The Complete Lord Of The Rings Fan Guide To New Zealand

When English author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote "The Lord of the Rings" in the mid-1900s, he took inspiration from parts of middle England, near the city of Birmingham, where he spent some of his formative years, according to the The History Press. Many decades later, his fantasy epic which explores themes of friendship, good against evil, and the intoxicating lure of power, came to life on the silver screen. Directed by Peter Jackson, the three films of "The Lord of the Rings" — "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," and "The Return of the King" — were critical and commercial blockbusters (the final installment won all 11 Oscars for which it was nominated, according to IMDb).

Filmed entirely in Jackson's home in New Zealand, "The Lord of the Rings" films could easily do the work of a promotional video for the country's tourism industry — they magnificently capture the nation's dramatic, cinematic-quality beauty. While some of the imagery in the films leans heavily on CGI, many of the shooting locations below, roughly arranged north to south geographically, can be visited by fans of the legendary saga. And for any wannabe Hobbits that yearn to take a piece of the film back home with them, jeweler Jens Hansen, who made the rings used in the trilogy, has a store in Nelson, on the South Island, where replicas of the "one ring to rule them all" are sold.

Port Waikato

Despite Frodo's inseparable relation to the ring, there are only a handful of times when he actually puts it on his finger. One of these happens in "The Fellowship of the Ring" when he and his fellow Hobbits are brought to the remote watch tower of Amon Sûl (also known as Weathertop Hollow) by Aragorn. After nightfall, as Frodo sleeps, his friends Samwise Gamgee (Sam), Peregrin Took (Pippin), and Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) light a fire to cook some food. The flames attract a group of Nazgûl in search of the ring, and Frodo, cornered, slips it onto his finger in the hopes of evading them. 

The weathered remnants of the watch tower in the scene were created courtesy of some wizardly software, but the bulky limestone that it tops is an actual place. Though it's located on private land, according to Hamilton & Waikato Tourism, inquisitive fans can get a good look at it from the nearby Waikaretu Road, outside the town. Port Waikato itself is an easygoing coastal destination, popular for water sports like surfing and fishing, and it has vast sand dunes from which to watch gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific (via Best Bits Travel Guides).


The Shire, where the Hobbits live, looks almost real in the trilogy of films. That's because, in a sense, it is. The village and attraction of Hobbiton, in the heart of The Shire, was built on land that was part of a sheep farm in the rolling hills of pastoral North Island, a site chosen by Jackson's team. Today, guests can visit the Hobbiton set on guided tours, snap photos by the doors of Hobbit holes, wander the village paths, and have a brew at the Green Dragon inn. The tour is full of tidbits of information about the movies — "The Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" trilogies were both filmed here — including how the holes were made (the New Zealand Army helped!). 

Beyond the obvious thrill for fans, visiting this part of the North Island is rewarding in itself: the countryside could easily be idyllic Middle-earth, with green pastures rising, falling clear skies, and an abundant sense of serenity.

Tongariro National Park

Some parts of the country are home to multiple filming locations. Among them is the Tongariro National Park, the oldest national park in New Zealand that's also been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. The park is a place of grand physical beauty and great cultural significance, a realm of giant volcanoes, endangered birds, and deep Maori mythology (via New Zealand's Department of Conservation). It's also where visitors can complete the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike, an 11-mile walk along lava flows, past volcanic steam, and skirting an otherworldly emerald lake. 

The park's glorious nature is also visible in a number of film scenes. Just above the Mangawhero Falls, in a small pool on the Mangawhero River, is where, per Filmquest, Sméagol crawls along the riverbed trying to catch a slippery fish, Frodo and Sam close behind. The wild battle scene early in "The Fellowship of the Ring," culminating in Isildur laying on the ground and slicing off Sauron's finger using his father's broken sword, relies on CGI, but the filming occurred at the Whakapapa ski area (per The Park Hotel Ruapehu). Nearby, on Tukino Skifield, on the eastern side of Mount Ruapehu, is what MovieMaps specifies as the area that stands in for Mordor as Frodo and Sam venture forth on their quest. And The Culture Trip notes how Mount Ngauruhoe is Mount Doom. Chilling indeed!


As per the American Academy of Achievement, Peter Jackson was born in Pukerua Bay, a coastal town lying a short distance from New Zealand's capital Wellington, forging an early link to the city. Jackson also got his first job in Wellington and later set up his film production facilities here, including Weta, which worked extensively on the films. Travelers can take a tour of Weta's workshop, learn how the effects in "The Lord of the Rings" films were achieved, and witness first-hand the work that went into making some of the costumes and props. 

This isn't the only film-related stop in the capital though. Resting above the skyline, the forested Mount Victoria offers fabulous views of the city, and also happens to be where a nail-bitingly tense scene from "The Fellowship of the Ring" was filmed. It was here that the Hobbits hide from the Ringwraiths, and the filming location is noted on signposts as the Hobbit's Hideaway Track, as the blog Walking Into Mordor details. A little north of the city, Kaitoke Regional Park was chosen to recreate the Elvish homeland of Rivendell — a visit here, with its large swathe of native trees, and rivers with clear water will make you appreciate why.

