Like a true geek, my love for New Zealand blossomed when the Lord of the Rings trilogy debuted in the early 2000’s. I vividly remember being 11 years old and seeing the Fellowship of the Ring in theaters an embarrassing number of times (if you guess the correct number, I’ll send you an Amazon gift card). I couldn’t get enough of the vast scenery, the epic mountains, the tranquility of the Shire, and the plight of the characters who suffered so much, yet succeeded in the end. Shortly after the first movie came out, I devoured the books as if nothing else in the world mattered. I couldn’t get enough of Middle Earth and this world that Tolkien created. From then on, New Zealand became my dream vacation, which we finally took in May 2018.
While there are technically many different filming locations all over the country (and of course, we couldn’t see everything), I will be focusing on the places we saw. Most of the notable scenes were filmed on the western part of the south island, and almost all sets that were built have been dismantled years ago (with the exception of Hobbiton).
- What is here? Hobbiton & The Shire
- Where? North Island, 2-3 hours south of Auckland
- What do I need to know? Buy tickets ahead of time, especially if you plan on doing the evening banquet. You can purchase them online here.
- Music for your drive: “Concerning Hobbits,” The Fellowship of the Ring
Enjoy the beautiful rolling green hills and farmlands as you drive south to Matamata from Auckland. Peter Jackson searched all over New Zealand for the perfect location for Hobbiton – he almost filmed the location in multiple different places until he found this private farm and begged the owner to allow his crew to film. While the Hobbiton set was deconstructed shortly after the original trilogy, it was rebuilt for the Hobbit films in 2011. It has stayed up ever since, easily being the top tourist attraction in New Zealand.
MT. NGAURUHOE – TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
- What is here? Mount Doom, Mordor scenes
- Where? Smack dab in the middle of the North Island
- What do I need to know? If you want to hike the mountain/alpine crossing, planning ahead is required. There is no fee to do this unless you book a guided trek.
- Music for your drive: “The Prophesy,” Fellowship of the Ring
“The Black Gate Opens,” Return of the King
“The End of All Things,” Return of the King
A quick drive from Hobbiton, Tongariro National Park is one of New Zealand’s most famous locations. Tongariro Alpine Crossing, known as New Zealand’s best “day hikes,” allows you to walk past Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom). Pretend to be Frodo and Sam as you trek along this volcanic trail.
- What is here? Weta Cave & Workshop, Mt. Victoria Lookout (Shire forest scenes)
- Where? The country’s capital! Southern tip of the North Island
- What do I need to know? Purchase tickets for Weta ahead of time here. You will run into people looking for the Hobbit hideout scene – be kind and help each other out.
- Music for your drive: “The Black Rider,” Fellowship of the Ring
“A Knife in the Dark,” Fellowship of the Ring
New Zealand’s capital is known to have a fun & quirky vibe, yet it’s also a hub for many Lord of the Rings-related places. Stop by Weta Cave to get a tour of their workshop – this is where every single chain mail, beer mug, orc mask, Hobbit foot, elf ear, furniture, and weapon was created for the entire series. Take a hike around Mt. Victoria as many hobbit scenes were filmed there (most notably the “Get off the road, quick!” scene with the hobbits and wraith). Follow the signs for “Hobbit’s Hideaway” to find the correct spot. Pro Tip – don’t bother paying some dude $70+ for a tour when you can find LOTR locations online.
- What is here? The epic lighting of the beacons scene between Rohan and Gondor in the Return of the King
- Where? Franz Josef Glacier, middle-west end of the South Island
- What do I need to know? The area itself is a bit of a tourist trap, but seeing the glaciers in person are pretty wild. There are many different flight tours/guided hikes to choose from, or just walk along the free trail that leads you to FJ.
- Music for your drive: “The White Tree,” Return of the King (my favorite song)
Mt. Gunn is the mountain shown in the beacons scene, even though that lasted for maybe two seconds. It’s worth your time to stop and see Franz Josef glacier as it’s a geological phenomenon in and of itself. Take note on how much the glacier has receded in the last few decades.
- What is here? Almost every snowy mountain scene – notably the Fellowship hiking Pass of Caradhras and mountain scenes in beacon lighting scene
- Where? The Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown
- What do I need to know? Tons of neat hiking trails up the mountains
- Music for your drive: “The Ring Goes South,” Fellowship of the Ring
“The White Tree,” Return of the King (my favorite song!)
Queenstown, a popular and gorgeous destination in the South Island, is a great home base for many of your Lord of the Rings location hunts (as well as for many other obvious noteworthy New Zealand sites). The Remarkables mountain range is epic and stunning during all times of the day.
- What is here? Dead Marshes scene, Ford of Bruinen shots (Arwen riding her horse with a dying Frodo), and the scenes with Merry and Pippin escaping the Orcs
- Where? Around Te Anau on the South Island (more specifically – Kepler Mire, Waiau River, and Mavora Lakes)
- What do I need to know? It’s absolutely necessary to drive when seeing these sites. Many tour buses to Milford Sound will stop at some of these places
- Music for your drive: “The Uruk-Hai,” The Two Towers
“Flight to the Ford,” Fellowship of the Ring
“The Passage of the Marshes,” The Two Towers
Much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in the South Island, and Te Anau is one of those locations that had a lot going on. Most might seem like inconsequential rivers or fields, but a true fan will spot the locations instantly. I highly recommend renting a car and driving around to see these places. Unless you book a tour with a private company that buses you around, you can’t rely on public transportation to get you around (as that does not exist so much in the area).
FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK
- What is here? Anduin River scenes – where the Fellowship sails post-Lothlorien meeting, and crossing the Gates of Argonath
- Where? Fiordland National Park (Milford Sound)
- What do I need to know? The best way to see this area is by boat or flight. The boat option is the most popular.
- Music for your drive: “The Great River,” Fellowship of the Ring
A four hour drive from Queenstown, Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most popular destinations – and for good reason. It’s epic size and beauty is unmatched. It is no surprise to me that the Gates of Argonath scene was filmed here.
- What is here? Isengard, Fangorn Forest, and Amon Hen (Boromir’s death scene)
- Where? Right outside of Glenorchy in a teeny tiny township called Paradise
- What do I need to know? You won’t be able to see these locations on your own since they’re on private land – the best way is via a horse trek. We booked ours through High Country Horses
- Music for your drive: “Isengard Unleashed,” The Two Towers
“The Treason of Isengard,” Fellowship of the Ring
“Amon Hen,” Fellowship of the Ring
“Treebeard,” The Two Towers
Easily one of my favorite parts of the entire trip, our horse trek through Isengard was spectacular. When our guide pointed out Boromir’s death spot (for lack of a better phrase), the landscape looked as if nothing had changed, and you could clearly see the hill where the Uruk-Hai walked down. Highly recommend.
Places we didn’t get to, but saved for next time:
- Mt Sunday in Canterbury – Rohan
- Putangirua Pinnacles – Dimholt Road (where Legolas and Gimli met the undead in Return of the King)
- Deer Park Hights – location setting for the journey from Edoras to Helm’s Deep
- Twizel – Gondor and Battle of Pelennor Fields
It was a trip I will always remember – there is nothing quite like seeing your favorite books come to life.