14 Epic Lord of the Rings locations in the South Island

Discover the best Lord of the Rings filming locations in the South Island with Nicole, our resident LOTR expert.

The Lord of the Rings is undoubtedly one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. Based on J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece, it tells the immortal tale of the desperate fight of good against evil.  

It takes a brave and passionate soul to take on an adaptation of the hugely popular novel. This job fell to the now critically acclaimed director Sir Peter Jackson and his partner in life and work, producer and screenwriter Dame Fran Walsh. 

Peter Jackson, who was knighted for his contribution to New Zealand’s film industry, grew up in the quaint seaside community of Pukerua Bay (found on the southern end of the Kāpiti Coast). His familiarity with New Zealand’s remarkable landscapes shaped the extraordinary backdrops and vistas we saw across the three films. 

New Zealand is particularly suitable for re-creating Middle-earth. The landscape and the raw beauty of these places is ideal for this story.

Peter Jackson

They went on to use more than 150 locations scattered across New Zealand, some of which can only be accessed by helicopter or are on private land. But there’s plenty more that are open to those curious enough to wander close, allowing you to step into the fantastical realm of Tolkien’s imagination. 

The South Island is filled with LOTR filming sites. From the great rushing river of Anduin to the majestic Misty Mountains and the mystical Lothlorien. 

But how will you know where to go? We’re here to help!

Ordered from north to south, these amazing spots will make you feel like you’re wandering through Middle-earth. 

In Gandalf’s wise words, don’t walk but “Fly, you fools!”

Pro Tip: We recommend you rent a vehicle – if you don’t already own one – to make the most of this guide as most of these places are only accessible by car. However, we have also called out specific locations where guided tours are available.  

1. Dimrill Gate/Mount Owen 

Movie moment

The Fellowship of the Ring  

Devastated by the loss of Gandalf after a harrowing encounter with the demon Balrog in the depths of Moria, the Fellowship flees the mines through Dimrill Gate.

Where to find it

Kahurangi National Park, Nelson

The scene at Dimrill Gate was filmed at Mt Owen in the northwest corner of South Island. While the gate itself was digitally added, the steps were built on-site. 

How to get there

There are two popular ways to get to Mt Owen. For easier access from the north, head towards Courthouse Flat. This will require crossing the occasionally impassable Dart River Ford. 

From the south, follow Owen River East Road until you reach a signpost leading to Sunrise Peak.

Address: Courthouse Flat or Owen Valley East Road

What to do there 

You can either take the northern or southern access to reach the alpine summit of Mt Owen. From there, you can enjoy spectacular views of the unspoiled wilderness of Kahurangi National Park – but be warned that it is a challenging climb!

Walking time: 7-9 hours

Pro tip

DOC recommends that trampers should be experienced and well-equipped as the track requires a high level of fitness. 

If you’re not so keen on tramping, helicopter tours are also available.

Rocky mountain ranges in Mt Owen tracks and routes.

2. Edoras/Mount Sunday

Movie moments

The Two Towers and The Return of the King   

Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf and Gimli approach Edoras, the capital of Rohan, and save King Théoden from Saruman’s sway. The King returns to his senses and calls upon his people to flee to the fortress of Helm’s Deep.

In the final film, the Fellowship returns to Edoras where they celebrate their victory at the significant Battle of the Hornburg. 

Where to find it

Ashburton Lakes, Canterbury

The capital of Rohan was one of the most complex sets that needed to be built, taking almost a year to create atop the small hill of Mount Sunday. 

How to get there

Nestled beside the Rangitata River, Mt Sunday is a two-hour drive from Christchurch, including an hour-long drive on gravel roads through Hakatere Conservation Park. 

Address: Hakatere Potts Rd, Hakatere Conservation Park, Canterbury

What to do there 

The Mount Sunday Track is a short easy walk with stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the mountainous Southern Alps. 

Walking time: One hour return

Pro tip

This is a fairly remote location that takes you through stretches of farmland and gravel roads. Make a day of visiting the nearby Lake Clearwater and Erewhon Station.

