Since Peter Jackson decided New Zealand‘s landscapes are an honorable representation of the Middle-Earth imagined by Tolkien, there have been many fans / tourists on the roads. We have travelled New Zealand ourselves from north to south, by car and by van, searching for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit atmospheres.
First of all, New Zealand is made up of two main islands (and a few smaller ones). The South Island is wilder, the landscapes are very impressive and it was our favourite part of the trip. However, the North Island includes essential stops for Tolkien fans, including the reproduction of the Hobbiton village and the Mordor landscapes. We recommend to travel there for at least six weeks to make the most of both islands. Some travellers cover both in two weeks, but be prepared for a tiring trip in this case!
Peter Jackson made the promise to return New Zealand in its original state at the end of The Lord of the Rings shooting. Therefore, all of the structures have been destroyed. Some, like Hobbiton, were rebuilt and preserved after shooting The Hobbit. Nevertheless, for most places, you will have to use your imagination a lot. Don’t worry though, the scenery and ambiance remain true to the movies and you won’t be disappointed with your Tolkien quest in New Zealand.
We would like to share with you the different filming locations we had the chance to visit:
The North Island is more populated, most of New Zealand’s population live there and it is more volcanic. Arriving at the Auckland International Airport, you will be greeted by a giant dwarf statue. Nothing better to get you in the mood!
Hobbiton was our most intense Tolkien memory of the trip. We can even say it was emotional for us!
First of all, it is essential to book your tickets in advance. Indeed it is a must visit for fans, and we are a lot of fans, but also for all tourists. Actually, there were several people in our group who had never seen the movies. We advise you to try to attend a special event or evening tour including dinner and night visit.
Our magical evening with the hobbits
We had the chance to participate in the “Summer Harvest Festival“. Twice a year, special evenings are organised and this luckily coincided with the date of our stay. The tickets were very expensive, but it was absolutely worth the cost!
After the normal visit, we started the evening at the Green Dragon Inn before feasting under a big tent. The festivities involved beer brewed by the hobbits as well as cider and wine from the Shire. The amount of food was definitely worthy of a feast. There were games, music and dancing. It was amazing to be able to redo the night tour with lanterns as many times as we wanted. This was for sure one of the highlights of our world tour.
If you like walking, and imagining yourself as Sam and Frodo at the foot of Mount Doom, then go for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trek. It will have to be well organised because it is a 19km trek that lasts at least 6 hours ! You will go by the impressive Mount Tongariro volcano base. More information to get this trek organised in our article on the North Island.
If you are afraid of such a long trek, this is not a problem because the Tongariro National Park is full of The Lord of the Rings filming locations. Here are the ones we recommend:
- Mangawhero Falls and Tawhai Falls : two places used for the scene of the Forbidden Pool in which Gollum catches fish before being captured by Faramir and the rangers in the film The Two Towers.
- Chateau Tongariro, a very impressive hotel in which we would have loved to spend one or more nights. This is the hotel which served as the base for the film crew when filming the scenes in the Tongariro National Park .
The capital of New Zealand is a charming city on a human scale, which we greatly preferred to Auckland. In addition, Wellington was the HQ for Peter Jackson’s team during work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and later The Hobbit.
The city is also full of activities for fans of literature, find our suggestions in our article on the North Island.
Weta Cave Studios
Book your guided tour of the Weta Cave Studios a few days in advance. There, you can learn more about filming and editing techniques. You will also be able to see with your own eyes the accessories used during the films: swords and helmets of the Rohan armies, dwarf armours and even orcs and uruk-hais. Chances are your guide has worked on the movies himself. If you booked too late for a guided tour you can still visit the shop. There is a small museum and you can take selfies with Gollum and three size trolls.
Superb place for a walk and a view of the city, at Mont Victoria you can also relive the first adventures of the Hobbits when they left the Shire and in particular their hiding place when they first met the Nazgûls.
Many filming locations are less than an hour’s drive from the city. Here are the ones we visited:
- Rivendell in Kaitoke Regional Park. Be warned, you have to make an effort to picture yourself in Rivendell. Indeed, a lot of special effects have been used for the movies.Do not miss to admire a reproduction (small scale) of the Elvish door of the city.
- The Gardens of Isengard in Upper Hutt
- The Anduin river, riden down by the fellowship of the ring after their break in the Lórien at Hutt river
- Waitarere Fairy Garden, a little further away : allow a 1 hour 30 minutes drive to discover the filming location of the Osgiliath Woods. Feel free to also enjoy the beautiful Waitarere Beach.
We crossed the South Island with the Lord of the Rings theme song playing in our heads. Indeed, everywhere we looked we felt like being in Peter Jackson’s movies. Some places are not official film locations but do reflect the atmosphere of the Middle-Earth.
Here is our selection:
- Castle Hill, which is not an official film location but has a great resemblance to the Rohan and deserves a visit. The road between Alexandra and Twizel also evoked the Rohan landscapes.
- Hotel Otira Stagecoach and its giant Gollum statue as well as other statues straight out of the Lord of the Rings.
- Argonath or the Gate / Pillars of the Kings (beware the road is not sealed and it is difficult to cross other cars)
- Ford of Bruinen in Arrowtown: when Arwen invokes the waters to prevent the Nazgûls from crossing the river and saves Frodo.
- Pelennor fields, where the Rohan army faces the orcs opposite Minas Tirith, is located in Twizel.
- We did not visit it but we would have liked to see the shop of Jens Hansen, The Ringmaker. It is the One Ring official Blacksmith in Nelson, in the north of the island.
Clémentine’s New Zealand reading and movie list
- Obviously, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Tolkien’s Hobbit.
- We advise you to watch the Peter Jackson’s movies just before (or during like us) the trip. You will need those as fresh as possible in your memory! Even if the Hobbit should never have been a trilogy and some aspects are catastrophic you should watch those too.
- The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook : we decided to focus on the Lord of the Rings movies but if you want to go further with the Hobbit films, we recommend The Hobbit Trilogy Location Guidebook of the same edition. We found the itineraries in the books a little difficult to tackle and advise you to get them in advance to work your itinerary to perfection!
- Lonely Planet’s New Zealand Travel Guide to get out of the Lord of the Rings theme.
Of course this is a non-exhaustive list. To find all the locations of the Lord of the Rings we found this map which lists all of the places: Lord of the Rings filming location map.
Finally, if you want to know more about our itinerary in New Zealand read our newsletter told by Sam Gamegie.