz Josef Glacier Valley access track or taking a scenic flight over the region.
"The Beacons of Minas Tirith! The Beacons are lit!" - Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
23. Lake Wakatipu
Ringed by a range of mighty mountains, Lake Wakatipu is a vast inland lake stretching for 291 squared kilometres. The dazzling blue waters are the jewel of Queenstown and the city hugs its shores.
Lake Wakatipu was used in The Fellowship of the Ring for scenes in Lothlorien, the ancient forest of Middle Earth.
If you visit the lake from Glenorchy (45 kilometres outside Queenstown), you'll see Mount Earnslaw rising from Aspiring National Park. This magnificent peak towers to 2,819 metres and was used in the opening scenes of The Two Towers.
24. Deer Park Heights
Used for many scenes in Rohan, Deer Park Heights is a farm on top of the Kelvin Heights peninsula. Driving access to the park is closed to the public, but you can still take a walk up there for some of the best views over the region.
You’ll see the sprawling city, the Remarkables ranges (the slopes of Dimrill Dale), Lake Wakatipu (Lothlorien) and Kawarau River (the site of the River Anduin) snaking its way through the lush fields.
You may recognise the park from a plethora of scenes including the escape of the Rohirrim refugees from Edoras to Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers, Gandalf’s ride to Minas Tirith on the West Road to Gondor, and the fall of Aragorn after he was dragged off a cliff by a warg during the attack of the wargs upon the Rohirrim.
It’s also the site where Aragorn emerged from the Paths of the Dead to see the pirates pillaging villages, where Eowyn gives Aragorn the stew and where Eowyn discovers that Aragorn is 87 years old and one of the last survivors of the Dunedain.
The close-up shot of Legolas gracefully jumping onto his horse while Gimli was tossed off his was also filmed here.
25. The Remarkables
True to their name, The Remarkables are the impressive mountain ranges which surround Queenstown. They were used to depict the Misty Mountains pathways and the site of Isildur’s fall.
They were also used as the slopes of Dimrill Dale in the scene where Aragorn leads the Fellowship down the slopes after losing Gandalf in the Mines of Moria.
You can also visit Lake Alta, an ethereal glacial lake within the Remarkables that was the site of Dimrill Dale. Hiking to this location is possible during the summer, although it freezes over in the winter.
26. Kawarau River
The crystal Kawarau River was used for some of the scenes involving the River Anduin. This is the site where the Fellowship paddled south from Lothlorien to the two enormous statues of Argonath, known as The Pillars of Kings.
The pillars, carved as Isildur and Anárion, stood on either side of the River Anduin at the entrance to Nen Hithoel, although you’ll have to use your imagination as the pillars were computer generated.
To get closer to the River Anduin, you can go on a thrilling rafting trip down the Kawarau River, or go bungy jumping over the glittering Kawarau Gorge. For something a little less heart-stopping, visit Chard Farm winery where you’ll find a gorgeous view over the river.
This gorgeous town is the site of Isengard, chosen as the filming location for it’s bewitching beauty. Set at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu in the Otago region, Glenorchy is the real world location of some of the most exquisite places in Middle Earth.
Here you’ll find the sites of Lothlorien, Ithilien Camp and Amon Hen. Head north of the Glenorchy township to see the Isengard Lookout set in the grand Dart Valley.
28. Paradise, Glenorchy
With rolling fields, majestic mountains and enchanted forests, it’s easy to see why the locals call this area Paradise. This spellbinding location was the site of Lothlorien forest, using the mystical glow that streams through the giant Beech trees around Mount Aspiring National Park.
In The Lord of the Rings, the elves made Lothlorien their home after falling in love with the golden, ethereal forest. Tolkien described Lothlorien as the fairest part of Middle Earth, like a heaven on (Middle) Earth, and Paradise perfectly captures this divine atmosphere.
The location was also used as Isengard when Gandalf approaches Saruman’s tower, and as the hill where Beorn’s house was set in The Hobbit.
Unfortunately, all these locations are set on private land so cannot be accessed, however you can still go to the forest along the Glenorchy-Paradise Road. There are plenty of parking areas around the forest and you can admire the magical scenery from these vantage points.
"There lies the woods of Lothlorien! That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are not trees like the trees of that land. For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold.” - Legolas
29. Skippers Canyon
The beautiful Shotover River that runs through Skippers Canyon was the site of the Ford of Bruinen. This location is famous for the scene where Arwen calls a flood to defeat the pursuing Ringwraiths in The Fellowship of the Ring.
“If you want him, come and claim him” - Arwen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
30. Closeburn, Glenorchy
This scenic area was used as the site of Amon Hen, where the Fellowship were split up during the final battle of The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s also the site where Merry and Pippin were captured by the Orcs. The scenes were filmed in a Pine forest near the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
31. Twelve Mile Delta, Glenorchy
Twelve Mile Delta encompasses a sparkling blue stream surrounded by thick shrubbery and rugged mountain ranges. This is the site of many famous scenes including where Frodo, Sam and Gollum watched the battle between Faramir’s Rangers of Gondor and the giant Oliphaunts.