Aorangi Forest Park

There are times, as we wander this planet, we wonder how nature creates things that look like they have been plucked from the pages of a fantasy novel. One such place is the Putangirua Pinnacles in Aorangi Forest Park, a series of jagged, haunting hoodoos created over millennia through the impact of rains and floods gradually wearing down layers of gravel. The spectacular formations are easy to reach from the town of Martinborough, a quiet hamlet known for its wineries nearby, and can be seen on the Pinnacles Track hike, a leisurely walk that can be completed in two hours. 

This is an area of great natural beauty, and visitors to the pinnacles might recall similar shapes that appear in Utah's Bryce Canyon (though the colors are vastly different). For fans of the movies, this scenery will strike a chord as the chilling locale where Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas ride on horseback before encountering the Army of the Dead (via Filmquest).

Nelson Tasman

It's no coincidence that Jens Hansen, set up shop in Nelson all those years ago — sitting on Tasman Bay at the top of the South Island, this town and area have a long history of artisanship, according to New Zealand Tourism. The town is also extremely scenic, on the water with forest and mountains nearby. For further exploration, travelers use it as a springboard to Abel Tasman National Park, a coastal refuge to the northwest of Nelson. The country's smallest national park, it has an ancient Maori fort and resident little blue penguins. Given its setting, the park is a beautiful wedge of nature that can be explored on the water through outfitters like Abel Tasman Kayaks. 

Just south of the national park, seekers will find Takaka Hill, characterized by karst, forest, and marble. This site was chosen as the film's Chetwood Forest, the location where the ranger Strider takes the Hobbits as they seek to evade the Black Riders (according to Nelson Tasman Development Agency).

Kahurangi National Park

Gazetted as a national park in 1996, this huge tract of wilderness (it's 452,000 hectares in size (about 1,750 square miles), according to New Zealand's Department of Conservation) is a trove of geographic variety, with caves and natural arches, forests with ferns and palms, and water areas that promise swamps and tidal inlets. Its name is Maori for blue, though the Department of Conservation also denotes one meaning as "treasured possession," which, for adventurers, it is. The park is an expanse of rugged beauty, but one that the intrepid can certainly explore on foot. There are 34 walking and tramping trails dotted around the park, including 10 that are categorized as expert in terms of difficulty (less agile walkers need not fear, 11 hikes fall into the easy class). 

For fans of the films, a trip here wouldn't be complete without a stop at the place where the Fellowship hides from Saruman's black crows, known as the Crebain. The specific part of the park — Mount Olympus — isn't easily reached by foot, but those with a little cash to burn can take an avian excursion up there with Helicopters Nelson. The same operator also flies to Mount Owen within the park, which doubles as Dimrill Dale, the craggy slopes where the Fellowship sorrowfully reflects on its travails following their escape from Moria, and the loss of Gandalf (via Silverscreen Tours).

Franz Josef Glacier

The trilogy of films is full of heartwarming, rousing moments, helped hugely by a stirring score by the Canadian composer Howard Shore (via Classic FM). One of the most uplifting, tear-inducing scenes is the famous lighting of the beacons, initiated by some daring by Pippin, and kick-starting a string of lantern fires along the mountaintops all the way from Gondor to Rohan, a signal of the willingness of humans to fight against Sauron. 

The epic passage relies of CGI but also some footage of the superlative nature in this part of the country. The actual location, per Development West Coast, of the filming is around Mount Gunn, a peak that's not easy to find on the map but that sits near Franz Josef Glacier. Given the vast panoramic sweep of the shot, visitors will only get an accurate sense of the alpine majesty that appears on celluloid (in "The Return of the King") via a scenic flight over the peaks. While here, travelers should definitely explore Franz Josef Glacier, a cool slice of icy blue that can be explored on an ice-climbing or heli-hiking adventure.

Hakatere Conservation Park

Occupying a spot in the heart of the South Island, roughly equidistant from Christchurch to the east and Aoraki (also known at Mount Cook) to the west, Hakatere Conservation Park is a mammoth, mountainous world of terrain, with grasslands, forests, lakes, and rivers. It's pure wilderness, with simple facilities but plenty of opportunities for visitors keen on exploration. The park has impressive wetlands, visited by birds such as the wrybill (an endangered species, according to the Department of Conservation), and a healthy reserve of native lilies. Most people come here for the outdoors, to boat, fish, mountain bike, ride horses, or enjoy a picnic near Lake Emma, Lake Clearwater, or Lake Heron. 

Some even come for the express reason to visit Edoras, the capital of Rohan — or at least its site. Fans of "The Lord of the Rings" will recall the alpine splendor of Rohan, and that is thanks to Mount Sunday, located here in the park (per Experience Mid-Canterbury). Thus named because riders from nearby sheep stations would often gather here on the day of rest, Mount Sunday did temporarily house buildings from the movies — some were constructed to represent Edoras, and included the stables and the grand hall of King Theoden — but these were disassembled when the filming wrapped up. Getting here is pretty straightforward, a short walk from a parking area on Hakatere Potts Road.


