If you’re not exploring all of the Lord of the Rings filming locations in their natural ‘Hobbit’at of New Zealand, then the joke’s on you.
Here is my long awaited, long overdue Lord of the Rings Guide to New Zealand.
While it won’t be as comprehensive as the official guidebook on Amazon, I’ll do my best to educate you on the best locations to stop in your New Zealand road trip if you’re an avid Tolkien fan. I also haven’t included filming locations for The Hobbit trilogy, since those films weren’t nearly as great (and you can find them here anyway).
If you’re looking for a map with all the filming locations pinpointed, click here. Also, this page from NZ’s Department of Conservation is your best resource for marking out filming locations along your drive. It’s the main link I used when I road tripped New Zealand on my own.
You surely clicked on this article since you’re a hardcore Lord of the Rings fan like I am (cue the time warp to my teenage obsession that spanned for years), so onward to the information!
Please note: These are my recommendations only. Some are omitted on purpose, so please be aware that this is not an all-inclusive list. Some locations for The Hobbit films are also mentioned, but refer to specific articles like this one for more details on that trilogy.
North Island Filming Locations
Wellington, otherwise known as “Wellywood,” is the iconic centre of Lord of the Rings filming, pre and post-production, and everything in between. This accounts for 99% of the reason why I moved here when I did my Working Holiday Visa.
If you really want to embody the essence of Frodo & co., you can always be a dedicated fan and pose in the exact locations like this girl. I strongly recommend that everyone spend at LEAST two days here, since it’s my favourite city in the entire world.
Some restaurants & bars that have been frequented by the cast & crew include:
- Fidel’s (if anyone watched Billy & Dom’s famous “together… but not like that” segment from a behind-the-scenes special, they ate here)
- Chocolate Fish Cafe (do the walk along Scorching Bay to get here, it’s stunning)
- The Green Parrot
- Molly Malone’s
- Deluxe Espresso Bar
If you’re a truly devoted fan, you’ll get inked at Roger’s Tattoo Art, the same exact place where the Fellowship cast got their infamous Elvish “9” one. Of course, I had to get mine in the exact same spot as Elijah (my right hip).
Also, the 2003 Return of the King premiere in Wellington was massive because it was the last film of the trilogy. Watch the video below to see all your favourite Wellington sites (and how about that video quality – no 4K back in 2003!):
This is one of the coolest places you can visit. It’s technically in Miramar (highlighted below), which was home to all the film sets of pre- and post-production. You can take a guided tour for a decent price here, which shows you some models, props, and costuming at Weta Workshop.
In the buildings alongside Weta Cave, Weta Digital workers are working inside and animating all of the insane CGI scenes you’ve seen in every film (not accessible to the public, obviously).
Miramar is a suburb of Wellington that is obviously home to Weta Cave (discussed above) and all the production facilities for the films. Check out the Roxy Cinema while here, especially with its beautiful art-deco interior. You can’t miss it, since a large Gandalf statue was erected outside of it by the Wellington City Council in 2013.
Remember that the entire cast & crew spent a lot of time in Miramar, so the local restaurants and bars were probably frequented by them. It’s worth having a stroll around here if you’re a diehard fan, since you never know what cool things you’ll discover.
If you were an obsessive fan like me who paid attention to every single detail in the featurettes, you’d also have a heart attack when you see Park Rd. and Stone Street Studios in person as well. I only went into the lobby (it’s not open to the public), but hey, it’s freakin’ amazing just to know that so many famous faces have walked through here.
This is where the huge majority of all film production was done, and you might even be able to spot a giant green screen from the road.
Cast & crew have frequented places like Cafe Polo as well.
This is one of the key filming locations you’ll hear about when you’re in Wellington. You can find the exact spot that the hobbits hid (marked on a tiny sign that says “Hobbit’s Hideaway”) from the Ringwraiths in The Fellowship of the Ring. This was right before Frodo yelled, “Get off the road! Quick!”
These are in the Wairarapa region, just 8 min. drive from Welligton’s CBD. This was the filming location for the Paths of the Dead, when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli sought help from deceased comrades in The Return of the King.
This is a small national park made up of rock pinnacles formed by water erosions. Peter Jackson also used this location for one of his earlier films. Exact coordinates here.
This is a beautiful, quaint suburb where most of the cast resided during production of the films. I was told this was where Peter Jackson himself also lived (not sure if he still does).
