One would be forgiven for thinking that Tolkien knew the New Zealand countryside intimately as it could have been the Middle Earth he wrote about some seventy years ago.
Although he pictured the Misty Mountains in Switzerland, Peter Jackson found them in the West Coast of New Zealand and immortalized his vision so that LOTR fans will forever identify with the Southern Hemisphere location of Middle Earth. Middle Earth is to be found in New Zealand, and it awaits any visitor who cares to look for it.
With over 100 locations used in the movies, there is plenty of scope for all fans to see some wonderful scenery, which is lovely enough to enjoy for its own value, even without the added delight of being a film set. Many sites were morphed together to create a composite version that fulfilled Peter Jackson's version of Tolkien's vision.
Most visitors are quick to head to Hobbiton, a countryside location near the rural town of Matamata, where The Shire is permanently sited among the rolling pasture and the little houses with their round doors look as if their hairy footed occupants have just stepped out. You may call in at the Green Dragon Pub for a drink, and stop off at Bag End, but the Hobbits have moved on.
There are quite a few different options for guided tours of Hobbiton. There's no way to view without paying for admission, and if you're self-driving around New Zealand you can drive to Matamata - book this tour here. If you will only be spending time in Auckland, there is a full day tour that has you back in the city before rush hour traffic book the Hobbiton Tour from Auckland here.
South of Lake Taupo, Mt Ngauruhoe is the lava coated Mt Doom, with a few computerized corrections, and Mt Ruapehu served as Hidden Bay, entrance to the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbits films. Also, on this mountain were filmed the scenes based in Emyn Muil, and the Tukino Ski Field is sometime Gogoroth, and the location of Black Gate.
A little further south, the Putangirua Pinnacles were used for the Paths of the Dead and Dimholt Road. In the Aorangi Forest Park, in the Wairarapa, this location is a lesser travelled site, but worth a visit for the unusual formations and the walks through the area. The Rangitikei River was used for much of the Anduin River scenes, and can be accessed just south of Taihape. Osgiliath Forest and Trollshaw Wood were both located at Waitarere Forest near Foxton, and just north of the capital city you can find Rivendell and the Fords of Isen at the glorious Kaitoke National Park.
Weta Productions are based in Wellington, and their Weta Cave is a movie addict's paradise with props, memorabilia and fantastic figures. All the post-production and editing have been done here for a huge number of blockbusters, including TLOR and Hobbit trilogies.
A few interesting production facts about LOTR:
About 6 million feet of film were used.
48,000 weapons and makeup prosthetics made.
19,000 costumes made.
1,600 pairs of hobbit feet made.
2,400 behind the scenes crew at peak of production.
80 computer special effect artists employed.
50 specialist wardrobe artists including cobblers, tailors and designers.
Wellington is also the home of Hobbiton Woods (Mount Victoria) and some scenes of the River Anduin can be identified with the Hutt River, and Harcourt Park is the Gardens of Isengard. Another local spot to visit is Queen Elisabeth Park which is where parts of the Battle of Pelennor Fields were filmed.
Moving onto the South Island, just out of Picton, find Pelorus River that was used as the background for the Hobbits' Dwarves in barrels river scene at Forest River. Then, for something a little different, stop at Nelson and look for Jens Hansen, the goldsmith who created the 'Rings', and take the opportunity to buy a copy for yourself, as well as viewing one of the originals that is on display there.
To the west of Nelson is Takaka Hill where Chetwood Forest was sited and the nearby Kahurangi National Park hides the location of Dimrill Dale on the highest mountain in the area, Mt Owen. Also, here is the rugged formations of Mt Olympus which became the countryside south of Riverdell. The dramatic views of the Southern Alps were used in many parts of the movies, and the beauty of the backgrounds has impressed the world.
Out from Christchurch, Mount Sunday near the Mount Potts Station, was used as Edoras, home of the Rohan people. Then further south, in the heart of McKenzie country, is found the glorious turquoise Lake Pukaki, with the backdrop of snow clad mountains. This became Laketown, while the surrounding landscape was used as the Rohan Plains.
Just outside of Twizel is a site selected for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, while a number of sites around Queenstown contributed to the breathtaking scenes in the movie. The Kawarau River, connected with AJ Hackett of Bungy Jumping fame, is also the location for the Pillars of Kings, while a drive up Cardrona can delight with a panoramic view over many of the LOTR locations. Arrowtown, a historic gold town is one spot where the Ford of Bruinen was filmed, while other shots were taken on Skippers Canyon, and the Shotover River to create a morphed location. Meanwhile, Gladden Fields are nearby at the Arrowtown Recreation Reserve.
At the far end of picturesque Lake Wakatipu is Glenorchy and Paradise, now referred to as Isengard. Mt Earnslaw is found here and will be recognised as the opening view in The Two Towers. The mountain's namesake, The TSS Earnslaw, is a vintage steamship that offers tours of Lake Wakatipu to get maximum enjoyment of the scenery of the region, including awesome views of the Remarkables, mountains that also doubled as the slopes below Dimrill Dale.
Fiordland, together with Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound are just asking to be used as a fantasy location, and Snowden Forest became Fangorn Forest. The Waiau River here is used for some of the views of the River Anduin, and the surrounding mountains as rugged lands south of Rivendell. The Kepler Mine became the Dead Marshes, where dead floated in the swamp. Lothlorien was filmed at the Mararoa River, at the south end of South Mavora Lake, and the river is revisited as Silverlode River.
Many of the LOTR locations can be accessed, but a number are very remote or are on private land, so are out of touch of the general public. However, with so many points of interest, a wonderful tour of the country can be designed for fans, with the highlights of seeing the filming locales in person. The filming company made a concerted effort to return the sites to their original condition, so little remains of the sets, but the scenery will never be altered, and it is easy to get into the mindset of the books- to feel that you are actually in Middle Earth.
If you're looking for the best way to link up these Lord of the Rings filming locations, check out our Free Travel Planning Service and we can help you craft the perfect New Zealand itinerary.
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