The intense battle of Pelennor Fields, one of the most important passages in "The Return of the King," was not only a deeply moving cinematic marvel, but it was an incredible feat of logistics and people management. According to Filmquest, filming the scene took more than a month, and required the participation of more than 1,500 extras and crew, and about 200 horses. The result is unforgettable, a chapter of the film laden in equal parts with hope and fear as the possibly naive forces of good confront the ruthless masses of Sauron's army. 

The actual filming for this, and other scenes in the trilogy, took place on an immense grassy plain at the sheep farm Ben Ohau Station. The spectacular land, unfurling in every direction and book-ended by mountains, is privately owned, positioned close to the town of Twizel, and isn't open to the general public. Anyone that does want to get on site, though, can book a stay at the farm's cottage, a simple hillside homestead that can sleep four and is a great base for exploring Aoraki/Mount Cook, less than an hour's drive away.


The route that Gandalf rides along on horseback, along grasslands and past forests, before arriving in Isengard was actually stitched together from filming in different parts of the country (including Harcourt Park, near Wellington, according to FilmQuest). But one of these places was at Dans Paddock, near Glenorchy (per the Department of Conservation). Visitors will notice the snow-capped peaks of the area, just like those that appear during this part of "The Fellowship of the Ring" and can experience the scenery on a two-hour, six-kilometer (just under four miles) walk from Chinamans road to Paradise (yes, those are the actual names). This area is at the southern end of Mount Aspiring National Park, named for its defining peak, one of the highest in the country, and is a short distance from the town of Glenorchy. 

Here, in the South Island, hikers will encounter a nirvana of sorts, passing by lakes, glaciers, and jagged mountains. From the village of Glenorchy, which sits on Lake Wakatipu, Mount Earnslaw is also visible — it appeared in the opening section of "The Two Towers" (via Queenstown Expeditions).


The self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world, as per Destination Queenstown, this town, also on Lake Wakatipu and a short drive south of Glenorchy, is where bungy jumping was invented by outfitter A.J. Hackett in 1988 on the Kawarau Bridge. Maniacs still leap from that bridge today, but thrill seekers now also come to the town to experience canyoning, skydiving, skiing, river surfing, mountain biking, and jet boating, as well as great restaurants and nightlife. The town is close to a number of filming sites from the Middle-earth trilogy. At Skippers Canyon, north of Queenstown, as per Sceen-It, is the location where Arwen, carrying Frodo on horseback, casts an Elvish spell and repels the Nazgûl by invoking a flood. 

A little west of Queenstown, at Twelve Mile Delta, which has a Department of Conservation camping area, is the point where Gollum and Sam argue about cooking the rabbit-like coneys and then watch as Faramir's hooded warriors defeat the soldiers of Harad (via Filmquest). And The Travel notes that the waterway that cuts through steep canyons on its way to the Argonath — giant statues of former kings — is close to Kawarau Bridge. The statues, sadly, are computer generated, but the natural beauty of the area won't disappoint.

Mavora Lakes

Two slender bodies of water connected by the Mararoa River, North Mavora and South Mavora lakes sit with the Mavora Lakes Conservation Park, which in addition to featuring these calm mirror-like lakes framed by mountains, has grasslands and forests. According to NZ Pocket Guide, filming took place here for a range of moments in the films. The part of "The Fellowship of the Ring" where the group moors at the side of the water after sailing down the Anduin River was shot on North Mavora Lake, the larger of the two. 

Other scenes also take place around the lakes, with the area's diverse terrain allowing it to be used for multiple bits. These include scrubby grassland topped by the pile of dead Orc bodies (when Aragorn uses his tracking skills to detect that the Hobbits are still alive), and where Pippin and Merry escape into the Fangorn Forest to hide from the Uruk-hai.


Arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the world, Fiordland National Park is as stunning as its name suggests, defined by fiords, snow-capped peaks, rainforests, and colonies of fur seals, and is a huge draw for visitors to Southland. This region of New Zealand features in the films a number of times. Per MovieMaps, it is at Kepler Mire, between the villages of Te Anau and Manapouri, that Gollum saves Frodo from the spirits lurking at the bottom of the Dead Marshes, Frodo having fallen in after being hypnotized by the water's ghostly corpses. 

On the Waiau River, in the same area, the Fellowship leaves Lothlórien, after receiving gifts from Galadriel (she gives Frodo a small bottle filled with the light of the star Eärendil) and rows along the Anduin River in the first film of the trio (via New Zealand Tourism). And the Department of Conservation notes that Bog Pine Paddock, in the park's Snowdon Forest, is where Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, blinded by rays of bright white light, meet the wizard 2.0, Gandalf the White. For sure it's an unforgettable entrance, and visitors will undoubtedly acknowledge that it was shot in an unforgettable part of the world.