Put New Zealand’s 10 best ‘Lord of the Rings’ experiences on your wish list!

Two decades on and LOTR fans are still making a beeline to New Zealand to relive scenes from their favourite films (and books!). Sign up for these experiences and you won’t need Gandalf’s help on this adventure.

Believe it or not, but it’s been 20 years since The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie adventure began! The first film in the epic trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released on this date (December 10) in 2011 at a world premiere in London. Ever since then, New Zealand has been regarded as an unbilled star of the films, with over 150 dramatic landscapes around the country featuring prominently in the trilogy.

A still from the lord of the rings: the fellowship of the ring.
A still from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

No wonder then, that the impact of the films on tourism in New Zealand has been monumental, and it remains a driver for visitation 20 years on. The 2019 International Visitor Survey conducted by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) found 18 per cent of holiday visitors cited LOTR or The Hobbit films as the reason they first became interested in visiting New Zealand. The survey also found that approximately 33 per cent of all holiday visitors to the country plan to visit a film location.

You may not have got a chance to attend the special outdoor 4K film screening of The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring today at the spot where the adventure first began — on the grassy clearing of the Party Field, where Bilbo celebrated his eleventyfirst birthday — but, if you’re a fan of JRR Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s cinematic magic, then a visit to New Zealand sometime later (once borders reopen) is an absolute must.

Explore Middle Earth for yourself with these five unique locations…

Shire it up

In the heart of the Hamilton-Waikato region, you can explore the lush pastures of the Shire with a guided walking tour of Hobbiton, as featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies. This privately-owned family farm was spotted by Sir Peter Jackson in 1998 during an aerial search for filming locations for the LOTR trilogy. Mature pine trees in front of a picturesque lake with surrounding landscape untouched by 20th century clutter, perfectly resembled the Shire as described by author JRR Tolkien.

A hobbit house on the hobbiton movie set. Image: shutterstock/troy wegman.
A Hobbit house on the Hobbiton Movie Set. Image: Shutterstock/Troy Wegman.

It’s impossible not to compare New Zealand to Middle Earth, and nowhere is this truer than in the enchanting village of the Hobbiton movie set. It became the famous setting for Hobbiton and was rebuilt in 2011 for The Hobbit to remain a permanent tourist attraction. There are 44 Hobbit-holes on site that have been rebuilt exactly as they appeared on film. Experience Hobbiton as you witness the real life set up close, walk the same path as your favourite characters, grab a pint at The Green Dragon Inn, get a photo in front of a Hobbit hole and dance under the Party Tree. Be enchanted by behind-the-scenes tales from the filming and feast like a Hobbit on the Evening Banquet tour.

The green dragon inn comes to life. Image: courtesy hobbiton movie set.
The Green Dragon Inn comes to life. Image: Courtesy Hobbiton Movie Set.

The elves have it

The most accessible filming location in Wellington is Mount Victoria, which is within walking distance of the central city. The forested areas of the mountain were used to depict Hobbiton Woods, where the hobbits hid from the black riders and was where the very first footage for The Fellowship of the Ring was filmed in 1999. And then there’s the Hutt River between Moonshine and Tōtara Park, which played the part of the River Anduin; and Harcourt Park, which was transformed into the Gardens of Isengard.

Lyall Bay, a popular surf beach along Wellington’s rugged South Coast, is home to a cliff face that was the setting for Dunharrow. The Kaitoke Regional Park became Rivendell, where Frodo recovered from a knife attack. The exact location — a grassy area surrounded by native forest — is signposted from the carpark. You and your partner can recreate the iconic Arwen/Aragorn kiss at the replica Elvish archway that stands in the park.

Through the eyes of Gollum

Meanwhile at Ruapehu, the desolate, volcanic atmosphere of Tongariro National Park and Mount Ruapehu provided the perfect environment for orc-ridden Mordor and Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe), where ‘It all began with the forging of the Great Ring’, in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You could trek to the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to imagine the fiery peaks of Mount Doom. See the craters, glistening lakes, mountain springs and volcanic rock as you trek throughout the National Park covering more filming locations as you go. 

Tongariro alpine crossing with the emerald lakes surrounded by snow. Image: courtesy visit ruapehu.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing with the emerald lakes surrounded by snow. Image: Courtesy Visit Ruapehu.

The Tawhai Falls were used for the forbidden Gollum’s Pool, where Frodo and Faramir capture Gollum. The Rangipo desert were where many of the Orc army scenes were shot The Tukino ski field nearby was home to the Black Gates of Mordor. You can stay at the Chateau Tongariro hotel, which hosted the film crew for an extended period. Check out the downstairs cinema where the crew reviewed their shots after filming each day.