This is a beautiful area where a few scenes from the films were shot, but more importantly, it’s where Elijah, Billy, Dom, and Sean went surfing during their time off.
Kaitoke Regional Park
Just 15 min. from Upper Hutt, you’ll come across “Rivendell,” also known as Kaitoke Regional Park.
You’ll find a LoTR-branded sign that indicates you’re in a past filming location, although you’ll need to use your imagination to truly see Rivendell here (as with most the other locations as well), especially since the majority of it was pure CGI.
You’ll find a LOTR-branded sign that indicates you’re in a past filming location, although you’ll need to use your imagination to truly see Rivendell here (as with most the other locations as well), especially since the majority of it was pure CGI. However, there’s a huge elven arch (not used on set – just an installation) to excite your inner geek.
When Gandalf first visits Saruman in Isengard (The Fellowship of the Ring), they walk through the gardens of Isengard. This was filmed in Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt.
Definitely find a walking stick as your staff and walk the same path as these two knighted legends have.
This region north of Wellington had many vineyards that the cast frequented.
Hutt River (between Moonshine and Totara Park) showed part of the River Anduin when the fellowship left Lothlorien in boats. The other location for the River Anduin is in Arrowtown, which will be covered in the South Island sections further down.
Dry Creek Quarry
Just outside Wellington, this quarry was used as the sets for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith, the fortresses of Gondor, Hornburg, and the last epic battle scene in The Two Towers.
Helm’s Deep was hailed as one of the most impressive battles in movie history, and for good reason. It took 120 days to film, mostly at night in inclement weather!
Queen Elizabeth Park
From Wellington, the drive to Paraparumu is quite close. Queen Elizabeth Park was used to film the Nazgul and mumakil in the Battle of Pelennor Fields (The Return of the King).
About an hour north of Queen Elizabeth Park, make your way to Waitarare Forest. This was the filming location for Osgiliath Wood, where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum walked after leaving Faramir (The Two Towers).
Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park (about 3.5 hours from Waitarere Forest) is home to Mount Doom and the basis of Mordor.
Whether you go in the dry or snowy season, the views of this national park will leave you utterly speechless. The Black Gates of Mordor are far off in the distance, and if you’re brave enough to summit Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom), then you obviously need to take The One Ring with you and cast it into the pit.
Close to Tongariro, be sure to visit the little town of Ohakune, home to Mangawhero Falls. The pool at the top of these falls was were Gollum caught a fish in The Two Towers (which fans will recognise if they watched the behind-the-scenes features of the extended edition DVDs on repeat, like I did from the ages of 11-14, haha). Scene below:
Tawhai Falls is also nicknamed “Gollum’s Pool” on Google Maps, so be sure to check that out before you leave that area as well.
Nearby Tongariro, drive to the Whakapapa skifields to find the filming locations for Emyn Muil. These scenes were shot on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu (the highest peak in North Island). Park your car at “the top of the Bruce,” just a few minutes from Whakapapa village, and head to the bottom of the ski lift for the exact location (behind Aorangi Lodge). When Gollum leads Frodo & Sam to Emyn Muil, coordinates are here.
These skifields are also the location where they filmed Isildur chopping off Sauron’s finger in The Fellowship of the Ring. Coordinates here.
I consulted the Whakapapa info centre before I drove up (especially since the roads were icy in the winter), so just check with them beforehand if you have any questions. The info centres throughout New Zealand are probably the friendliest in the world, after all.
If you have a 4WD vehicle, you can venture to Tukino ski field (eastern side of Tongariro National Park) for the plains of Gogoroth and the Black Gate. This is technically Rangipopo Desert. Additionally, orc army scenes and the area before they charge into battle with Sauron’s army was also shot here. Coordinates here. Clip of this scene below:
Nelson is home to Jens Hansen, the goldsmith who created 40 different rings as replicas for “The One Ring” to be used in filming. One of the original rings is actually on display in the shop, and copies can be purchased in 9 & 18 ct. gold (!!!!).
For anyone who cares, I’ve never cared about diamonds. My boyfriend knows that I only want a ring from here (I’ve already picked out the silver-plated one I want ), and I hereby swear to write a blog about it when we actually follow through with picking it up together in the future.
About an hour from Nelson, Takaka Hill is where Chetwood Forest is located. This was where Strider led the hobbits into Bree when escaping the Black Riders in The Fellowship of the Ring.
