Middle Earth in New Zealand

by Gray Cargill on March 21, 2011


Hobbiton, in Matamata

Can I make a confession? New Zealand was never all that high up on my list of travel destinations until I saw the Lord of the Rings movies. Oh, I knew it had breathtaking landscapes, but I just assumed it was a country intended for more adventurous, outdoorsy travelers than me. But then along came the movies. Suddenly, those breathtaking New Zealand landscapes took on more meaning for me, because they were transformed into Middle Earth. Yes, I’m a big ol’ sci fi and fantasy geek, so that made a difference to me.

JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series of novels are among the most read books of the last 50 years. (I’ve personally read the trilogy at least a dozen times since I was 11.) When Jackson’s film adaptations came out, there were high hopes attached to them—hopes they ultimately fulfilled (for most of us). As a result, Peter Jackson has probably done more for New Zealand tourism than anyone else in recent history. By superimposing (so to speak) locations from the books and films onto New Zealand landscapes, he has forever transformed this country into Middle Earth in the hearts and minds of the movies’ fans.

My personal interest in New Zealand skyrocketed after seeing the films. I haven’t actually made it there yet, because of the time issue. I would need more than a week of vacation to do it justice. But I guarantee that when I do go, I’m going on a Lord of the Rings tour. Maybe more than one.

If I were a bit less geographically-challenged, I might try to find the locations myself. I’m sure there are those who do. But I’d probably get lost in the wilds of New Zealand and never be heard from again. In any case, part of the fun of seeing the sites in person is also reliving the epic movie scenes with fellow fans. You can’t get that on your own (especially if you’re traveling solo). And really, isn’t traveling with a group of strangers–joining a “fellowship,” so to speak–in keeping with the spirit of the movies anyway? The trick, of course, is to figure out which locations are most important to you, as filming for the movie took place all over New Zealand, on both the North Island and the South Island. You’d have to be a hard-core fan to see them all.

Which movie locations would be on my list?

Mt. Cook

Mt. Cook

On the South Island

Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park – Canterbury region, West of Christchurch. These alpine peaks were featured prominently in the gorgeous opening sequence of The Two Towers and represented the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth, where Gandalf fell in the Mines of Moria. (Sob.)

Mt. Gun, Franz Joseph Glacier – West of Christchuch. That’s where the lighting of the beacons of Gondor scenes in The Return of the King were reportedly shot. This is hands down one of my favorite scenes of all three movies.

Mount Sunday

Mount Sunday, aka Edoras

Mount Sunday – Canterbury region. Do you recognize it? Yes, it stood in for Edoras . What can I say? I’m a big fan of Rohan.

On the North Island

Matamata – Southeast of Auckland. The Hobbiton set and farmland is here. How could any fan of the movies not want to see Hobbiton?


"The road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began."

Are you a fan of Lord of the Rings? Would you consider going on a LOTR tour in New Zealand? If so, which locations would you want to see?

Blog4NZ logo

This post was written as part of blog4nz (Blog for New Zealand), a travel bloggers’ effort to create 72 hours of content about travel to New Zealand to help revitalize tourism after their recent earthquake.

Photo credits: Mt. Cook, eGuide Travel; Mount Sunday, PhillipC; Hobbiton, alexindigo; Hobbiton, New Zealand, Rob & Jules.

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Gray May 5, 2011 at 6:01 am

Thanks for your comment, Lyn. I agree, I wouldn’t hesitate to go to New Zealand at this point.

travellyn May 5, 2011 at 5:30 am

I have always thought New Zealand a beautiful country. LOTR showed me so many sight that I didn’t know existed. Magnificent scenery. I loved the movies as well as the novels and I would luv to visit Hobbiton. At the moment I think New Zealand is a very safe country to visit despite the earthquake in Christchurch.

Gray Cargill April 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm

You and me both, Amy. I hope we both have the opportunity to do so sooner rather than later!

Amy April 26, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand, but once I saw the LOTR trilogy, my interest has increased considerably! I read the books when I was young, and I have seen all of the trilogy movies at least a dozen times each. The movies are so beautiful, the story so touching, and the “historical” feel is magnificent. I’d love to visit some of the places I’ve seen on screen. New Zealand is on my “to do” list…I just have to find the time and money to make it there for an extended period!

Kirstin April 16, 2011 at 7:09 am

Probably the best book to buy is “The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook – Extended Edition” by Ian Brodie. He produced a couple of other books which fit in the glove box of your car, but the extended is better in my opinion.

Some of the places will be difficult for you to get to on your own, especially if you are not into hiking or crossing rivers.

It will take us a while to clean up Christchurch, but we’re working as fast as we can. It is mainly the CBD and the eastern side of town which are damaged. The western side of town is mainly untouched.

