Lord of the Rings filming locations: So much more than Hobbit holes
Lord of the Rings was filmed here in New Zealand, having a long-lasting impact on tourism in our country. Now, many people travel to Aotearoa with the goal of checking out LOTR filming locations for themselves.
Where can you find them though and do they really look like they did in the movies?
Join us as we share the best Lord of the Rings filming locations right across the country.
Where Were the Lord of the Rings Movies Filmed?
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed entirely in Aotearoa New Zealand. In fact, more than 150 locations were used across the country. We cover many of the highlights in this article, so whether you’re travelling to the North or South Island, chances are, you’ll be able to fit a LOTR stop or two in.
Even better, most of the locations are free to visit and easily accessible.
When Were the LOTR Movies Shot?
Shooting for these incredible films occurred in 1999 and 2000. Incredibly, the footage for the trilogy was completed in a little over 400 days. Considering the amount of filming that would have been required for these mammoth movies, that’s quite the feat!
Of course, countless more hours went into editing the films and working on the ground-breaking CGI that they are now known for.
As you would expect, some of the backdrops used in the film naturally look different now (and some were heavily edited with CGI to look different anyway). Many though are still recognisable today.
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Our Favourite Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
From north to south, these are the Lord of the Rings filming locations that fans will want to see when visiting New Zealand.
Hobbiton (The Alexander Farm), Matamata
Hobbiton is undoubtedly the most recognisable filming location from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and the follow-up films, The Hobbit trilogy).
Located in Matamata (in the Waikato), it is absolutely magical and a must-see, whether you are a fan of the LOTR films or not (though let’s face it, if you’re reading this article, you probably are a fan).
All tours are fully guided, so you’ll learn lots about the filming of the movies and have the opportunity to ask questions. You’ll also be given time to explore at your own pace, providing ample opportunity to snap photos and check out the hobbit holes, before finishing up with a complimentary drink at The Green Dragon Inn.
Though it’s beautiful in all seasons, we particularly recommend visiting during spring or summer, when the blooms are out and the birds are active. Autumn too is beautiful, when the leaves change to a multitude of gold and orange hues.
By Sarah Chant.
Book: Hobbiton tour tickets [departing Shire’s Rest, Matamata]. Use the promo code NZTTPLAY to save 10%.
Book: Hobbiton tour [departing Auckland]. Use the promo code NZTTPLAY to save 10%.
Did you know? The Party Tree, which can be seen towering over the hobbit holes, is actually fake? The trunk and branches are made of fibreglass and the leaves are made of Taiwanese silk. A fake tree was constructed to ensure the exact look they were after. Unsurprisingly, if you visit in autumn or winter, you’ll notice the leaves are still beautiful and green.
Mt. Doom (Mt. Ngauruhoe), Tongariro National Park
Mt. Ngauruhoe is an active volcano located in Tongariro National Park in the North Island. It was digitally altered to create the mighty Mt. Doom of Mordor. It is where the one ring was forged by Sauron and later destroyed by Frodo. Despite the fiery depiction of Mt. Doom, the volcano itself has not erupted since 1977.
To see the towering Mt. Ngauruhoe up close, you can either do a 19.4 km one-day hike along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or a 43.1km three to four-day trek on the Tongariro Northern Circuit (one of the Great Walks in New Zealand). These tramps take you through an epic volcanic landscape that will mentally transport you to Mordor.
Some people also choose to hike up Mount Ngauruhoe. This is a challenging 3-hour round trip climb from the base, over ash and loose rock. We don’t recommend this though as Mt. Ngauruhoe (especially its peak) is sacred to Māori. Instead, we encourage you to make the respectful choice as enjoy Mt Ngauruhoe from its many nearby vantage points.
By Trisha Agrawal.
Book: Tongariro Alpine 4-hour guided walk.
Rivendell and the Fords of Isen (Kaitoke Regional Park), Upper Hutt
Kaitoke Regional Park is home to gloriously clear rivers and untouched rainforest. It provided the tranquil backdrop that became Rivendell and the Fords of Isen during the filming of Lord of the Rings.
