There’s no shortage of compelling reasons to visit New Zealand. A bucket-list destination if ever there was one, this tiny country boasts mind-boggling natural beauty, unbelievable biodiversity, and an awe-inspiring array of unmissable attractions. If you’re an avid Tolkien enthusiast, you might wonder, Where Was Lord of the Rings Filmed in New Zealand?
As most people already know, Aotearoa formed the backdrop to Peter Jackson’s epic and award-winning Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie trilogy. In fact, the stunning landscapes featured throughout those outstanding films put New Zealand on the map for many people and, arguably, helped turn it into the tourist hotspot it is today!
Fans now travel from around the globe to see where famous LOTR scenes were shot and to walk in the footsteps of their favorite characters. If you’re heading to this beautiful country and want to do something similar, then there’s one pressing question for which you’ll want answers: Where Was Lord of the Rings Filmed?
Where was Lord of the Rings Filmed Exactly?
In a bid to help, I thought I’d highlight a long list of the best-known and most celebrated LOTR filming locations in NZ! You may not have a chance to see each and every one of them on your upcoming trip. But, in the wise old words of Gandalf the Grey: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
With these tips up your sleeve, you should be able to pick and choose what to see and what to skip! So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are 8 unmissable Lord of the Rings locations in New Zealand to explore alone or with fellow fans.
1. Hobbiton Film Set
Scene/Set: Hobbiton & the Shire
Specific location: North Island, Matamata
No list of Lord of the Rings filming locations would be complete without mentioning the Hobbiton movie set! Home to the hobbits, this amazing place was built from the ground up for the sole purpose of shooting the LOTR movies. Complete with its iconic round-doored hobbit-holes, you can step into this peaceful part of Middle Earth and discover for yourself where this genre-defining story began. It’s a must-stop when in New Zealand’s North Island
Scene/Set: Rivendell, Hobbiton Woods, Gardens of Isengard, River Anduin
Specific location: North Island, central Wellington, and surrounding area
An impressive number of LOTR scenes were filmed in and around New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. The result? It’d be an amazing base for a few days if you wish to see some of the most notorious places in Middle Earth!
For example, driving north out of the city and then onto State Highway 2 will eventually take you to Totara Park and Harcourt Park, where the River Anduin (i.e., the Hutt River) and Gardens of Isengard were filmed, respectively. The latter was where Gandalf the Grey went to see Saruman to discuss the ring before being held captive for his opinion on the matter.
Drive further north along State Highway 2, and you’ll find yourself in Rivendell, the Elven city where Frodo recovered from his near-fatal knife attack and the Fellowship was formed. In reality, this is the mighty Kaitoke Regional Park, which is full of swimming holes, hiking trails, and mountain biking opportunities! Look closely, though, and you’ll find an actual (replica) Elven archway.
And, last but not least, there’s Mount Victoria, a big hill within walking distance of central Wellington that offers great views over the city. More importantly for us, though, the forested area here is Hobbiton Woods in the movies- where Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin hide from the Black Riders after Frodo shouts, “Get off the road!”
Top tip: LOTR fanatics should take the time to check out the Weta Cave Workshop in Miramar, Wellington. Why? Because this is the studio where all the costumes, special effects, props, and so on were made for the films!
3. Mount Ngauruhoe
Scene/Set: Mount Doom, Mordor
Specific location: North Island, Tongariro National Park
Mount Doom is as infamous as LOTR locations get! Located in Mordor, this dark and raging volcano was where Sauron first forged the One Ring and was Frodo’s final destination on his turbulent quest to destroy it.
An ancient volcano in real life, too, Mount Doom’s actually called Mount Ngauruhoe (pronounced “nah-ruh-ho-ee”) and is an equally impressive feature in the otherworldly landscape of Tongariro National Park. Cutting a huge, dark-stoned, and imposing sight, you can tell instantly why Peter Jackson picked it for the role.
Top tip: Get up close and personal to Mount Doom by doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This incredible 18km trek is known as one of the best day hikes in the world and boasts breathtaking landscapes from start to finish.