According to the official site, you need to catch a helicopter to see where the fellowship hid from Saruman’s crows, Crebain (and also where the fellowship exited the Mines of Moria). If you’ve got the money, ask the pilot to fly you over Dimrill Dale (Mount Olympus and Mount Owen), where you can get a stunning view of Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes, and Kahurangi. Exact coordinates here.
However, for most of us broke folks (me!), you can always head to Hope Saddle Lookout just off Highway 6, near Glenhope. This will give you a decent view of Mount Owen and won’t break your wallet.
Hobbiton is the most famous Lord of the Rings tourist attraction that attracts thousands of visitors every year, but it’s really plunked in the middle of nowhere, on a farm of rolling green hills.
Yes, it’s essential for Tolkien fanatics, but I didn’t think it was as impressive (especially with the price) as the rest of the free scenery in the country. New Zealand has SO many incredible landscapes that served as filming locations, so don’t bust your balls if you don’t make it out here. And I say this with the utmost love and respect in my heart for this place.
Remember, the sets you see were never the actual Hobbit hole sets from the original 1999-2000 filming of the trilogy. They tore those down, causing crazy fans to destroy private property in their own attempts to photograph this iconic location. Thus, they rebuilt the hobbit holes and opened Hobbiton as a public attraction in 2002 (The Hobbit films utilised these sets).
Port Waikato, at the top of North Island, was the filming location for Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring. Bear in mind that most (if not all) the scenes on top, when the Hobbits get approached by the Ringwraiths, were filmed in the studio, in front of a green screen.
However, they clearly used the shot where they panned over the landscape view of the area, as you’ll instantly see the resemblance. If you walk along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway (South Island) and down the steps when you reach them, you’ll also encounter an area that looks a bit Weathertop-esque as well (photo below).
South Island Filming Locations
At Chard Farm Winery which overlooks the River Anduin, you can visualise where the Argonath (Pillar of Kings) was CGI-ed in.
If you drive a few minutes from the centre of Queenstown, you’ll get to the famous Kawarau Bridge bungy, right above Kawarau Gorge. This was another location they used as part of the River Anduin, and it’s clear to see why; that water is as sparkling turquoise as you could ever imagine. Exact coordinates here.
Twelve Mile Delta
The Twelve Mile Delta (a campsite on the banks of Lake Wakatipu) was the location where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum watch the battle between Faramir’s rangers and first see Oliphaunts. Take a stroll along Bob’s Cove Track and you’ll immediately begin to recognise the scenery. Exact coordinates here.
And YES, that infamous scene where Sam and Gollum talk about “PO-TA-TOES: boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” was also filmed here, so it’s an essential location to film nuts. Exact coordinates here.
Glenorchy & Paradise
Glenorchy is just 45 min. from Queenstown and the site of Isengard (the slopes of Mt. Earnslaw were used in the opening credits of The Two Towers). Coordinates and Google Map location here.
If you keep driving on, you’ll reach Paradise (ha, what a fitting name), where you’ll see a beech forest that was used as some parts of Lothlorien. This is also the shot where Gandalf approaches Saruman’s tower. Most of these locations are on private lands, so you should go to the forest along Glenorchy-Paradise Road.
Poolburn Reservoir (Ida Valley) is an easy day trip from Queenstown. This is Rohan, instantly recognised through its sprawling plains and rocky terrain.
Poolburn Reservoir is also known as Poolburn Dam, which is a vibrant blue lake.
Deer Park Heights
This was the filming location for many of the Rohan scenes in the second and third films. In the journey from Edoras to Helm’s Deep (past the 2-minute mark), you can spot The Remarkables in the background.
You may also recognise this location from other scenes, including Gandalf’s ride to Minas Tirith, Aragorn getting dragged off a cliff by a warg, Aragorn finding pirates pillaging villages after coming out of the Paths of the Dead, and where Eowyn gives Aragorn stew in an extended scene from The Two Towers.
This park has been closed to visitors since 2009, but it’s still possible to take a walk and enjoy the scenery. To get there, drive via the Kelvin Heights Peninsula on Peninsula Road, then turn off before Balmoral Drive.
Just outside Te Anau, head to Kepler Mire and walk along the Kepler Track for the filming location of the Dead Marshes (where Gollum saves Frodo when he falls face-first into the murky water in The Two Towers). They used the same location for when Strider and the four Hobbits trudge through the marshes in The Fellowship of the Ring. Videos for both scenes are below:
Drive along Manapouri Te Anau Highway with exact coordinates here.