The native forest there is mature and extends to about 2500 hectares. To this day, the light filtering through the tree canopy gives a distinctly elvish feel to this filming location. That the park is home to rare native birds, such as the kākā and kākāriki, only adds to the magical feel of the place.
Whilst visiting, we suggest you also check out some of the great swimming holes found in the area (specifically in the Hutt and Pakuratahi Rivers). There is also fabulous (and challenging) kayaking in the Hutt River Gorge.
Within the Kaitoke Regional Park, you’ll also find a range of wonderful walking trails, picnic areas and several spots to park your motorhome too. And best of all, it’s just a 50-minute drive north of Wellington.
By Sarah Carter.
Wētā Workshop, Wellington
If you’re a LOTR fan, a visit to Wētā Workshop is probably already on your New Zealand itinerary wish list. This incredible creative studio is home to the amazing minds who created the costumes and props for the Lord of the Rings films. But, whether you’re a film buff or not, you’re sure to enjoy visiting and touring the facility.
Visiting the Wētā Cave and mini-museum is free, and both are a hit with kids and adults alike. There you will see authentic Lord of the Rings costumes and props including Sauron’s mace, daggers of Westernesse, the Narsil, Théoden’s sword plus the costumes of a Ranger, Easterling, and Numenorean!
If you want to dive even deeper you can join a workshop experience, where, for an extra cost, you’ll learn all about how they make movie effects and props. You’ll even have the opportunity to see the artists at work and try to make some props yourself!
21 Camperdown Road, Miramar, Wellington 6022
By Yulia Saf.
Book Wētā Workshop: Guided tour | Hands-on workshop. Save 10% with the promo code NZTTPLAY.
The Hobbit’s Hideaway Trail (Mt. Victoria), Wellington
Central Wellington is home to Mt. Victoria, one of the filming locations. This was home to both Hobbiton Wood and, more specifically, where Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin hid from the Black Riders (or ringwraiths) at the beginning of The Fellowship Of The Ring. Remember when Frodo shrieks, “Get off the road!”? Well, that happens right on this trail.
It’s important to note that the tree roots the Hobbits hid under were, in fact, props and no longer there, but the physical location of where they scrambled off the road and hid is still photographable! You just have to use a little imagination.
Although it’s a short walk from central Wellington (or an easy drive up Alexandra Road) and doesn’t specifically require joining a guided tour, it’s a good idea to look up the exact location of where the Hobbits hid as it’s nondescript if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are, however, Lord of the Rings signposts you can look out for as you make your way up the track, and plenty of guidebooks highlight the location should you get lost (which you won’t).
If you’d rather leave the finding to someone else though, and you want to take in other local LOTR sights too, a guided tour is a great option.
By Nick Winder.
Book: LOTR guided tour in Wellington (including Mt Victoria, Wētā Workshop and a themed lunch). Use the promo code NZTTPLAY to save 10%.
The Path of the Dead (Putangirua Pinnacles), Cape Palliser
The Putangirua Pinnacles are found at Cape Palliser in the Wellington Region. They’re located at the very south of the North Island, a 1.5-hour drive from Wellington City.
These rock formations made up the ‘Path of the Dead’ or Dimholt Road in the third Lord of the Rings movie, in which Aragorn ventures in to to meet with the dead army.
You can walk through the Pinnacles yourself by trekking up the riverbed from the car park. This takes about an hour and there’s a high chance of getting your shoes/legs wet with stream crossings. Alternatively, you can view the Pinnacles from the lookout which is only 45 minutes from the carpark.
There are plenty of other things to do in the area from visiting the Cape Palliser lighthouse to seeing the local seal colony. Plus, you can find options for places to stay around Cape Palliser, if you’re wanting to spend the night.
By Kate Slater.
Edoras (Mount Sunday), Ashburton Lakes Region
Located on a high country sheep station on New Zealand’s South Island sits Mount Sunday. It’s a striking little rocky outcrop surrounded by mountains that catch the eye of people passing by. But for Lord of the Rings fans, this site is instantly recognisable as Edoras.
While the buildings of the capital of Rohan are long gone, the scenery here looks exactly as it did in the films. And, in the years since the trilogy came out, accessing this site has gotten a lot easier.