Tourists walking on the farmlands while approaching Mt Sunday, one of the filming locations for LOTR movie.

3. Pelennor Fields/Twizel

Movie moments

The Return of the King    

As hope fades for the besieged Minas Tirith, a lone horn blows in the distance and King Théoden leads the army of Rohan to the rescue. The ultimate clash between good and evil takes place here on the golden fields of Pelennor.

Where to find it

Canterbury

The sprawling plains of grassland can be found near the town of Twizel, between Christchurch and Queenstown. 

How to get there

Filming was done on private land but you can get a good idea of what it feels like to be there on that fateful day by driving towards Twizel. 

Address: Twizel, Canterbury

What to do there 

Twizel is a great base of operations if you’re planning on exploring Mount Cook National Park.

Flat grasslands of Twizel and a view of hills at a distant.

4. Lothlórien/Paradise

Movie moments

The Fellowship of the Ring     

In autumn, the leaves here do not fall but turn to gold. This is the entrance to the enchanting forest of Lothlórien where the Fellowship wanders in for help after their nightmarish escape from the Mines of Moria.

It is also where Boromir was mortally wounded in a futile attempt to save Pippin and Merry from being captured by orcs in Amon Hen.

Where to find it

Paradise, near Glenorchy and Queenstown

Aptly named Paradise, the rolling fields and mystical ancient beech forest surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains lie on the eastern side of Dart River along a 13km stretch of gravel road. 

This location was also used as the basis to form Isengard, with a location marked on Google Maps to help you find it (Isengard Lookout). 

How to get there

Most of these scenes were filmed on private land and therefore can’t be accessed without a tour. However, you can still admire the forest if you drive down Glenorchy-Paradise Road. 

Amon Hen was filmed in Paradise and further south by Lake Wakatipu in a place called Closeburn. Unfortunately, this is inaccessible to the public too.

Address: Glenorchy-Paradise Road, Glenorchy 9372

Book: Discounted LOTR tours from Queenstown to Glenorchy and Paradise.

Book: Nomad Safaris Glenorchy LOTR tour from Queenstown – promo code NZTTPLAY.

What to do there 

Experience the tranquillity of wilderness by staying at one of the retreats and make the most of the many adrenaline-packed adventures in the area, from horse-riding and animal encounters to jet boat rides and zip lines

Glenorchy is also close to the beginning of one of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks: the 32 km-long Routeburn Track. 

A hill covered in lush vegetation in the middle of a dried lake where a river passes on one side and foliage grows on the other side.

5. Ford of Bruinen/Skippers Canyon

Movie moments

The Fellowship of the Ring     

Arwen cradles a mortally wounded Frodo as they flee from the Nazgûl through the woods and across the river at the Ford of Bruinen.

Where to find it

Near Queenstown

Shotover River, once known as the richest river in the world, winds through Skippers Canyon. This is the spot that saw much of the gold fever that lured thousands of miners to Central Otago in the 1860s. 

The exact location of the shot is before the bridge where a gravel road will take you down to the riverbed.

How to get there

The notorious Skippers Road that will take you to the river is considered rather dangerous – enough that even rental car companies won’t allow you to take their cars on the unsealed, narrow road. 

Instead, take a guided tour from Queenstown that will steer you through the gorge and bouncing across the river in a jet boat. Or, join a LOTR tour through the same area (also including Paradise).

Address: Skippers Road, Queenstown 9371

What to do there 

Dramatic views across Skippers make it perfect for a spot of walking, tramping, camping, mountain biking and lots more.  

If you’ve survived the trip there, you might as well take a drive down the historic Skippers suspension bridge which is one of the highest bridges in New Zealand.

Book: Half-day LOTR tour with Nomad Safaris – promo code NZTTPLAY to save 10%.

Book: Full-day LOTR tour with Nomad Safaris – promo code NZTTPLAY.

Book: Skippers Canyon Jet – with your discount.

Shallow river with rocky ground where Arwen crossed while carrying Frodo as they flee from Nazgul from the film Lord of the Rings.