Gray April 16, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Thank you, Kirstin. I have faith Christchurch will bounce back. Best of luck to you. Please know you’ve got a lot of people wishing you well.

Location villa April 13, 2011 at 10:59 am

I don’t know that the movie Lord of Rings is picturised here in New Zealand…It is this post who bring this important information to me…I admire that New Zealand is a destination of awesome landscapes and natural bautiness,due to this reason many travelers every year visits it…

Jeannie April 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I admit too that NZ was never top of my list. However, these days I’m growing more interested in that corner of the world. An LOR tour would be nice only to walk where Viggo Mortensen once did. Sigh..

Gray April 13, 2011 at 11:11 am

You have good taste, Jeannie. 🙂

Grrrltraveler April 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Didn’t know you were such a LOR freak! New Zealand wasn’t on my radar too until that movie came out and it’s nice to know they have a LOR tour. I actually want to visit some day for that very reason! Great photos!

Gray April 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Yep, that’s me. 🙂 You too??? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard “come out of the closet” as LOTR fans since I wrote this–saying that’s what put New Zealand on their radar too. (I wish they were my photos, Christine, but I can’t take credit.)

Tourea April 1, 2011 at 11:03 am

I’d really like to go. It’s really beautiful there… But I’d avoid Christchurch.

Gray April 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

I wouldn’t avoid it forever. Just give them some time to clean up from the earthquake.

Frances March 31, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I was not a Lord of the Rings fan until I watched the movies (of course, I lived in Puerto Rico and was about 11 when they came out so I didn’t have much access to the books) but the landscapes was definitely one of the reasons why I watched all of the movies. I gained great respect for the story and New Zealand through the movie. I didn’t know they had these tours but if I ever get the chance…oh yeah! lol

Gray April 1, 2011 at 11:09 am

Yay, another convert! 🙂

Bob March 25, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Thank’s for this find! I knew they filmed Hobbiton in New Zealand but I had no idea so many of the mountain shots were taken there too. Now I can’t wait to see these places personally…

Gray March 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Me too, Bob. Me too.

Tijmen March 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Ah yeah, lost count of all the spots that I visited in NZ where LOTR was filmed. We found this guide book that we used instead of the lonely planet to travel around the Island 🙂 After we found Mount Sunday, we jumped out of the van, climed over the fence and walk to the top. Took a lot longer then we though, it didnt help that there where small rivers everywhere that we had to cross.

Gray March 23, 2011 at 10:51 pm

You had to climb a fence and cross rivers to get there? Wow, you really are a fan, Tijmen! 🙂

Elayne LOTR Guide March 23, 2011 at 6:37 am

You would probably struggle to find the places LOTr was filmed in Mt Cook unless you know someone who knows where they are. Travelling by yourself and visiting is no problem as there are a number of tours you can join along which fellow enthusiasts – PS you should add Pelennor in Twizel to your list, probably only second to Hobbiton in must do sites!

Gray March 23, 2011 at 11:04 am

Hi, Elayne, thanks for speaking up! I thought about the Pelennor field site at Twizel (since that’s another favorite sequence of scenes from the movie for me), but then I thought “Well, isn’t it just a big field?” Is there more to it than that?

Connie Hum March 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I’m a total LOTR geek and although I had heard of New Zealand prior to the films, I really knew nothing about it. I certainly didn’t have the burning desire to visit it like I did after watching the films and now, after reading this post too!

Gray March 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Glad to hear it, Connie! I’m starting to think all of us geeks should all meet up for some LOTR New Zealand meetup one of these days. 🙂

Amanda Williams March 22, 2011 at 2:05 am

Oh this is great! I, too, am a LotR geek, and I’ve actually been on a couple of Rings tours in New Zealand! If you ever get the chance, check out Red Carpet Tours. They are fantastic, and will take you to most of the places you listed and then some!

Gray March 22, 2011 at 2:26 am

You’ve been on these tours? I’m so jealous! 🙂 Thanks for the tip, Amanda!

Alouise March 21, 2011 at 10:26 pm

New Zealand always looked a really amazing place to visit, but I got to confess I’m not an adrenaline junkie either. I think a LOTR tour would be awesome. I’ve never read the books, but I quite enjoyed the movies.

Gray March 22, 2011 at 1:47 am

Yay, another LOTR fan! All right, Alouise, we’ve got to get ourselves to New Zealand for one of these tours!

bluegreen kirk March 21, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Really enjoyed the LOTR but I have never been to New Zealand but a tour there would be probably be really nice. I’m sure the book trilogy is a lot better than they could have ever made the movies.

Gray March 22, 2011 at 1:45 am

I don’t know, they did a fantastic job with the movies. With only a couple of exceptions, they were better than my wildest expectations. Filming the movies back-to-back in New Zealand really paid off.

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