Image: Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata
I’m a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. Living in New Zealand, I’ve visited a great many of the filming locations. Frankly, they’re worth seeing even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan – their sheer beauty is unsurpassed. People from all over globe flock to them, and they’ve certainly been the highlights of my various travels around New Zealand. Here’s a list of ten of them:
My family visited Glenorchy on our South Island campervan tour. It’s near Queenstown, one of the most amazing spots on the planet, and includes the scenery of so many Lord of the Rings locations, among them Lothlorien, Isengard, the River Anduin, and Amon Hen, the site of Boromir’s departure. There are lots of tours to choose from, but the one we went on was Dart Stables’ The Ride of the Rings tour – the world’s most scenic horse trek. I’d never ridden a horse before, but this was nice and relaxed, and I was soon riding with the confidence of Eowyn. Being on horseback makes it easy to pretend you’re in the story, cresting a hill to be confronted with the glory of the Wizard’s Vale, or clopping through an enchanted forest, wondering whether you’re being watched by elves with drawn bows. I had to give that tour a ten out of ten; the beauty was just overwhelming.
Matamata is perhaps the most famous of all the Middle-earth locations in New Zealand, so much so that it has practically been renamed ‘Hobbiton’. It boasts the rolling, emerald hills of the Shire, especially impressive on a sunny day, and there is something very homely and comforting about it. The tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set is fantastic: you get to see all the round front doors with their flowers and even have a drink in The Green Dragon. It’s best to book ahead, as the place is always heaving with tourists, but considering this the cost is quite reasonable. If you’re a hardcore fan, though, be prepared to spend a lot of money in the gift shop!
Mount Victoria is in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, and from its top you get great views of the city. That’s not why people go to it these days, though. I have a very clear memory of me, as a child, crying, “Get off the road! Quick!” in imitation of Frodo Baggins in that famous scene, and of crouching under a certain outcrop to hide from the Black Rider. (Although the actual tree where the hobbits hid was fake and, as such, is no longer there.) Who could resist the urge to re-enact that? Wellington is also home to several other locations, as well as Weta Workshop itself.
‘Arrow’ seems like a strangely appropriate name for a river used as a filming location for The Lord of the Rings – the bit where Arwen confronts the Black Riders at the Ford of Bruinen. It’s in Otago and gave its name to the small town nestled upon its banks, Arrowtown. Arrowtown is an utterly charming place, a relic from the days of New Zealand’s gold rush, and it’s an attraction in its own right. We went there in our New Zealand campervan rental. I wish we’d been able to spend longer there, because the Ford of Bruinen isn’t actually the most beautiful spot in the area. It’s still pretty awesome, though – you just have to imagine a charging line of white, foam horses coming at you!
I first laid eyes upon Lake Pukaki long before the filming of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, when it became the manifestation of Esgaroth, or Lake-town. Even without this recommendation, it’s a magnificent place. The water is a creamy, glacial turquoise, reflecting the snowy crown of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki, or Mount Cook. The view across the lake is simply awe-inspiring – to me, it epitomises the sheer beauty of the South Island. My parents took a scenic flight over Pukaki, but there isn’t much else to do there aside from walking and mountain biking – maybe the film’s release will boost its popularity, although I don’t want its purity to be ruined. There’s a free overnight campground on the lake’s edge (and I can’t imagine a better place to spend the night,) but only if you have a self-contained campervan hire.
Tongariro National Park, which is located in the centre of the North Island and contains the three active volcanoes of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, has become almost synonymous with Mordor. Mount Doom itself is a digitally enhanced Ngauruhoe, although the volcano looks impressive enough as it is. The park also contains Emyn Muil, Gorgoroth, the Black Gate and the spot in Ithilien where Faramir was camped, and, of course, parts of The Hobbit were filmed there as well. A great way to see all these sights – as well as the pretty Blue and Emerald Lakes and some spectacular craters and steam vents – is to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It takes about seven hours and you have to be moderately fit, but if you don’t feel like that you can fly over the park, go on a horse trek or, in winter, go skiing.
The Shotover River flows through the picturesque Skippers Canyon near Queenstown. It is a fast and often frothy river and, along with the Kawarau River, provided some of the scenery for the Anduin. Skippers Canyon is just gorgeous – my family went on a jet boat ride in it and it was the best jet boat ride I’ve ever been on. The Shotover Jet is heart-stoppingly thrilling as it skims around and even over rocks! Above the canyon wends the ridiculously frightening Skippers Road, which is so narrow and dangerous that you’re not allowed to drive any New Zealand rental cars on it.
In the deep south of the South Island, Fiordland is home to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Manapouri and Te Anau. It is consistently cited as one of the most beautiful places in the world, so it’s no wonder that filming for both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies took place there. The Waiau River, between Manapouri and Te Anau, was used as parts of the Anduin, both sides of Takaro Road were used as Fangorn, Kelper Mire was used as the Dead Marshes, Manapouri was used as the area south of Rivendell… I could go on. The crowning glory of Fiordland is Milford Sound, and at the centre of that crown is Mitre Peak. Anyone who visits New Zealand should take a cruise on Milford Sound, but if you walk around you might find yourself following in certain hairy footsteps.
Part of the pretty Marlborough Sounds at the very top of the South Island, the Pelorus River was filmed as Forest River for the second of The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug. You know the bit where they escape the Wood-elves in barrels and float down the river to Lake-town? Well the drop was done at Pelorus Bridge. The Pelorus Bridge Camping Ground, which is an excellent place to stay, was closed for filming. The river is awesome to swim in – that area of New Zealand is especially nice and warm – and, no doubt, kayaking down it is set to become a lot more popular.
The Canterbury Plains are in the middle of the South Island and, along with Poolburn Reservoir in Central Otago, stand in for the Plains of Rohan, the Riddermark. Edoras itself is Mount Sunday, in the Rangitata Valley. The walk up to it and to the top is stunning with the snow capped mountains in the background. It’s easy to get to from Christchurch, and there are many activities to do in the area, including skiing and hot air balloon rides. I think the ultimate experience, however, would be horse riding through that spectacular scenery – you know why!