6. Gladden fields/Arrow River

Movie moments

The Fellowship of the Ring     

During Galadriel’s introduction to the history of the One Ring, Isildur succumbs to the Ring’s temptation and is slain by orcs near the Gladden Fields. 

Later, Arwen taunts the pursuing Ring Wraiths with the iconic line “If you want him, come and claim him.” The Black Riders begin to cross the Ford of Bruinen only to face a surging flood of water that sweeps them down the river.

Where to find it

Arrowtown

The Gladden Fields scene was filmed at Wilcox Green but Arwen’s memorable defeat of the Nazgûl was filmed in two locations: Shotover River and the nearby Arrow River. As the currents were too strong at Shotover River, the scene where the Nazgûl crossed the river was filmed at the calmer Arrow River. 

How to get there

You can reach the exact spot of the filming location at Arrow River by walking down to the Arrow River Trail behind the main street of Arrowtown and walking along the riverbank.

From here, follow Tobins Track eastwards for 15 minutes to get to Wilcox Green. 

Address: Arrow River Trail from Butlers Green, Arrowtown

What to do there 

Arrow River is one of the rivers that contributed to the Central Otago Gold Rush in the 1860s. There are plenty of scenic trails to walk, cycle or even drive over (as long as you’ve got a four-wheel drive to take on river crossings) including a track that leads to the abandoned mining settlement of Macetown.

You can also pan for gold here, with pans and shovels available for rent at the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown.

Pro tip

Visit Wilcox Green in autumn to take spectacular photos of the surrounding hillside blooming with colour. 

Turquoise waters of Arrow River with steep banks that resembles a rocky cliff.

7. Pillars of the King/Kawarau River

Movie moment

The Fellowship of the Ring     

The Fellowship travels down the Anduin after resting at Lothlórien but before they reach their destination, they must pass the immense Pillars of the King who stand guard at the river’s entrance to Nen Hithoel. 

Where to find it

Kawarau, near Queenstown

The scenes of the Fellowship paddling down the glittering river were filmed upstream of Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Although the statues of Isildur and Anárion were created in post-production, the scene of the narrow gorge is instantly recognisable. 

How to get there

A short half-an-hour drive from Queenstown, follow State Highway 6 and take the turnoff to Kawarau Bridge. The exact location of the pillars is a short walk upstream.

Address: Kawarau Suspension Bridge, Off State Highway 6, Queenstown

What to do there 

This historic bridge, which was built in the 1880s, is known as the birthplace of bungy jumping [promo code NZTTPLAY]. Below it flows Kawarau River, its challenging rapids making it a popular spot amongst whitewater rafting and riverboarding fans [promo code NZTTPLAY]. 

Since you’re in the area, you can also explore the many wineries along State Highway 6

Pro tip

You can also view the statues of Argonath from further along Arrow River Bridges Ride Road, near the vines of Chard Farm Winery. Park right before the vineyard begins, walk down to the fence and look eastwards for a stunning view of Kawarau Gorge.

The narrow Kawaru River and a road beside it as taken from Kawarau Suspension Bridge.

8. Rohan/Deer Park Heights

Movie moments

The Lord of the Rings trilogy      

Rohirrim refugees flee from Edoras to the safety of Helms Deep in The Two Towers when they are ambushed by orcs and wargs. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli fend off the attacks with Legolas gracefully leaping onto his horse while Gimli takes a tumble from his… only for Aragorn to get dragged off a cliff by a warg in the end.

In the third movie, Gandalf and Pippin briefly ride up the hill as they approach to warn Minas Tirith of Sauron’s upcoming attack. This is also where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli later emerge from the Paths of the Dead only to see a fleet of Corsairs ships en route to Minas Tirith. 

Where to find it

Queenstown

Many locations all over Deer Park Heights were used to film scenes in Rohan across all three films. 

How to get there

Deer Park Heights is a working deer farm on the Kelvin Heights Peninsula just 20 minutes from Queenstown’s town centre. Book online for your visit. 