4. Putangirua Pinnacles
Scene/Set: The Paths of the Dead
Specific location: North Island, Putangirua Pinnacles Reserve, Wairarapa
Remember the part in the “Return of the King” where Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas venture deep into the White Mountains to take the fabled Paths of the Dead? It was here that Aragorn declared himself the heir of Isildur and promised to free the dead of their wretched curse if they fought on his behalf against the Corsairs of Umbar.
Another classic scene was filmed at the atmospheric Putangirua Pinnacles. This eerie, enchanting place is located east of Wellington and is well worth exploring. Aside from its LOTR claim to fame, there are also age-old geological formations and endless hiking trails to enjoy.
5. Mount Sunday
Scene/Set: Edoras, Capital of Rohan
Specific location: South Island, Mount Sunday, Ashburton Lakes
Rohan, that great kingdom of Men known for its impressive cavalry and alliance with Gondor, had a capital city, Edoras, which sat perched on the slopes of the White Mountains. This is where Wormtongue, in service to the evil Saruman, infects Rohan’s King Theoden with his sycophantic counsel.
In real life, you can see where the set of Edoras once sat by visiting the isolated (and magnificent) Mount Sunday. Head to Hakatere Potts Road, where you can park your car before continuing on foot to Edoras itself.
Scene/Set: Gondor and the Pelennor Fields (“I Am No Man!”)
Specific location: South Island, Twizel, Mackenzie Country
One of the most epic scenes in the Lord of the Rings has to be the Battle of the Pelennor Fields! This is where Gondor and Rohan’s twin armies of Men fought (and defeated) Sauron’s vast hoard of orcs, and, of course, where Eowyn screams “I am no man” before plunging her sword into a ring wraith’s face!
See the battlefield with your own eyes by visiting Twizel. A gateway town to the unmissable Mount Cook (and Lake Tekapo), this small town’s surrounded by quintessential South Island beauty; golden hills and grassy plains combine to create another amazing display of nature. It’s also home to The Lord of the Rings Tour, which will take you to the precise filming location and fill your ears with fascinating LOTR trivia in the process.
7. Snowdon Forest Conservation Area
Scene/Set: Fangorn Forest
Specific location: South Island, Fiordland National Park, Near Lake Te Anau
Home to Treebeard and the almighty Ents, Fangorn Forest, was where Pippin and Merry sought refuge from their orc captors and, eventually, convinced the wizened trees to battle with Saruman at Isengard. In Fangorn Forest, Gandalf summoned his horse, Shadowfax, and where Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas first come across Gandalf the White.
A location that’s no less magical in real-life, Fangorn Forest was filmed at a place called Snowdon Forest. Situated in the Fiordlands of New Zealand’s South Island, this untouched wilderness impresses visitors with dense vegetation, open grass-filled valleys, and all sorts of opportunities for intrepid hikers, hunters, and fishermen.
8. Kawarau Gorge, Queenstown
Scene/Set: The Pillars of Kings/Gates of Argonath
Specific location: South Island, Central Otago, Queenstown, Kawarau River
There’s another awesome scene in the first LOTR movie where the fellowship paddle boats down the Anduin River and past two giant statues. Known as the Gates of Argonath, these enormous statues represented two infamous kings, Isildur and Anarion, and stood at what was once the northernmost border of Gondor. Aragorn looks up at the monument and utters, “The Argonath. Long have I desired to look upon the Kings of old…my King.”
Anyway, geeking out aside, you can find this atmospheric spot by heading to Queenstown, in Central Otago, and the gorgeous Kawarau Gorge. Incidentally, this is also where you can do the all-popular AJ Hackett bungee jump! Known as the Original Kawarau Bridge bungee, adrenaline junkies hurl themselves off a 43m high platform into the same river that the fellowship once boated down.
Where Was Lord of the Rings Filmed? Now You Know!
From the first film through to the last of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, Peter Jackson took the Fellowship near and far, leveraging to full effect the wide range of diverse and spectacular landscapes in this remarkable part of the world.
With any luck, the insights in this article have shed some useful light on the best Lord of the Rings locations to visit on your upcoming New Zealand trip! Whether you go to one or all of them, you’re sure to have an amazing time, imagining yourself in each infamous scene and gawking in wonder at the spectacular array of vistas before you.
Danny Newman is currently writing and traveling his way around the world in a bid to figure out exactly what he’s doing with his life. He’d love you to follow along with his journey over at What’s Danny Doing.