By Amanda Little
Pack your bags, grab some bread and cheese, and wrestle with your fear of horses, because you're going on an adventure! Follow the footsteps of the Baggins' clan, seek out wonder with Gandalf, brawl with the dwarves, and more as you explore the stunning New Zealand scenery found in LOTR's iconic movie scenes.
The sparkling waters of the Anduin River appear in the first Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring in the opening aerial scenery, and again as the Fellowship used it to make their way to Mordor from the fair realm of Lothlorien. While you won’t see the magnificent statues presiding over either side of the river, visiting the Waiau River, Mararoa River, and Kawarau Gorge in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park will bring you straight into the Lord of the Rings world. Both are easily accessible by car or from the Kepler Track. Keep an eye out for the Silvan or Wood Elves while walking through their lands.
The area surrounding the rivers is known on the silver screen as Fangorn Forest, but traveling along Takaro Road near Te Anau will bring you to the mighty Mavora region. Here you’ll be able to follow the route along real-life Mavora Lake that Merry and Pippin used to escape from the Uruk-hai. Travel along, seeking out the mighty if slow Ents that called this forest home, and where Aragorn set out in search of the mischievous hobbits. Set among the stunning lakes, rivers, and mountains of Fiordland National Park, its easy to imagine seeing elegant human-like creatures vanishing behind trees, or branches murmuring to one another just out of your line of sight.
Ford of Bruinen
Set out on an adventure to find the opening scene from The Two Towers. From the village of Glenorchy in New Zealand, you can find the northern side of Lake Wakatipu, and from there you can see all the way to the north-west sloped of Mount Earnslaw, both of which made up some of the landscape scenes in The Two Towers. From there you can also discover Lothlorien and the Pillar of Kings. Of course, all you’ll find on the quest for Lothlorien is a massive beech forest, and Anduin and Argonath were pure movie magic, so you’ll see the place where they would have stood instead. If you visit Chard Farm winery for a view of Anduin and Argonath, continue on to Crown Range Road and follow it first down into Cardrona Valley, and finally up to the summit of Mt. Cardona, which offers a stunning panoramic view of would-be Middle-earth.
Visit Mackenzie Country to walk the fields that held the epic battle where thousands of brutish orcs clashed with the humans of Gondor and Rohan. While the fields are private property, tours can be arranged with the town that owns it, Twizel, and they can lead you through the foothills of the mountains that look exactly the same as they did in the movie.
Drive to Ashburton District’s high country to Hakatere Potts Road and walk to Mt. Sunday, where the main city for the people of Rohan once sat. While nothing of the set remains of the capital city of man, the sheer-sided hill still offers a little glimmer of movie magic left behind. Set in the middle of a plan with the Rangitata River valley serving as the rest of Edoras, it’s easily photo-worthy.
Gondor Calls for Aid
Seek out the magnificent summit of Mt. Gunn and look to the horizon. It was here that the beacons between Gondor and Rohan were lit as Gondor called for aid. This moment stood out as a prominent scene in all three movies, so be sure to see it for yourself! Mt. Gunn can be reached by a hike or even a scenic flight.
Seek out the green, circular door set into a hill for second breakfast while visiting Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Mount Victoria is easily within reach of the capital, and the forests surrounding the area were used to film the cozy, iconic scenes of Hobbit life. Mount Victoria also provided the paths where the hobbits hid from the ring wraiths.
Throughout your exploration of Wellington visitors can also see the Hutt River running through Moonshine Park and Totara Park, which also made an appearance as the Anduin River, and Harcourt Park, which served and the Gardens of Isengard. You’ll also get to see some of Rivendell in Wellington’s Kaitoke Regional Park, Queen Elizabeth Park where the Nazgul and mumakil were filmed for the Battle of Pelennor Fields, and even Osgiliath Wood, called Waitarere Forest in real life, where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum traveled after leaving Faramir. If you’re planning to go a little further over the hill to the Wairarapa region, you’ll get to see the Putangirua Pinnacles, where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli set out in the search for the Paths of the Dead.
Look out over lush dairy farming lands, green rolling hills, and wildflowers softly waving in the breeze as you wander through the tranquil paths of the Shire. Set in Waikato Town of Matamata, this amazing set was built a year before filming to allow weeds to grow through the cracks, little gardens to prosper, and weathering to make the whole of the Shire look cozy and lived-in. It is now a permanent attraction, where visitors can head down to the Green Dragon for a drink, dance under the Party Tree, and visit Bilbo’s house at Bag End.
With the one ring hidden away in a pocket, friend and foe clashing, and the burning eye of Sauron watching, reaching the summit of Mount Doom was nearly impossible. Luckily, Mount Ngauruhoe doesn’t have quite as many orcs and lava, and it's a good deal smaller than Mount Doom, because of the digital alteration for the movie. While filming at the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe wasn’t permitted due to it being a sacred site in Maori culture, the slopes of the mountain were used for filming, and the mountain is still open to hikers. Stop in at the Tongariro’s visitor center before making your way up to reimagine the excitement and peril Sam and Frodo faced.
Bonus: The Hobbit Filming Locations
Look out over the waters that Smaug terrorized and the human-run Laketown lives on the silver screen. While there isn’t a magnificent, if corrupt, floating town on the lake, Lake Pukaki in Canterbury is still a stunning glacial lake, with vibrant blue waters and breathtaking natural scenery.
The Waitomo District made its way to An Unexpected Journey as Trollshaws Forest and Staddles Farm. It was here that the dwarves of Thorin’s company and Bilbo were very nearly eaten by trolls, before the sun rose and turned them all to stone. They can also be seen in the Fellowship of the Ring, where Sam, Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Aragorn set up camp in those woods as well. Perhaps you’ll see a piece of sun-frozen troll lingering among the foliage.
Nobody knows a brawl like the dwarves, and the tag-team styled battle in barrels floating down the Forest River in the Desolation of Smaug truly proves the brutal creativity of Thorin’s company. Legolas and Tauriel follow along from the banks, and all of them work together to fight off the orcs out for blood. The real river is the Pelorus River, and while much of the actual filming of the scene was done in a studio, Pelorus is the real-life backdrop that is actually open for kayaking! Be sure to join in on the adventure as you maneuver your way through the hair-raising rapids.
For those looking for Smaug and the secret entrance to the Lonely Mountain, be sure to seek out Hidden Bay, have your key, and of course, have a dwarf with you. Hidden Bay was filmed on Mount Ruhapehu, which towers over the lowlands of the Central Plateau of the North Island. Trekking up to this spot is no easy feat, so be sure to prepare yourself, and maybe have Sting ready for action.