If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly the natural earth. -JRR Tolkien
After travelling throughout the North and South Island of New Zealand, I am not surprised that Sir Peter Jackson decided to use such landscape for the fantastical world of hobbits, elves, dwarves and dragons. With drastic and diverse terrains, natural colour palettes of various hues and the creativity of Wellington’s Weta workshops, some of the most loved books came to life. Although, I have read and watched The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings throughout my teen and adult years, I cannot claim to have the dedication that others around me may have had. For this post, I simply want to share these places and stories with some of those fans and stir an excitement for a beautiful country that I feel quite passionate about. All photos are from my own travels and adventures throughout Middle Earth.
So let me begin with some scenes from both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that are closer to home….
Mt Cook, Twizel and Canterbury.
Stretching across the central and southern parts of the South Island of New Zealand, the mighty chain of mountains named the Southern Alps was used extensively in filming The Lord of the Rings. The majestic peaks, with their exquisite glacier carved lakes and rivers depicted the Misty Mountains of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
This striking part of New Zealand is known for its stunning alpine scenery and Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. Lindis Pass, a 63km scenic reserve, was also featured as part of Fangorn Forest, and is one of the routes that traverse the Southern Alps.
Driving through the spectacular Lindis Pass that links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago is considered a must do when visiting New Zealand. -firstlighttravel.com
Lake-town – one of the most extensive outdoor sets built for The Hobbit Trilogy – was created on the shores of Lake Pukaki, where the turqoiuse waters run from the glaciers of the surrounding peaks.
Near Twizel in the MacKenzie country the epic battle at Pelennor Field and scenes involving the Eastemnet Gullies were filmed on the spectacular. Twizel lies just down the road from Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park, where the breath taking opening scenes of The Two Towers were filmed. -firstlighttravel.com
Queenstown and Wanaka.
And here are some of the film locations from more of the South Island.
Lake Wakatipu was used for scenes involving Lothlorien, an ancient forest. “There lie the woods of Lothlorien!” said Legolas. “That is the fairest of al the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold.” The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien.
See the same gorge, otherwise known as the Anduin River, that the Fellowship of the Ring paddled down to be greeted by the two giant statues on either side on the river. Unfortunately, the statues were added in postproduction… Nevertheless, Kawarau Gorge is pretty spectacular. -backpackerguide.nz
From Lake Wanaka in the heart of New Zealand’s southern lakes region, you can see the backdrop used for Gandalf’s flight to Rohan with Gwaihir after his rescue from Orthanc. Wanaka was also the film location for the River Anduin, Golden Plain, Lothlorien, Pillars of the Argonath, and Dimrill Dale.
Te Anau, Milford Sound and the West Coast.
Gateway to massive Fiordland National Park, the township of Te Anau sits at the edge one of the most picturesque lakes in New Zealand. Te Anau was a base for a number of The Two Towers locations including the Great River Anduin, Fangorn Forest and The Dead Marshes. Milford Sound was the film location for Fangorn Forest, with its beautiful beech trees it’s a stunning place to visit. – firstlighttravel.nz
With these mountains whetting our appetite, let us now cross waters to the North Island and explore some of the film locations that they had to offer for the trilogies!
Capitol of New Zealand as well as a centre of creativity and flair. Surrounding this area are various filming locations,however, Wellington is also home to The Weta workshops where you can tour through studios with the artists at work. I really encourage this experience as the works of art in both the detail of material and special effects particularly bring to life the war scenes and costumes that JRR Tolkien so describes.
The Wellington region provided the locations for Rivendell, the Auduin River, The Gardens of Isengard and Lothlorein in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The most accessible filming location in Wellington is Mount Victoria, which is within walking distance of the city. The forested areas of Mount Victoria were used to depict Hobbiton Woods, where the hobbits hid from the black riders, all of the other film locations are within an hours drive of the city.-firstlighttravel.com
This was a happy surprise as we drove out of Wellington to find Rivendell nestled amoung trees and water.
The Taupo Region.
The Taupo region was the filming location for Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mt Doom. In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam climbed Mt Doom. You can do the same while walking the Tongariro crossing, often described as the best 1-day walk in New Zealand. It’s a challenging walk taking 7-8 hours, taking you past volcanoes, steaming fumaroles, jagged lava flows, the red Crater and Emerald Lakes. -firstlighttravel.com
Unfortunately, my friends and I were not able to walk the Tongariro crossing as planned, due to the weather conditions. But we did do a little walk, knowing Mordor was close by in the distance. It is still on my list!
And lastly, let us journey to the hills of Matamata, where I know you have been waiting to view the cute little Hobbit holes, home of Bilbo and Froddo Baggins.
The town of Matamata in the Waikato with it’s rolling hills and emerald green grass was the perfect setting for the peaceful Shire region of Middle-earth, the home of the village of Hobbiton. This area of New Zealand is one of the richest agricultural and pastoral areas in the world and is characterised as a large fertile basin through which the Waikato River flows. The Hobbiton movie set has primarily been returned to its natural state, however hobbit holes and other distinctive land marks such as ‘the party tree’ still remain and can be viewed as part of a Hobbiton tour. The Waikato region also offers superb caving and black water rafting.
Tours of the Shire bring to life a film set that has not been forgotten. What amazed me most from here was the visible evidence of how Sir Peter Jackson was one who gave great attention to detail during his filming. For example, the job of daily hanging up and retrieving the little hobbit laundry on the line was given in order to give the authentic impression of footprints in the grass! Wow.
Another was the tree that sits atop of Bilbo’s home. Jackson had leaves that he had envisioned for the set ,created and attached to the tree!
Even if you are not a big fan of the books or films, you cannot help but appreciate the creativity and feel the magical and cheery atmosphere of what is Hobbiton.
You can even have an ale from The Green Dragon, where they brew ales made only for this once in a lifetime experience. It is also the only entry inside as the rest of the hobbit holes are empty and were filmed elsewhere in Wellington.
This is certainly only a little taster of what meeting Middle Earth is like and I hope you have enjoyed it. If anything, it simply displays the gorgeous views of New Zealand and hopefully entices you to come and visit it for yourself. I don’t believe you will be disappointed!