A.K.A. Middle Earth

A quick guide to New Zealand's role in the Lord of the Rings movies

Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson shot his entire blockbuster Lord of the Rings movie trilogy here in New Zealand.

Wellington and the North Island

Get the guide
Kiwi author and official Hobbiton set tour guide Ian Brodie has written the definite guide to LOTR filming sites, the Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook, complete with GPS coordinates so you find precise spots and filming angles. It's out of print, but you can still get used copies on www.bn.com.
Much footage was shot in and around his homebase in Wellington, including Rivendell (Kaitoke Regional Park), Lothlorien, the Shire outskirts (including the "Get off the road!" scene where the first Black Rider appears to our Hobbit heros; the stump was fake, but the trail's here), the gardens of Isengard, the Fords of Isen, and parts of Helms Deep.

In Wellington itself, you can tour Weta studios (www.wetanz.com/cave), the special effects house behind LOTR and the still-in-production The Hobbit prequels (not to mention King Kong, District 9, The Last Samurai, Tin Tin, parts of Avatar, and more).

The volcanic wasteland of Tongariro was so forbidding and weird it handily landed the role of the Land of Mordor (especially the Whakapapa ski slopes—Ithilian was filmed largely on the nearby Turoa Ski Field). Mount Doom is a digital version of Mt. Ruapehu, which itself couldn't be shown in deference to the native Maori, to whom it is sacred.

The rolling green farmland around Matamata, north of Hamilton, was such a picture-perfect image of bucolic life that not only did the Hobbiton set fit perfectly onto a farm up there. They kept parts of the hobbit village around, and it is normally open for tours. (Note: currently—near the end of 2011—they are using it again to film a pair of The Hobbit prequels, so it is closed some days—and when it is open, they might make you sign a waiver not to discuss the tour or the set and not allow you to take photographs.)

And yes: the famous "party tree" at Bag End is a real tree, and it really is that impressive.

The South Island

More of Middle Earth was set amid the pastures and hills that rise toward the Southern Alps of the Canterbury region on the South Island.

It takes helicopter to get a good view of Gunn Peak near the famous Franz Josef Glacier, where the dramatic Lighting of the Beacons took place in Return of the King. (The swamps near Fox Glacier, just down the road, became the Dead Marshes—though most of that was a set.)

The films also visit the majestic "Misty Mountains" and lakes of Fjordland National Park far down in the Southern Alps.

The woods of Paradise near Queenstown played many forest roles in the film, including Lothlorien, Fangorn, and Isengard.

Mt. Sunday in the Mt. Potts region of the South Island was transformed into Edoras, captial of Rohan and its horse-loving Rohirrim.

Lord of the Rings Tours

• Middle Earth Filming Locations: Wellington (4–8 hr)
• Wellington's LOTR Locations Tour (8 hr)
• Hobbiton Movie Set Tour from Rotorua (4.5 hr)
• Journey to Edoras from Christchurch (9 hr.)

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in October 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.