Having seen all the films, and being a bit of a Tolkien fan, it was inevitable that New Zealand would make it onto my list of places I must visit.
And so it happened that I spent a year travelling around New Zealand, in which time I visited as many of the real life locations from the Lord of the Rings films as I could, both because they looked stunning in the films, so should look stunning in real life, and because, well, I’m a bit of a geek.
In this post, I’m going to share some of my favourite real life Lord of the Rings filming locations that no fan should miss when visiting New Zealand.
Table of Contents
Where was Lord of the Rings filmed?
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed all around New Zealand. Over 150 real-world locations were used for key scenes, including Mordor, Hobbiton, Rivendell and more. Other scenes were put together digitally, at the WETA Workshop in Wellington, as well as at soundstages in Wellington and Queenstown.
A new Lord of the Rings TV series has also been announced by Amazon, and this will also be filmed in New Zealand, with production and filming commencing in 2019/20.
When was the Lord of the Rings trilogy filmed?
The trilogy was filmed between October 1999 and December 2000, with all three films shot at the same time over a period of over 400 days. Many of the locations are still easily recognisable from the films, especially those heavily featuring the landscapes of the country.
Others, especially those with a lot of digital effects, are much harder to recognise – plus, the passage of time has altered the appearance of landscapes as well.
Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
Now let’s get on with my favourite Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand! I visited a lot more than the below, but I would suggest that these are the best for you to visit because they are the most easily recognisable of all the locations in New Zealand that you can still visit.
1. Tongariro National Park – The land of Mordor
If you were only able to visit one real life Lord of the Rings location in New Zealand, then the Tongariro National Park has to be it. This was the main setting for the land of Mordor, and is home to phenomenal scenery.
The highlight of the area has to be Mount Ngauruhoe which was used as the stand in for Mount Doom – the place where the one ring was forged and then (spoiler alert!) ultimately destroyed by the hobbits. It’s hard not to be impressed by this incredibly conical 2000 year old mountain peak, which is essentially a gigantic mound of ash.
You can climb Mount Doom / Ngauruhoe, from the car park it is a five to six hour return walk. Be aware though that this is not a simple task – the entire cone is largely constructed of soft ash, so is somewhat akin to climbing a sand dune. Down is far easier than up. The views from the top though rival any view you can get in New Zealand.
As well as Mount Doom there are a whole range of other locations in the area. Most notable of these is the Emyn Muil area, which was filmed on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, the north island’s highest peak. Finding this location is easy – park in the car park at the “top of the Bruce”, a short drive from Whakapapa viallage, and head to the bottom of the chair lift.
Walk a bit further past the chair lift and you come to a giant rock outcrop known the wall. It was in this area that Sam and Frodo wandered in circles at the beginning of the Two Towers before Gollum rescued them. This part of the film was cleverly shot so as not to reveal that the hobbits at this point, location wise, were only a stones throw from Mount Doom itself.
If Mount Doom and Emyn Muil aren’t enough for you, then you might also want to head round to the other side of Mount Ruapehu and take in the Mangawhero Falls, up from the town of Ohakune. The pool at the very top of these falls was where Gollum caught a fish. I know, not exactly Oscar winning stuff, but included for completeness.
Finally, if you have a four wheel drive vehicle then you could venture to the Tukino ski field, on the eastern side of the Tongariro National Park, which formed the plains of Gogoroth, not to mention the Black Gate.
Phew. As you can see, there are enough locations in this area to keep you occupied for a couple of days. The desolation and majesty of the volcanic landscape here is truly awe inspiring in it’s beauty, and it is remarkably easy to imagine the place full of orcs and the fires of Mordor. Not to be missed.
2. Hobbiton – Matamata
Near the town of Matamata on New Zealand’s North Island is the Hobbiton set. This is actually on a farm, essentially in the middle of nowhere, which made filming here for the original trilogy quite a bit easier as it was far from prying eyes.
For a long while after the filming of the first three films this was nothing more than a series of decaying bits of plywood, as one of the stipulations of the original filming contract was that all locations be returned to their natural state after filming.
However, after multiple geeks trudged across the land to get a glimpse of the set location, the farm owners realised that perhaps some infrastructure was required.
When the tour originally started, it was just a walk around some fields, a large tree, a lake, and some moulding bits of wood. Good for die hard fans, but perhaps not what folks were hoping for. With the advent of the new Hobbit movies however, that has all changed.
The new Hobbit trilogy required a renewed Hobbiton, and when I first visited Hobbiton, the set had just been entirely rebuilt in order to accommodate the filming of the new Hobbit movies.
Essentially, if you are even the mildest fan of the trilogy, or just want to see some funky film related stuff, I can highly recommend taking a visit.
