Before the year 2000, New Zealand was just a small island nation in the South Pacific, known for being very scenic but usually overshadowed by nearby Australia. After Peter Jackson filmed his Lord of the Rings trilogy in his home nation, New Zealand became “the REAL Middle-Earth,” and was suddenly being features on every travel bucket lists. With snow-capped mountains, raging rivers, active volcanoes and plenty of sweeping vistas across rolling farmland, it’s no wonder that people fell in love with New Zealand on the big screen.
The New Zealand tourism board latched on to this increased interest in the country and launched international ad campaigns enticing visitors to a true fantasyland. Today, tours are offered all over the country to sites that were used in both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. If you want to make your way to some of the most epic filming locations in the country, check out the following:
Matamata | Hobbiton
The only Lord of the Rings and Hobbit-related set still left in-tact in New Zealand can be found in Matamata: Hobbiton. The Shire is flourishing in this town just two hours south of Auckland – after the filming of the recent Hobbit movies, the Hobbiton set was left standing, built to last. Tourists can visit Middle Earth for real here – climb into hobbit holes, dance around the Party Tree, and have a drink at the Green Dragon pub. Tours of the set are given daily (and yes, of course costumes are welcomed).
Tongariro Crossing | Mount Doom
If it’s the barren landscape and towering mountains of Mordor that you’re in search of, look no further than Tongariro National Park. There’s a full-day trek known as the Tongariro Crossing that is not only is it consistently voted one of the best one-day treks in the world, but it also gets you up close with Mount Ngauruhoe – AKA Mount Doom. Actually, only the bottom portion of Ngauruhoe was filmed during “The Lord of the Rings” – the top of the active volcano is considered sacred by the native Maori people and therefore was computer-generated in the trilogy. Hiking through this environment of beautiful rocks and scrub will make you feel like Frodo on his quest through Mordor, just make sure you learn from the hobbits’ mistake and bring enough water with you.
Mount Sunday | Edoras
In Tolkien’s fictional Middle-Earth, Edoras is the chief city in the kingdom of Rohan, built atop a rocky outcrop in a valley surrounded on nearly all sides by craggy mountains. In New Zealand, the location – which seems like it was plucked right out of the books – is located in the Rangitata Valley in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand’s South Island. The rocky outcrop upon which the Golden Hall of Meduseld was built is bare today, but it’s not at all difficult to picture the waving banners and a forlorn Eowyn gazing out across the valley. You’ll need an organized tour and guide to reach this spot, as it’s located on the Erewhon Station – private farming property. Check out Hassle Free Tours in Christchurch, who operate frequent trips to Edoras each week.
Putangirua Pinnacles | Paths of the Dead
While the Paths of the Dead only played a minor role in the Lord of the Rings films (that part where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli take a creepy path through a mountain and meet lots of green-tinted ghosts), the real-life location is worth a starring role on your own Middle-Earth itinerary. Located near the bottom of the South Island about two hours away from Wellington, the pinnacles lie within the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve. Take some time to hike into the pinnacles for a while – you’ll probably be one of the only ones in the park. Once you get away from the park entrance, stop and just listen – every gust of wind that blows through will send little pebbles and bits of sand trickling eerily down the stone hoodoos around you. It really IS kind of creepy; you can totally picture a ghostly army charging out at any time.
Glenorchy | Misty Mountains
Lastly, no Lord of the Rings tour of New Zealand would be complete without a trip to the Southern Alps. The area around Queenstown and the Remarkables mountain range on New Zealand’s South Island could easily be the backdrop for any major motion picture – it’s scenic beyond belief. And that’s probably why a good deal of filming was done in this part of the country. Head to Glenorchy for a Jeep tour of filming sites, a horseback riding tour where you might get to ride a horse that worked on the films or a helicopter tour to the site of the Ford of Bruinen. Just watch out for orcs on the lakeshore.
Did watching “Lord of the Rings” motivate you to plan your own odyssey through New Zealand?