Lord of the Rings New Zealand Locations – A Visit to Middle Earth

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For any Lord of the Rings fan, a trip to New Zealand can feel more like a pilgrimage than a vacation. Director Peter Jackson and crew took advantage of the country’s untamed and diverse landscapes to portray the fictional continent of Middle Earth. Rather than spoiling the trilogy’s movie magic, stepping onto the filming sites is an enchanting experience. There are plenty of tours available, some that charge a premium to point at rocks and trees to say, “that thing you like was filmed here once.” For the most part, it’s cheaper and just as easy to stick to your own itinerary.

Lord of the Rings New Zealand Locations - A Visit to Middle Earth

There’s no getting around paying for a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. Originally built for the Lord of the Rings trilogy using temporary materials, the hobbit village was rebuilt using permanent materials for the Hobbit trilogy. Tours drive visitors from a parking lot through the Alexander family sheep farm to the secluded film set, which appears exactly as it does in the movies. A free pint at the Green Dragon Inn is included in the tour price.

While filming for Mordor sequences took place off the slopes of Mt. Ruapehu (on the Whakapapa ski field to be precise), the neighboring Tongariro Alpine Crossing provides a better estimation of what it was like for characters Sam and Frodo to climb Mt. Doom. The crossing through desolate rock and tussocks is beautiful in its emptiness, but can also be a challenging slog through loose volcanic rock. Jackson used Mt. Nguaruhoe, an unmissable and oddly symmetric volcanic cone that stands above the 19-kilometer trail, as the terrible volcano in which Frodo must destroy the One Ring.

Footsore from the tromp through Mordor? Wellington, New Zealand’s charming and fun-sized capital, is a good place to catch a handful of filming locations without the alpine conditions. On the slopes of Mt. Victoria, a densely-forested hill overlooking the central business district, Frodo urges his hobbit friends to ‘get off the road!’ before a nasty ringwraith finds them. The tree they hide under was fabricated for the movie, but the ditch is still there. At the bottom of the hill in an old quarry is the filming location for Dunharrow, where the Rohirrim gather their forces in The Return of the King. In the film, the small, square shaped area with the rocky wall is some thousands of feet in the air above the camp. Here, it’s just a few feet from Ellice St.

A trip to Wellington is incomplete without a stop at Weta. Weta Workshop and Weta Digital provided the props, sets, and digital effects for the Lord of the Rings films, among others. Friendly and knowledgeable guides bring organized tours through a workshop, full of memorable props or even miniature sets. There’s the bonus of snapping pictures with trolls, orcs, and other sculptures in the Weta Cave, a museum/gift shop devoted to the films Weta has worked on.

The North Island is wonderful, but there’s a sense that if you haven’t traveled to the South Island, then you really haven’t visited New Zealand, or Middle Earth for that matter. By comparison, the South Island is far emptier and wilder. The filming location for the Rohan capital of Edoras is on Mt. Sunday, at least a two hour drive from Christchurch through sheep farms and gravel roads. This one might be best left to the professionals; Mt. Sunday is quite remote, down a road that dead ends into the Southern Alps. No Hassle Tours made the journey enjoyable and educational. As well as lunch, they bring replicas of swords and flags from the films to handle while on location. The set is no longer atop the mountain, but the experience is no less rewarding.

Driving between Christchurch and Queenstown takes you through the town of Twizel, where the crew filmed the Battle of the Pelennor fields and, specifically, the ride of the Rohirrim. There’s a lot of empty grassland surrounding Twizel, and it all looks about the same. You can pay a tour to point to the exact spot where they filmed, but you get the gist from the road.

Jackson and crew did a lot of filming in the Queenstown area, but some of the locations are more accessible than others. An easy one to spot is the strangely macabre Remarkables, the mountain range across Lake Wakatipu from the city. Weta Digital superimposed the range in their computer-generated renderings of Mordor.

Another fairly easy location to spot is the Pillar of the Kings, the two large statues in Fellowship of the Ring. The statues were computer generated, but the river is real. The location is along the Kawarau River just upstream from AJ Hackett Bungee Centre, the birthplace of bungee jumping.

There are dozens of filming locations across the country, and it would take you some time to uncover them all. The GPS coordinates in The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook by Ian Brodie were an enormous help. Enjoy your traipse through Middle Earth!

Lord of the Rings New Zealand Locations - A Visit to Middle Earth

 

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by Matthew Caracciolo

Matthew Caracciolo is a freelance writer and a frequent traveler, when time allows. He and his wife spent two years living abroad as English Teachers in South Korea. Read more at matthewcaracciolo.wordpress.com.



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