The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies were filmed in more than 150 locations across New Zealand. Director Sir Peter Jackson, before he even started planning the films, thought that his home country bore a close resemblance to the fantasy Middle Earth of J. R. R. Tolkein's original books. Even though Tolkein was English and never visited New Zealand, the mountains, volcanoes, vast open landscapes, and rolling pastoral land of the small South Pacific nation reflected the dramatic, mystical, and epic landscapes of the stories.
After filming, most film sets were dismantled, returning the landscapes to their original state and leaving little trace of the role they played in the six movies. But, many vistas are still recognizable from the films, especially to die-hard fans. These can be visited independently or on guided tours, with added commentary and behind-the-scenes info on the making of the movies.
Big LOTR and Hobbit fans can purchase detailed filming location guide books, which are a handy companion to travel in New Zealand if your goal is to see as many film sites as possible. But for an easy introduction to a few of the coolest filming locations you can visit, read on.
Scenes filmed here: The Shire, in all LOTR and The Hobbit movies.
How to visit: If you're only going to visit one LOTR-related location in New Zealand, make it Hobbiton in Matamata. The rolling green landscape of Matamata was previously a farm. While many filming locations in New Zealand are just landscapes these days, this isn't the case at Hobbiton. Visitors can see 44 "hobbit holes" on guided tours lasting two hours.
Located about 38 miles east of Hamilton, in the Waikato district of the upper North Island, Matamata is a convenient place to stop on the journey between Auckland and Rotorua or Taupo.
Mt. Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park
Scenes filmed here: The barren, volcanic landscape of the Tongariro National Park represents the ominous land of Mordor, and Mt. Ngauruhoe the fire-spewing Mt. Doom (fire courtesy of CGI).
How to visit: The Tongariro National Park contains the popular day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The trail of this challenging but highly scenic hike passes Mt. Ngauruhoe. Due to its significance to the local Maori people, visitors are requested not to climb Ngauruhoe.
Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington
Scenes filmed here: Rivendell, home of the Elves, where Frodo recovers from a knife attack.
How to visit: The Kaitoke Regional Park is about 28 miles northeast of Wellington. It can be visited on a LOTR-themed guided tour of the Wellington area, although it's easy to visit independently. There's an elven-inspired archway at the entrance to the park, and signs point towards filming locations.
Mt. Victoria, Wellington
Scenes filmed here: Hobbiton Woods, where the Hobbits hide from the Black Riders.
How to visit: Mt. Victoria is probably one of the easiest filming locations to visit, as it's a short walk from central Wellington, and doesn't require joining a guided tour. However, if you want to hear more stories and background information on Wellington's role in the films, guided tours that include Mt. Victoria and other locations are available.
Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa
Scenes filmed here: The Dimholt Road, where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli seek the Paths of the Dead in the third LOTR film, The Return of the King.
How to visit: The Putangirua Pinnacles are east of Wellington, but because of the geography here, the journey covers about 70 miles. They're in the Aorangi Forest Park, about a half-hour drive south of the town of Martinborough, in the Wairarapa wine-growing region. They can be visited independently; a 2-4 hour hiking track passes through the Pinnacles. They're also included on some Wellington-area LOTR-themed tours.
Takaka Hill, Tasman District
Scenes filmed here: Chetwood Forest, where the Ranger Strider helps the Hobbits escape the Black Riders.
How to visit: The high, twisting Takaka Hill road is the only way in to remote Golden Bay, in the north-west of the South Island. You can stop en route between Nelson/Motueka and Golden Bay, or make a special trip to see the filming locations. The Ngarua Caves are just beneath the surface, so even if you don't take a special LOTR-themed tour, guides on the Ngarua Caves tour will normally point out the filming locations from a distance once you're above ground again.
Pelorus Bridge, Marlborough
Scenes filmed here: The Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve acts as Forest River in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, the second film in The Hobbit trilogy. It's where the barrel scene takes place.
How to visit: The Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve is about a 20-minute drive from Havelock, or a 40-minute drive from Nelson. There's a Department of Conservation-administered campsite here, and it's a popular swimming spot in the hot summer months. There's also a cafe that travelers passing through can stop at, before or after a short walk to see the attractive river pools where the scenes were filmed. It's also possible to take guided kayak tours along the Pelorus River.
Scenes filmed here: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, in which the fearsome orc army fight the men of Gondor and Rohan.
How to visit: As the land used in the filming of these scenes is privately owned, it's necessary to visit on a guided tour. Twizel is very remote, and most travelers visit while staying in or around Mt. Cook Village or Tekapo.
Mt. Sunday, Canterbury
Scenes filmed here: Edoras, city of the Rohan people.
How to visit: There's no remaining set to see here, but it's easy to visit when staying at nearby Mt. Potts Station. Drive along Hakatere Potts Road and walk to places recognizable from the films. Mt. Sunday is also a fixture on LOTR tours operating from Christchurch.
Skippers Canyon, Queenstown
Scenes filmed here: Where Arwen washed away the ringwraiths pursuing her.
How to visit: If you have a good four-wheel drive vehicle and are a confident driver, you can visit Skippers Canyon independently: it's about an hour's drive north of Queenstown, along a very rugged road. Alternatively, take a LOTR-themed tour of multiple locations around Queenstown.
Scenes filmed here: Glenorchy's Mt. Earnslaw appeared in the opening sequence of The Two Towers, the second film in the LOTR trilogy. The beech forest between Glenorchy and Paradise was Lothlorien.
How to visit: Glenorchy is on the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, bout 28 miles north-west of Queenstown. It's a scenic place for an independent stroll, or can also be visited on a LOTR-themed tour of the Queenstown area.
Mt. Gunn, Franz Josef
Scenes filmed here: Mt. Gunn is one of the places where the beacons between Gondor and Rohan were lit.
How to visit: Mt. Gunn is in the Waiho Valley near Franz Josef Glacier and Franz Josef Village, on the West Coast of the South Island. Good views can be had from scenic helicopter flights, but travelers on a more limited budget can enjoy walks in the area.
Waiau River, Fiordland
Scenes filmed here: The Waiau River represented the River Anduin, down which the Fellowship of the Ring paddled, from Lothlorien. The surrounding peaks represented the rough country south of Rivendell.
How to visit: The Waiau River runs between lakes Te Anau and Manapouri. It's the largest river in Southland. Various sections of the river were used in filming, but aerial shots of the flotilla were shot along the Manapouri to Te Anau highway. A self-drive tour of the area is a good way to get a sense of this scenery.
Mavora Lakes, Southland
Scenes filmed here: The Mavora Lakes appear in many scenes, including one memorable one where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli follow Merri and Pippin along the edge of Fanghorn Forest.
How to visit: North and South Mavora Lakes are about 90 minutes' drive from Te Anau, and can only be reached by private vehicle. There are two basic Department of Conservation-administered campsites on the lakes. Some guided tours to LOTR locations in Southland are available, but there are fewer in this area than around Queenstown or elsewhere.
Mararoa River, Southland
Scenes filmed here: The Mararoa River appears in a scene where the Fellowship leaves Lothlorien.
How to visit: The Mararoa River is in the same area as the Mavora Lakes, and one particular filming location is at the swingbridge at the southern end of South Mavora Lake. A good way to visit is to combine a trip here with the Mavora Lakes, camping at one of the DOC campsites, either in a tent or an RV.