In all my time in New Zealand, I never spoke to anyone who was disappointed in the tour. It’s essentially just like visiting the Hobbiton of your imagination, and the attention to detail is fantastic. Plus, as they were allowed to keep the set this time round, it’s about as authentic as it gets. They’ve even added a few new attractions that are described in the book, such as the pub – which you can even have dinner at.
This is an essential visit for any Lord of the Rings fan when visiting New Zealand. You can see more photos from my visit to Hobbiton, here.
You can visit Hobbiton yourself, booking your entry in advance here. Alternatively, tours are available with transport from Tauranga, or from Auckland. Finally, if you want a real thematic experience, you can book a tour which includes a full lunchtime feast on set as well!
3. The Putangirua Pinnacles – The Paths of the Dead
Not too far away from Wellington, on the bottom tip of the north island, are the Putangirua Pinnacles – a small national park made up of a weird series of rock pinnacles, formed by water erosion over countless years.
These pinnacles were the setting for the roads of the dead, which Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas walked to wake the army of the dead in Return of the King.
Whilst this was only a small part of the film, I can highly recommend a visit to these pinnacles purely for atmosphere. Perfect for visiting in the rain, they are easy to imagine as being haunted by spirits of a lost time.
Afficiandos of Peter Jacksons other work may also recognise the pinnacles from his earlier gore fest Braindead (known as Dead Alive in America for some reason), as these Pinnacles featured as the location the rat monkey came from. Clearly Mr Jackson has a soft spot for this park!
4. Mount Sunday – Edoras
One of the most spectacular locations in the film is the home of the Rohan people, Edoras. There are beautiful sweeping shots of this hillside city in the movies, which are surrounded by high, snow capped mountains.
This location, which in real life is Mount Sunday in Ashburton District on the South Island, has very much stood the test of time. This is of course with the exception of the town of Edoras, which was entirely built for the show and then taken away again.
Still, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to picture the town here, as the location is just so epic. Definitely one to visit if you can, you can park nearby on Hakatere Potts road and then walk up to the site.
5. The Woods in Wellington
The WETA workshop is in Wellington, and a number of filming locations within striking distance of the city were used as filming locations.
Perhaps most recognisable of these are the woods on Mount Victoria. These were used to stand in for Hobbiton Woods, which was where the hobbits hid from the Nazgul under the tree roots.
Other locations used in Wellington were Kaitoke Regional Park, which stood in for Rivendell; the Hutt River, which was used as the River Anduin; and Harcourt Park, which was used as the Gardens of Isengard.
Many of these locations do require a bit of imagination to visualise, it must be said.
Resources for finding Lord of the Rings filming locations
There is also a version of the above book, newly published for the Hobbit movies, which you can grab off Amazon here. Between those you will be well equipped for discovering every nook and cranny of the filming locations!
If you’re not into spending money to sate your thirst, there are a number of other options. New Zealand’s department of conservation lists GPS co-ordinates for the majority of locations which were filmed in national parks, which you can find on their website.
A Google search for filming locations will also bring up fan compiled lists of GPS co-ordinates. Bear in mind however that a large proportion of the scenes were filmed on private land, and so are inaccessible. Others have suffered as a result of the passage of time, so are no longer even vaguely recognisable from the films – information which a set of GPS co-ordinates fails to convey. Still, it makes for a fun day out trying to find them.
Tours to Lord of the Rings Filming Locations in New Zealand
There are a number of companies offering a variety of Lord of the Rings tours in New Zealand. As the filming locations are spread out across the two islands, you can either do these as a series of day trips, or you can book a longer group trip that covers the majority of locations.
Here are some of the best options to consider.
- A tour of the Hobbiton film set. Also available with departure from Tauranga and Auckland.
- A full day tour to a number of filming locations from Queenstown, including Ithilien, Isengard, Beorn’s House, Fangorn & ZirikZigal
- A 14 day tour of New Zealand with Red Carpet tours, who have been specializing in Lord of the Rings themed tours since 2002!
Hopefully this gives you an idea of some of the options you have for taking a tour of the Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand.
Further reading for your New Zealand trip
If you found this post helpful, you might like to check out my New Zealand guide section of the site, where I offer all kinds of advice, from must see attractions, through to awesome day hikes in New Zealand, as well as practicalities such as buying a vehicle, finding a job and even finding free internet.
For other reading, a fellow blogger wrote an excellent guide to your first time in New Zealand, which I found to be invaluable for my trip. I’ve also put together a highly detailed one-month New Zealand itinerary to help you plan the perfect trip!
And that is that for my top Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand. I visited a whole wealth of other locations in New Zealand from the films, including Rivendell, multiple sections of the River Anduin, the mountains used as the beacon fires, the mountain pass over Moria and more, but those listed here are the ones I would recommend as being worth the effort.
So, thanks for reading my post on the best Lord of the Rings filming Locations in New Zealand! Have you visited any of these locations? Got a favourite I missed out? Let us know in the comments below, and if you liked this post, feel free to share it of course!