If you love all things Tolkien-esque, a pilgrimage to New Zealand’s epic Lord of the Rings film sites is an absolute must. Fans of the trilogy will be enthralled by the picturesque landscapes that gave life to Middle Earth, as well as the artistic creations that made this fantasy world even more realistic. Here’s a quick guide to the key destinations that should be added to your bucket list.
Matamata: Home of the Hobbiton movie set
If Auckland happens to be your journey’s gateway, Hobbiton will be the first place you’ll want to stop by. The movie set has been preserved to make all visitors feel like they are stepping into a real-life fantasy land. It even features its own fully functioning pub, the Green Inn, for an authentic Middle Earth experience.
Tongariro National Park: Venturing into Mordor
Add an adventurous flair to your cinematic pursuits by venturing into Tongariro National Park. This World Heritage Site has plenty of movie locations to its name: make your way towards the Tongariro Crossing to catch a glimpse of Mount Doom (aka Mt Ngauruhoe); head along to the Mangawhero River and the Whakapapa ski field to encounter some of the key places that were used to depict Mordor; or enter the nearby Tukino ski field in Mount Ruapehu to discover the Black Gates of Mordor.
Wellington region: From Weta and beyond
If you have an affinity for special effects, props and the inner workings of movie operations, definitely take the time to visit the Weta Workshop in Wellington. The Weta Cave, where you’ll find a trove of artifacts and weaponry, is free to enter and there are guided tours available on-site for those wanting to learn more about the studio.
As for regional film sites?
The capital’s Kaitoke Regional Park was one of the main locations for Rivendell, while the panoramic Mount Victoria makes a brief cameo in The Fellowship of the Ring as the Hobbits are trying to evade the Black Rider.
Head up the coast to Queen Elizabeth Park, near Paraparaumu, and you’ll find the film site for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Slightly further up still is Waitarere Forest, home of Trollshaw Forest and Osgiliath Wood. Lastly, a drive up to the Wairarapa will get you to the Putangirua Pinnacles, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli meet the Army of the Dead.
Nelson/Marlborough and the West Coast: Where epic things are made
Fun fact: the Nelson-Tasman region is home to Jens Hansen, the goldsmith in charge of creating the 40 rings used in the making of the trilogy. One of the original rings is still on display and die-hard fans have the opportunity to snag their own ‘precious’ replica too.
Also near Nelson is Takaka Hill – the filming location for Chetwood Forest. Movie buffs will remember this from the scene where the Ranger ‘Strider’ helped the Hobbits flee from the Black Riders.
Kahurangi National Park is home to Mount Olympus and Mount Owen, aka Dimrill Dale. Mount Olympus and its Boulder Lake also feature in the scene where The Fellowship hides from Saruman’s black crows. A helicopter ride is the best way to experience these terrains in all their glory.
As for the West Coast region, Mount Gunn in the Waiho Valley (near Franz Josef Glacier) was transformed into the beacons that run along the White Mountains that stretch from Gondor to Rohan.
The Canterbury region: Home of Edoras
Mount Sunday, a sheer hill tucked away in the Canterbury high country, was the main location of Edoras. While the set itself is no longer evident, the mountain has a magic appeal to it nonetheless. Venture out near Twizel in Mackenzie Country to find the Pelennor Fields, where the clash between Sauron’s orcs and the men of Gondor and Rohan took place.
Otago: the hub for expeditions
The Otago region is filled with noteworthy settings.
Glenorchy, near Queenstown, is where you’ll get to see the north-western slopes of Mount Earnslaw – the mountain featured in the opening sequence of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Also near Queenstown, Skippers Canyon became the Ford of Bruinen (where Arwen defeats Nazgul), Wilcox Green was where the Gladden Fields scenes were shot, the Kawarau Bridge was the access point for The Fellowship as they passed the Pillars of Kings and the Twelve Mile Delta was the location of the Ithilien Camp.
On the other side, Cardrona Valley (near Wanaka) will give travellers a glimpse of the River Anduin and the Pillars of Argonath, while Mount Aspiring National Park is the place that brought us the scene in which Gandalf rides to Isengard in Nan Curunír.
Southland: Mythical lands, forests and rivers
Mavora Lakes Park and Fiordland National Park are the two key Southland locations LOTR fans should set their sights on. Both of these were used to capture the South of Rivendell, as well as depicting various other focal points in between.
Nen Hithoel, plus Silverlode and Anduin Rivers were crafted around Mavora Lakes Park – so naturally, this is a must-visit if you want to trace the steps of The Fellowship as they venture south of Rivendell.
The Waiau River in Fiordland National Park was another setting for the Anduin River, and can be accessed through the famous Kepler Track.
The Kepler Mire, just east of the Lake Manapouri in Te Anau basin, is another regional highlight for curious movie buffs. It was the setting for the Dead Marshes, where Gollum has to save Frodo after he becomes mesmerised by the so-called ‘candles of corpses’.
Finally, if you’ve found yourself near Te Anau make sure to stop by Snowdon Forest off Takaro Road. Head towards the Bog Pine Paddock and you just found yourself in Fangorn Forest: the mythical place where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli find Gandalf the White. Quite a heartening end to a cinematic expedition.