About 30km from Te Anau, you’ll find Mavora Lakes. North Mavora Lake was used as Nen Hithoel Lake, the lake into which the River Anduin flowed from the north. Coordinates here and here, and when Merry & Pippin hide from the Uruk-Has talking to Frodo, those coordinates are here and here.
When you reach the forest area, you’ll find the location where Aragorn retraces Merry and Pippin’s steps from escaping the Orcs.
At the end of the road, stop at the gravel parking lot. Walk to the rocky beachside, where you’ll see a cut out in the trees on the opposite side of the lake. The beachside is where Frodo leaves the Fellowship and saves Sam from drowning (scene below):
Snowdon Forest (specifically Bog Pine Paddock) in Fjordland National Park was one of the locations for Fangorn Forest. Notably, these were the scenes where Gandalf whistles for Shadowfax to come galloping toward him, Aragorn follows Merry and Pippin’s tracks into the forest, and when the Ents are revealed.
Exact coordinates here.
When you drive over the Crown Range (New Zealand’s highest road, but also one of the most dangerous & beautiful as well), you’ll arrive in the stunning Cardrona Valley. The summit of Crown Range yields views of River Anduin to the left, Dimrill Dale in the hills, and Amon Hen in the distant shores.
Between Te Anau and Manapouri, the Waiau River also served as the River Anduin when the fellowship left Lothlorien. Access off Rainbow Road, with exact coordinates here.
Near Te Anau, you can also drive along Takaro Road to find (one of) the filming locations of Fangorn Forest.
Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is home to Milford Sound, one of the most breathtaking sites in the entire country. It was obviously used for a bulk of filming locations, but the most notable was from the end of the first Hobbit film, when the Eagles drop off Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves, panning out to an aerial view of the landscape.
The best way to experience this location is with a scenic helicopter flight over the national park (unless you dislocate your shoulder and get air-lifted for free; please don’t).
In the Ashburton region, Mount Sunday was the filming location of the mighty Edoras, a fan favourite. The set took almost an entire year to complete, and it was used in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King filming. Exact coordinates here.
I still haven’t been here (WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!), but from the photos, it looks absolutely mesmerising. You can park your vehicle on Hakatere Potts Rd. and just walk to the main site, and you get extra brownie points if you ride in on a horse.
Just outside of Twizel, a little town of Mackenzie was home to another filming location for the Pelennor Fields. You’ll need to organise a private tour in Twizel in order to see the actual grassy lands of the battle, since the site is actually on private grounds.
One Ring Tours organises the best private tours in the area.
Arrowtown is a beautiful town just outside of Queenstown where the Arrow River was used as the Ford of Bruinen. You know, when Arwen recites her famous line, “If you want him, come and claim him!” while trying to fend the Ringwraiths from Frodo.
I did my best Arwen impression by grabbing a nearby stick as my sword to justify her presence.
If you walk to Wilcox Green, you’ll find where the Gladden Fields scenes were filmed. This was where Smeagol and Deagol battled over The One Ring (scene from The Return of the King).
Mount Cook & Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park is home to several filming locations for both LOTR and The Hobbit trilogies. It’s primarily known as the filming location of Laketown (in the second and third Hobbit films).
Mount Gunn (near Franz Josef Glacier)
The famous “light the beacons!” scene (The Return of the King) takes place here, when the beacons from the White Mountains between Gondor and Rohan are lit. Note that you may only be able to view this location from the Franz Josef Glacier Valley access track (or a scenic flight, which is 100% worth your money).
Exact coordinates here.
Summary & Resources
For more info, check out New Zealand’s official site, which has a section dedicated specifically to Lord of the Rings itineraries. You can also visit New Zealand’s Department of Conservation site, which lists exact coordinates of every location.
Further Resources & Works Cited (am I back in uni?):
- For guided tours, look into Red Carpet Tours (in operation since 2002)
- Finding the Universe, Young Adventuress, NZ Pocket Guide, Discover New Zealand, Wayfairer Travel, and Toques and Boots all have comprehensive LOTR material that I fact-checked across all articles
For an hour-long visual transportation into the comparison of film locations vs. reality, check out Niki Topgaard’s video below. Dialogue is in Danish but there are subtitles throughout, and it’s possibly the most comprehensive video I’ve EVER seen a fan make:
If you want to bawl your eyes out before trekking through the most beautiful country on earth, watch the music video for “The Last Goodbye”:
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