The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Of course, we have to pay homage to New Zealand’s most epic film project to date. Peter Jackson knows how to pick his movie sites, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy proves this point perfectly. The films, based on the J. R. R. Tolkien’s book series of the same name, took eight years to complete. As such, the list of locations you can visit is quite extensive, and includes Mt Ruapehu (Mordor), Mount Aspiring (Isengard), and Fiordland National Park (Rivendell).
The Hobbit films
While The Lord of the Rings locations bring plenty of natural wonders, The Hobbit‘s film sets will take you into another world. Hobbiton has been kept as is, so that Tolkien fans can truly relish the Middle Earth experience. The quaint little village resides in Matamata, approximately an hour’s drive from Auckland. Places to add to your sightseeing list include the Hobbit holes, The Shire’s Rest, and The Green Dragon Inn.
This Oscar-Nominated blockbuster, inspired by Witi Ihimaera’s novel, aptly brings Maori culture and tradition to a mainstream global audience. The small community of Whangara, near Gisborne, was the setting for both the original narrative and its faithful screen adaptation. The story follows 11-year-old Pai, a girl who believes that, despite tribal norms, she is destined to become the community’s new chief. Not only is the Whale Rider inspirational in its own accord, the film is also an incredible showcase of the area’s coastal scenery.
The rugged coastlines running along the beautiful Karekare Beach were the primary location for this Academy Award-winning drama. Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone who has seen the movie. For those who haven’t, The Piano‘s entire story will give you a historical glimpse of New Zealand life, culture, and relationships in its purest form. Set in the mid-19th century, the film follows a mute woman and her daughter as they settle into a new life — they are sent to New Zealand with a prized piano after the mother was married off to wealthy landowner.
Bridge to Terabithia
Another novel adaptation that revels in the country’s fantasy-worthy terrains. Bridge to Terabithia is renowned for its stunning visuals — and its picturesque world was mostly captured in the Auckland region. The story is a mesh of the real and the imagined, with Terabithia being the protagonists’ refuge from their personal troubles. The Waitakere Ranges was the lush setting for the epic tale, and Woodhill Forest also makes a cameo.
The Last Samurai
You would think a movie about samurais would be shot in Japan but…nope. New Zealand’s pastures, mountains and coastlines were just too wonderful to resist. As such, The Last Samurai was filmed in the Taranaki region — it even goes as far as transforming the nearby Mount Taranaki into a carbon-copy of the famed Mount Fuji. The 2003 film, starring Tom Cruise, is about an American Civil War veteran whose loyalty is tested after embracing the samurai regime he was tasked with dismantling.
The Chronicles of Narnia
As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia series was crafted around several locations in the North and South Islands. Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula was the setting for the Cair Paravel Ruins, Woodhill Forest housed the White Witch’s camp, and the legendary Elephant Rocks in the Otago region were the location for Aslan’s Camp.
The mountain-climbing thriller was directed by a Kiwi (Martin Campbell) and partly shot in the homeland. Monument Valley in Colorado, and selected locations in Pakistan also feature in this survival film, which revolves around a rescue operation in the world’s largest summit. Since Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, its snowy plains engulfed Vertical Limit‘s audiences with its grandness: those heights are as breath-taking in real-life as they are in the movie.
Here’s one for the horror buffs. Evil Dead (2013) and its spin-off TV series made themselves at home in the wider Auckland region. Woodhill Forest and Muriwai Beach are some of the primary settings for the supernatural film remake. The film is about five friends who, after heading into a remote cabin, unwittingly summon the demonic spirits residing in the nearby woods. In case you’re wondering, the original 1983 classic was shot in the United States — mostly in Morristown, Tennessee.
The World’s Fastest Indian
The World’s Fastest Indian zooms past Invercargill’s most scenic sites, including the exquisite Oreti Beach. This location was not chosen by accident — it’s actually the main protagonist’s home turf. The movie tells the story of Kiwi bike racer Burt Munro, who broke several land speed records with his ingeniously modified Indian Scout motorcycle. Part of the film is shot in Ohio, but all New Zealand scenes stayed true to their origins.