Address: 432 Peninsula Road, Kelvin Heights, Queenstown 9300

What to do there 

Pack a picnic and bring it with you to enjoy, along with the many spectacular views of Wakatipu Basin, Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables mountain range and the Southern Alps in the far distance. 

Kids will love feeding the many farm animals including miniature horses, donkeys, kunekune pigs, goats and more.

Two kids sitting on a rock surrounded by golden bushes, a distant town near the river behind them at the foot of mountain ranges.

9. Dimrill Dale/Lake Alta

Movie moments

The Fellowship of the Ring       

Having escaped Moria, the Fellowship heads towards the forest of Lothlórien under Aragorn’s guidance.

Where to find it

The Remarkables, Queenstown

This picturesque glacial lake crowns the Remarkables Conservation Area at an impressive height of 1800 metres above sea level.

How to get there

From the eastern side of Lake Wakatipu, take State Highway 6 towards the Remarkables ski area. This is a 40-minute drive from Queenstown and includes a toll road up the Remarkables (payable by payWave).

Address: The Remarkables Ski Area, Queenstown

What to do there 

The Lake Alta Track will take you up through alpine wetlands and over the ridgeline to spectacular views of the Remarkables and the ethereal lake tucked into the mountainside. 

Walking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes to 2 hours return.

Pro tip

Make sure you come properly equipped for alpine conditions as the track is exposed to cold temperatures, high winds and occasionally snow. It is recommended to hike it during summer. In the wintertime, there will be skiers on the mountain and the lake will likely be covered in snow.

Standing on top of a rock near the lake while semi-tiptoed and hands outstretched.

10. Ithilien/Twelve Mile Delta

Movie moment

The Two Towers

Frodo and Sam follow Gollum’s lead as they scrabble through the hills of Ithilien on the way to Mordor. 

As Gollum and Sam fight over the best way to cook a brace of conneys – including Sam’s memorable ditty about “PO-TA-TOES: boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew!” – Frodo notices a nearby skirmish between the Rangers of Ithilien and Haradrim warriors with their oliphaunt.

Where to find it

Near Queenstown

Twelve-Mile Creek branches off from Lake Wakatipu, winding through a regenerating forest and rugged mountains. 

How to get there

Drive out of Queenstown, towards Glenorchy. Follow the turnoff to Twelve Mile Delta where there is a basic campground. Towards the western end, you will find a track that leads to the stream and across a footbridge. You will first reach the area where Gollum caught the rabbits but continue towards the cliff edge to find where the trio hid to watch the battle unfold.

Address: Glenorchy Rd, 12 km west of Queenstown

What to do there 

The campsite is the perfect place to relax and make the most of the rugged wilderness around, whether you’re up for a spot of fishing, swimming, hiking or mountain biking, there’s something for everyone. 

Nearby you’ll also find Bob’s Cove – a great place for a swim in the summer.

A road near the foot of a mountain with shrubs growing on patches while trees sprout on the side.

11. Fangorn Forest/Mavora Lakes Park

Movie moments

The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers        

When Frodo realises that the Ring would prove too strong a temptation for the rest of the Fellowship, he decides to make the journey to Mordor himself with only Sam chasing after him from the shores of Nen Hithoel. 

Later in The Two Towers, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli track Merry and Pippin who had been captured by orcs. Aragorn’s keen eye leads them to the edge of the mysterious Fangorn Forest, where they eventually meet a wizard in white. 

Where to find it

Fiordland

The Mavora Lakes are part of an incredible conservation park dominated by mountains, lakes, forests and grasslands that were used for several scenes in the first two films. North Mavora Lake and its smaller counterpart South Mavora Lake, are found in Te Wāhipounamu / the South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area. 

How to get there

The Mavora Lakes Park is accessible via gravel roads off State Highway 94 between Mossburn and Te Anau. 

For the Fangorn Forest lookout spot, follow Mavora Lakes Road until you reach a gate 600m before the junction of Mavora Lakes Road and Mount Nicholas Road. Just up the hillside on the left, you will see the dark edge of the forest. 