Take the short walk on Bob’s Cove Track from the Twelve Mile Delta campsite, and you’ll instantly recognise the scenery from the film. It was here that the hobbits lay, enthralled by the part mammoth, part elephant Oliphaunts.
These colossal beasts were computer generated and a five metre high scaffolding was used to create the space where they are digitally edited into the film.
This site will also take you back to the scene where Sam and Gollum discuss the best way to cook potatoes in The Two Towers.
“PO-TA-TOES: boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” - Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
32. Earnslaw Burn
Earnslaw Burn is an awe-inspiring site. This massive glacier has dozens of wondrous waterfalls cascading over huge granite rock faces of 800 metres. The waterfalls freeze in the winter to form magical ice caves.
It’s the location for some incredible scenes in An Unexpected Journey. You’ll recognise it as the site of the Misty Mountain Paths, where Bilbo and the dwarves continued their journey after leaving Rivendell.
The location is only accessible via helicopter or a challenging eight to twelve hour return hike along the Earnslaw Burn Track. We can arrange for an exciting chopper ride to take you over Cecil Peak Ledge (with views of Twelve Mile Delta), Skippers Canyon, the Rees Valley and Earnslaw Burn.
You’ll also have two landings at Cecil Peak Ledge and Rees Valley, offering jaw-dropping views and photo opportunities.
33. Lake Wanaka
The picturesque Lake Wanaka and Southern Alps were used for many scenes including the Black Riders searching for Frodo across the glimmering plains and Arwen and Frodo racing through the forest to the Ford of Bruinen.
You can access the locations from the small farming village of Tarras, around an hour from Queenstown. Gaze up at snowy peaks of the Southern Alps rising behind Lake Wanaka and picture the scene where Gwahiri the eagle rescued Gandalf from Orthanc.
34. Poolburn Reservoir, Ida Valley
Immediately recognisable as Rohan, the land of the Rohirrim, Ida Valley is a place of striking beauty. This supernatural landscape feels quite surreal with sweeping, desolate plains strewn with rocky outcrops and sandy tussocks.
The jewel of this otherworldly moonscape is Poolburn Reservoir, also known as Poolburn Dam. The lake is breathtakingly blue and marbled with incredible white swirls of ice.
It’s easy to see why Peter Jackson chose this astounding location for the Rohirrim village, pillaged by Orcs in The Two Towers. You can reach Poolburn Reservoir with an easy day trip from Queenstown and it’s well worth the visit.
35. Arrow River
Arrow River, located near Arrowtown, was also used for scenes involving the Ford of Bruinen and Arwen’s mighty attack on the Ringwraiths.
From here, you can walk to Wilcox Green, the site of the Gladden Fields. It was in this marshland that the One Ring was lost by Isildur and found two and a half millennia later by Déagol, the cousin of Sméagol, who later transformed into Gollum.
36. Fiordland National Park
This awe-inspiring national park was the setting for the beautiful scene where the Eagles save Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves then fly over Middle Earth. The best way to experience this location is with a scenic helicopter flight over the Fiordland.
Snowdon Forest in Fiordland National Park was also used as the location for Fangorn Forest, the home of the Ents, the ancient tree shepherds. The forest was used in the scenes where Gandalf whistles for his regal horse and where Aragorn follows the hobbits’ trail into the forest.
37. Lake Manapouri
Set in the Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site, Lake Manapouri was the site for the South of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
This wondrous location perfectly depicts the mystical beauty of Rivendell, home of the Elves. Head to the Norwest Lakes where the Fellowship travelled south from Rivendell. The lake can also be seen in the epic scenes where the Fellowship flees with the eagles.
"Fly, you fools!" - Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
38. The Waiau River between Te Anau and Manapouri
This section of the Waiau River was used for scenes along the River Anduin, when the Fellowship canoe from Lothlorien towards Argonath. The site was also used in the opening shots of The Fellowship of the Ring, while the soaring peaks surrounding the river were used for the rugged South of Rivendell.
39. Kepler Mire, Te Anau
Walk the Kepler Track to Kepler Mire, the location for the Dead Marshes, where Gollum lead Frodo and Sam through the sinister marshland in The Two Towers.
The Dead Marshes were a ghostly graveyard for the men, elves and dwarves who had fought on this ancient battlefield near Mordor.
The Kepler Track can be found within the Fiordland National Park, near the township of Te Anau which is also the gateway to the Mavora Lakes Park.
“There are dead things... dead faces in the water!” - Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
40. Mavora Lakes Park
The Mavora Lakes Park, located near Te Anau, was used as the location for Nen Hithoel, a large lake on the River Anduin where the Fellowship made camp. After Boromir was killed, his body floated into Nen Hithoel, taking him home down the River Anduin.
The area was also used for the scene where Merry and Pippin escaped from the orcs on the edge of Fangorn Forest and where they hide from the Uruk-hai. You can discover Fangorn Forest along Takaro Road, where cameras were strung up from wires on both sides of the road to film Aragorn moving through the forest.
Mararoa River and the swingbridge at the South Mavora Lake were used for the scene where the Fellowship leave Lothlorien, while the North Mavora Lake is recognisable as the site where the Fellowship end their journey along the River Anduin.
“All that is gold does not glitter. Not all those who wander are lost.” - J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
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