Of roaring rivers and epic battles

Queenstown’s diverse scenery and easy access made it a popular choice for many LOTR filming locations. Skippers Canyon became the Ford of Bruinen where Arwen summoned a magical flood to defeat Nazgul. The Ford is only minutes from the centre of the Arrowtown on the Arrow River. In nearby Glenorchy, 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. 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.

Riders in ringwraith costumes filming the ford of bruinen sequence on location near arrowtown. Image: courtesy wbei.
Riders in Ringwraith costumes filming the Ford of Bruinen sequence on location near Arrowtown. Image: Courtesy WBEI.

Directly opposite the Kawarau Bridge and home of AJ Hackett’s bungy operations, is the entrance road to Chard Farm Vineyard and a magnificent view of Anduin and Argonath (Sindarin Pillars of the Kings). The Pillars were computer generated into each side of the river, but area is still instantly recognisable.

Ents of the world

Fiordland National Park is one of New Zealand’s treasured natural icons and is internationally recognised as part of the wider UNESCO World Heritage site, Te Wāhipounamu (Place of the Greenstone). The park covers 1.2 million hectares of mountain, lake, fiord and rainforest environments, and is the location of Fangorn Forest in LOTR. It is where Merry and Pippin met Treebeard and is the home of the Ents. It’s also where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter the forest and encounter the White Rider, whom they believed to be Saruman, but was, in fact, Gandalf returned from his battle at Khazad-dum. 

Lupin flowers blooming across fjordland national park. Image: shutterstock/bondjb.
Lupin flowers blooming across Fjordland National Park. Image: Shutterstock/bondjb.

The Routeburn Track Road will take you to the best view of the location where Wētā Studios laboured to produce a marvellous digital image of the tower and depths of Isengard. The area is best viewed approximately 100 metres after crossing Scott Creek. By the paddock, it is easy to conjure up the image of Isengard nestled into Nan Curunir (the Wizards’ Vale) with the powerful peak of Methedras soaring over the valley.

Feel the magic of Middle Earth with these five experiences of a lifetime in New Zealand

Sky dive: On the West Coast, to glimpse the ‘lighting of the beacons’ that run along the White Mountains (Ered Nimrais) from Gondor to Rohan. This was filmed at Mount Gunn, near the Franz Josef Glacier.

Visit: The Wētā Workshop, the Academy Award-winning company that produced the special effects, costumes and creatures from LOTR, brought to life at the hands of creative geniuses such as Sir Richard Taylor and his team, in Wellington’s Miramar suburb. Witness their artistry, processes and props that bring the imaginary worlds to life on one of their Workshop Tours.

Carlos slater works on foam-latex uruk-hai prostethics. Image: courtesy wētā workshop.
Carlos Slater works on foam-latex Uruk-hai prostethics. Image: Courtesy Wētā Workshop.

Drop by: Jens Hansen in Nelson, makers of, what is probably, the world’s most famous ring. The movie’s Academy Award-winning Art Direction team first approached Jens Hansen about making the infamous One Ring in March 1999. Jens submitted 15 prototypes in a variety of weights and finishes, and from this extensive collection, the final movie ring design was selected. More than 40 variations were used in the filming of the LOTR trilogy and The Hobbit. One original ring is on display and for true fans, you can take home your very own ‘precious’ replica. Elvish engraving optional!

One ring on display at jens hansen. Image: courtesy tourism new zealand.
One Ring on display at Jens Hansen. Image: Courtesy Tourism New Zealand.

Talk: To the team at the Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters in Queenstown, the aerial film company for the LOTR trilogy, whose senior pilot Alfie Speight was the principal pilot for the filming. All of the company’s pilots are familiar with the unique landscapes that appear in the films and, as part of the production crew, can share insider secrets. Soar into the air and above the majestic Queenstown and Fiordland landscapes that featured in the films, over the Shotover River gorge recognisable as the Ford of Bruinen as well as Isengard, Lothlorien and Dimrill Dale. Land high on a glacier alongside the Misty Mountains and get a sense of what it might be like to cross The Redhorn Pass.

Take: A Nomad Safari, where off-road adventure meets Middle Earth magic as the films come to life on location around the dramatic scenery of Queenstown. Travel into the out of this world scenery that inspired the film location scouts and had this area featuring prominently in the films. Witness the real-life locations of the battle of the Wargs, Argonath (Pillars of the Kings), the Forest of Lothlorien, and the loss of The One Ring at Gladden Fields.

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