Tours to Edoras run from Christchurch, or you can visit on your own if you have a vehicle. There’s a free parking lot (plug ‘Mount Sunday Car Park’ into your maps) on Hakatere Potts Road, and from there it’s a relatively easy hike across a flat valley floor to the base of Mount Sunday.
Whilst visiting, we recommend climbing to the top of Edoras to have your Eowyn moment. Just be aware that the wind you saw in the movies is real!
There’s not really much to do around this remote location, within the Hakatere Conservation Park (other than say hello to some local sheep), but that’s half the fun of visiting.
By Amanda Williams.
Ford of Bruinen (Arrowtown River), Arrowtown
The scenic Arrowtown River (Haehaenui in Māori) flows through the quaint town of Arrowtown in the South Island. This beautiful town is an easy road trip from Queenstown – in fact, it’s just a short 20-minute drive from the popular tourist town.
To Lord of the Rings fans, the river and its banks are famous as the filming location for the Ford of Bruinen (alongside Skippers Canyon) in The Fellowship Of The Ring. This is where Arwen and Frodo escape on horseback from the chasing Nazgul, traversing this fictional ford.
Near the river is leafy, historic Arrowtown, an old mining town. The charming Main Street is lined with wooden shop fronts and verandas. It’s well worth exploring and really does feel like stepping back in time.
Whilst there, we suggest you visit the small but interesting Lakes District Museum which is packed with historical artefacts from the town’s mining past. It is also possible to hire gold panning equipment from the museum to spend a few tranquil hours panning for gold on the shores of the river.
By Sinead Camplin.
Book: Nomad Safaris LOTR Day Tour.
Ithilien (Twelve Mile Delta), Queenstown
Twelve Mile Delta is home to Ithilien in Lord of the Rings which was used in two scenes in the movie. The first one was the backdrop to the scene with the famous quote, said while Sam and Gollum are chatting about potatoes: “PO-TA-TOES: boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew!” As you walk along the track, you might see a small campfire made of stones (it’s often dismantled) which is where they had this conversation.
The other scene is where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum see the Faramir’s rangers and Oliphaunts battle, at what’s known as Ithilien Camp Lookout.
In real life, you’ll find Twelve Mile Delta a 12km drive from Queenstown, on the way to Glenorchy. More than just a place to wander around, Twelve Mile is also a DOC campsite right alongside Lake Wakatipu. This is a great spot to get away from the bustle of Queenstown, and it’s much cheaper than staying at one of the campsites close to town.
It is also the trailhead of a couple of worthwhile walks. The walk to Bob’s Cove is a stunner, with epic views and great swimming in the cove itself. Plus there’s the Mt Crichton Loop, which we like for its varied scenery.
By Jub Bryant.
Book: Discounted LOTR tours with Pure Glenorchy.
Book: Nomad Safaris Glenorchy LOTR tour from Queenstown – promo code NZTTPLAY.
Pro Tip: Whilst you’re in Queenstown, be sure to check out Lake Alta. From this beautiful alpine lake, you’ll be able to see Double Cone Peak, which was the backdrop to the fellowship’s exit from the Mines of Moria.
South Rivendell, Anduin River and the Dead Marshes (Milford Sound), Fiordland National Park
One of the most beautiful New Zealand Lord of the Rings filming locations is Milford Sound. This fiord (that’s right, it was actually misnamed) is located on the South Island of New Zealand on the southwest coast. It is a part of Fiordland National Park which includes Doubtful Sound as well.
Incredibly, Rudyard Kipling described the area as the ‘8th wonder of the world’ and the Lord of the Rings set managers seemed to think so as well. There were multiple scenes filmed in the area including areas of South Rivendell, the Anduin River, and the Dead Marshes.
There is one road in and out of Milford Sound (that can close in snowy weather), but the majority of the time driving is fine. There are also many helicopter and flight tours that will take you to Milford Sound where you can enjoy a scenic cruise of the area.
It is the perfect area to visit if you love amazing scenery and want to feel like you are in Lord of the Rings.
By Shannon Lee.
Book: Lord of the Rings tour on natural landmarks.
With so many incredible Lord of the Rings filming locations available within easy reach, which will you include on your New Zealand itinerary?
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