The following is a guest post written by Kayla Robbins.
Many filming locations featured in the movies are open to tourists!
Are you looking for a unique vacation destination for your next trip? Why not stop by Middle-earth? It may sound too good to be true, but there are actually several places throughout New Zealand that were featured prominently in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films that are now open to tourists. A lot of these locations have capitalized on the popularity of the movies, fully embracing the connection and drawing in thousands of like-minded fans per year. If you’ve always wanted to test your skill in scaling the rocky slopes of Mount Doom, or enjoy the quaint comforts of Hobbiton, a New Zealand LOTR tour could be the perfect vacation for you!
There’s just one little problem- LOTR tours are such a popular activity that everyone wants to be part of them! Locations with only tenuous ties to the movies may advertise themselves as a must-see destination, but when you get there, you’ll be disappointed to find the parking lot that housed the makeup trailer where Elijah Wood had his prosthetic feet applied every day! Um, no thank you. If you’re going to make the trip, it ought to be the trip of a lifetime! That’s where I can help out. There are so many places to see, it can be difficult for the average person to decide which ones are worth spending your limited vacation time on, site unseen. That’s why I have compiled a list of the coolest locations for you. Here are the top 5 best places that you won’t want to miss:
1. Mount Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park
This striking volcano can be seen towering above the landscape for miles in any direction, making it the perfect candidate to become Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. Most prominently featured in The Return of the King, this is, of course, the site where Frodo and Sam finally destroyed The One Ring once and for all, and Gollum along with it. They also spent quite a bit of time languishing on its slopes and reminiscing as it erupted around them before being miraculously rescued by the eagles.
In reality, Mount Ngauruhoe has not erupted since 1977, though it is still an active volcano. Mount Ngauruhoe is actually not a stand alone volcano in its own right, but rather a secondary cone of the nearby Mount Tongariro. Filming in this location was tricky, and many of its appearances in the movie were digitally altered in some way. Filming was not permitted at the summit, since it is sacred in Maori culture, but some scenes were filmed along its lower slopes. You can visit those areas by walking along the climbing trails on the western side of the mountain. The slope is as much as 45 degrees in places, so it does require a certain level of fitness and ability and may not be suitable for young children. Experienced climbers may attempt to climb the mountain from the North side, which is even more difficult. If you have the skills, though, it’s a worthwhile climb. The view from the top is breathtaking!
For the somewhat less adventurous tourist, or anyone who prefers to kick back and relax on vacation, a nice visit to Hobbiton may be just the thing. The location for the idyllic village of Hobbiton is one of the filming sites that director Peter Jackson put the most time and effort into cultivating, and the result is a functioning tourist attraction that’s more lively and robust than ever, even more than a decade after filming.
Located on the Northern island near the town of Matamata, Waikato, is a stretch of lush, green farmland where Jackson built out an entire Hobbit sized village. He chose it after viewing the land from a helicopter and offering the farmer who owned it a nice sum. To give a feeling of authenticity, the homes and gardens were established a full year before filming began, which gave everything time to grow organically. Weeds poked up through cracks in the roads, paint faded a bit, and the whole thing took on a cozy, “lived in” look.
No detail was overlooked in the creation of this paradise- Jackson even had the farmer relocate the sheep he had grazing on the land so that all of the surrounding hilltops would be green, not white once filming began. There is also an artificial tree that stands above Bag End with more than 300,000 hand painted leaves attached to it. When it was installed, the shade of green wasn’t quite what he imagined, so the artist had to repaint them all!
Hobbiton has taken on a life of its own in the years since the films were made, and now it’s so much more than just a film set- it’s its own living, breathing town. There are many activities for visitors to participate in, including guided tours of the town including Bilbo’s house, having a drink at the functional tavern, The Green Dragon, and even trying on some authentic Hobbit style clothing! There is of course also a gift shop where you can buy all sorts of themed merchandise. Who wouldn’t like to have a replica of The One Ring, a Green Dragon flagon, or a chess set themed after LOTR?
3. Pelorus River
Eagle eyed viewers may recognize the Pelorus River as the sight of the barrel scene in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. While most of the scene was actually filmed in the studio, the Pelorus was the real life inspiration and backdrop for it. It’s a great place for a picnic, a quick dip in the cold waters, or even a little kayaking, since the water is actually quite calm in this area, as opposed to the rough water seen in the movie.
4. Kaitoke Regional Park
One of the most easily accessible filming locations is Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. You’ll find many areas around the city that were featured in the movie, such as the wooded areas on the mountain where the hobbits hid from Black Riders, or the Hutt River which played the part of the Anduin. Perhaps the most magical filming location is just north of downtown Wellington, in Kaitoke Regional Park, which was transformed into the beautiful elven city of Rivendell.
The perfectly clear babbling brooks and the park’s pristine lowland rainforest will assuredly bestow on you the same tranquility as the house of Elrond did on the weary hobbits. This location was used in all three of the Lord of the Rings movies, as well as in the first Hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey. Once you’re surrounded by the beauty of nature in this mature native forest, it will become obvious why this location was chosen to be the home of the elves! The exact filming location is well marked on sign posts within the park to make it easy to find your way to the last homely house east of the sea.
5. Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve, Wairarapa
You will instantly recognize the sharp and spindly stone pillars of Putangirua as the Path of the Dead featured in The Return of the King. Three hiking trails lead through the eerie stone stacks, and there is a camping site nearby for those who are brave enough to stay the night!
This unique landscape is the result of seven million years of erosion gradually filing down the once stately peaks of the Aorangi mountain range. In its current state, the peaks certainly give off an eerie, almost alien vibe that provides the perfect backdrop for an eerie and creepy part of the story! This location was no doubt chosen for filming because of its secludedness and the slightly unsettling feeling one can’t help but get by being surrounded by strange, gigantic pillars of sharp stones. It’s perfectly evocative of the unease that Gimli and Legolas were feeling as they followed Aragorn deeper and deeper into the mountains on his uncertain quest for last minute aid from the Army of the Dead that once betrayed his ancestors and were cursed for it.
Getting Around in NZ
These are the top 5 places you can’t leave without seeing, but there are many more sites you may also be interested in checking out. If you’re driving yourself around, you can use the handy Camper Mate app to plan your route between all of these locations and search for more attractions. It’s especially valuable for those traveling in an RV. The app can show you the locations of all nearby gas stations, dump sites, and the best reviewed attractions, so you can enjoy your vacation instead of worrying about running out of gas before the next stop!