How to explore Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand
The release of Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power has brought Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the fore once again. Here’s how to explore the awe-inspiring landscapes that took centre stage in the famous film series.
When Variety asked director Peter Jackson why he chose to film The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand — then known only for its arthouse and indie films — rather than Hollywood, the Kiwi filmmaker quipped: “Why would I leave the Shire to go and live in Mordor?”
Fast-forward 20 years and six blockbuster films later — plus the hit series The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime, which launched in September — New Zealand’s reputation as the real-life Middle-earth endures and continues to have a profound effect on the country’s tourism industry.
In the decade after the Lord of the Rings films premiered, Variety reported that international visits to Wellington leapt by a staggering 87%. According to Tourism New Zealand, nearly one in five visitors first discovered the country through the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, and a third of all travellers visited a film location during their stay. In 2019, ‘Tolkien Tourism’ was worth NZ$630m (£330m) to the economy alone. Since New Zealand’s border restrictions eased earlier this year, fans have returned to rediscover Middle-earth once more.
Naturally, the best way to retrace Bilbo Baggins’ unexpected journey is to start at Hobbiton. Visitors can call in at Bag End, amble through hobbit-size vegetable patches, and toast Bilbo’s 111th birthday with a Southfarthing beer at the Green Dragon Inn. Keen movie buffs should also head to Wētā Workshop in Wellington, where you can dive into the weapons, costumes and practical effects behind the films, and get hands-on with a workshop in sculpting, leatherwork or gory make-up.
Although the sets may have been packed away long ago, there are still more than 150 film locations to explore elsewhere in the country, including those used for The Rings of Power, which can be visited with a hire car or campervan. The small town of Piha, outside Auckland, as well as the North Island’s heavenly Coromandel Peninsula, served as Númenor, the great fallen kingdom of Men, while the cast can be seen making their way across the South Island’s epic Fjordland and Kahurangi National Parks.
Nomad Safaris has half- and full-day tours from Queenstown and Glenorchy to key sites used for the Misty Mountains, Isengard and Lothlórien; while Hassle-free Tours offers six-wheel-drive expeditions through stunning high-country used to recreate Edoras, realm of the Rohirrim. Those who dare to enter the land of Mordor can book a guided hiking tour through Tongariro National Park, where Mount Ruapehu doubled for Mount Doom, with Adrift Tongariro.
Three more ways to explore Middle-earth
Eat like a hobbit
When in the Shire, do as the hobbits do. Be among the first to visit Hobbiton in the morning with the new ‘Second Breakfast’ tour, which includes a guided walk through the 12-acre film set followed by a rustic breakfast banquet at the Millhouse. From NZ$149 (£78).
Escape from Mirkwood
Bilbo and his dwarf friends evaded elves and orcs by floating down a river in barrels. Recreate their thrilling ‘barrel run’ on a kayaking adventure on the Pelorus River with Pelorus Eco Adventures, paddling through the dramatic valley that brought Mirkwood to life. From NZ$185 (£97).
Ride through wizard country
Saddle your noble steed and set off on a family-friendly horse trek through the glacial valleys of Glenorchy. Lighthorse Adventures offers half-day rides through the Wizard’s Vale, with views of the Misty Mountains and the mighty Methedras. Feel like a true rider of Rohan and customise your experience with horseback archery lessons. From NZ$209 (£110).
Published in the November 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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