Address: Mavora Lakes Road, Mavora 9672

What to do there 

Mavora Lakes is a popular summertime camping spot, with activities like tramping, boating, four-wheel driving, horse-riding and mountain biking. Although it is a national park, you can also hunt and fish for trout (with the usual permits and regulations).

If you’re up to something a little more challenging and back-country, the nearby Snowdon Forest Conservation Area was also used in the scene where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli met Gandalf the White. 

Pro tip

The sandflies here have quite a reputation for being relentless so make sure you pack an extra-strength insect repellent before you go. 

A relatively flat farmlands between hills and mountains with patches of trees creeping up on the side.

12. Dead marshes/Kepler Mire

Movie moments

The Fellowship of the Ring        

“There are dead things… dead faces in the water!” exclaims Sam Gamgee as Gollum leads him and Frodo through the eerie swampland of the Dead Marshes. 

Where to find it

Fiordland

Although most of the filming was done in film sets built in parking lots for practical purposes, wider landscape shots were taken from Kepler Mire, which is also aptly known as Dismal Swamp. The string bog stretches more than 900 ha towards the east of Lake Manapouri.

How to get there

Unfortunately, the only way to view Kepler Mire is from the road. You can get there by following State Highway 95 south for just over ten minutes from Te Anau. 

Address: Mount York Road, Te Anau 9679

What to do there 

Kepler Mire is biologically significant because it is the most extensive string bog in New Zealand. It is also inaccessible to the public. 

However, it does lie next to the popular Great Walk, the Kepler Track, which circuits the centre of Fiordland National Park. Walk along the shorelines of the peaceful lakes Te Anau and Manapouri and climb up to the rugged mountains that tower above them.

Walking time: 4 days and 3 nights for the full track

A number of LOTR tours operate from Te Anau, so this is a great place to join one. Many provide props and costumes to wear too.

Pro tip

If you’re planning on tramping the Kepler Track, DOC recommends only doing so during the summer months. The huts get pretty popular during the Great Walks season so make sure you book it in early.

13. Anduin/Waiau River

Movie moment

The Fellowship of the Ring        

The Fellowship spends several days travelling down the Anduin as they head towards Nen Hithoel.  

Where to find it

Fiordland

Within Fiordland National Park, you will find the winding Waiau River which translates to ‘River of Swirling Currents’.

This is where an aerial shot of the steep peaks bordering the river was used for the south of Rivendell (in the opening scene).

How to get there

Te Anau is considered the ‘gateway to Fiordland’. Keep travelling down State Highway 95 and turn right at Rainbow Reach Road – this is about halfway between the towns of Te Anau and Manapouri.

Address: Rainbow Reach Rd, Manapouri 9679

What to do there 

Fiordland National Park is renowned for its spectacular vistas, from lofty mountains and glacial lakes to dense valleys and stunning waterfalls. Follow the many incredible tracks that will take you up and close to some of nature’s greatest treasures. 

If you would like to sample one of the many trails available, you can do part of the Kepler Track which follows Waiau River from the car park until Rainbow Reach.

Walking time: 5 hours return

Pro tip

While you’re in the area, don’t forget to pay a visit to the world-famous Milford Sound!

Waiau River's river bend with rocky banks on each side.

14. Rohan/Poolburn Reservoir

Movie moment

The Two Towers       

The bell of war tolls as Saruman commands the Wildmen of Dunland to attack the settlements of Rohan. 

Where to find it

Central Otago

Nestled in the barren rocky plains of Central Otago is Poolburn Reservoir, a glassy body of water feeds into the agricultural region of Ida Valley. 

How to get there

Old Dunstan Road connects to the nearby historic town of Paerau, which was built for gold miners during the Otago Gold Rush. 

It is a 24km gravel road that is closed during winter and only recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles.

Address: Old Dunstan Road, Moa Creek, Otago

What to do there 

Enjoy the picturesque views including the many little baches dotted around the reservoir and if you’re up for it, try your luck at this popular fishing area.

The blue waters of Poolburn Reservoir surrounded by golden grasslands on a beautiful sunny day.
Photo: Shellie Evans.

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