Lord of the Rings Locations
To this day, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films are considered as one of the most successful film franchises to ever hit the silver screen. A celluloid adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic saga, the franchise amassed tons of financial and critical success once the films were launched.
People who have never read the books got into it eventually because of the movies while long-time fans of the novels were floored and satisfied upon seeing the fantastical work Jackson and his crew have laid out. All three movies were filmed simultaneously and shot entirely in New Zealand and has garnered plenty of praise not only for its locations, but its implementation of innovative visual effects as well.
LOTR Filming Facts
The film is set in the imagined world of Middle-earth and follows the life and adventures of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins as he and the Fellowship get on a journey to obliterate the “One Ring” and secure the death of its creator, the Dark Lord Sauron.
In the course of the story, the Fellowship becomes separated, with Frodo continuing his mission with his companion, Samwise Gamgee and Gollum, a former hobbit who was corrupted by the One Ring and has since spent the rest of his life chasing it.
Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor, together with Gandalf the Grey assembled the Free Peoples of Middle-earth in the subsequent War of the Ring.
The films were prime financial successes, all critically-acclaimed and gathered major awards. The series pulled in 30 Academy Award nominations and won an impressive 17 out of those nominations. The last film in the series, The Return of the Kind accomplished all of its 11 Academy Award nominations which includes the trophy for Best Picture.
The designs for the set came to be years before the films were shot, in 1997. Jackson required an authentic and balanced feel for the Middle-earth setting, and his home country was the one and only choice; the place has splendid, untainted and breathtaking environs. The New Zealand Army were requested to help in the production of Hobbiton months before shooting began so that plants could actually grow around the area.
The principal photography for the films was done simultaneously in plenty of locations inside NZ’s national parks and conservation areas between the years 1999 and 2000 while the pick-up shoots were accomplished from 2001-2004. More than 150 locations were chosen for certain areas in the films, and this brought 7 separate units filming with soundstages built in Queenstown and Wellington.
These units were tracked through live satellite feeds and because some of the locations were far-flung, the crew had brought with them survival kits in the event that helicopters could not go to said locations and transport them home.
There were issues with the filming in some locations though. The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) was blasted for sanctioning the shooting within national parks. The unfavorable effects of shooting the combat scenes in Tongariro National Park necessitated that the area would later need rehabilitation.
NZ as Middle-earth: The Locations
You know for sure that a trip to NZ would be incomplete without visiting some iconic locations used in Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. There are in fact movie set tours and drive tours that will take you to those magical locations including Hobbiton. There are even Weta Digital tours where you can drop by at the famed digital visual effects company, the company who was responsible for the film series’ jaw-dropping computer-generated effects.
But before making decisions in terms of tours, let us dig deep firstly to the very locations that brought Middle-earth to the big screen. As mentioned before, there are over 150 locations but we will bring you the most popular among the lot.
Matamata, Waikato (Hobbiton)
The picture-perfect countrysides of Waikato provided a wonderful backdrop to the first in the line of Lord of the Rings movies. After negotiating with the owners of Alexander Farm, work begun and part of the farm was transformed into sets for the Hobbiton and other areas of the Shire. This is where the NZ Army assisted and in due course 37 hobbit holes were built, gardens, hedges, a double-arch bridge and a mill were constructed.
The most popular areas include the Bagshot Row, Bilbo’s Bag End home and the Party Tree. You can visit this location that is close to Wellington and walk around the area. There are also stores selling souvenirs and merchandise if you are so inclined to bring a piece of this visit home with you.
Mount Sunday, Canterbury (Edoras)
In the book, Edoras is the capital of Rohan and home to Meduseld, King Theoden’s Hall and its real-life counterpart is Mount Sunday in gorgeous Canterbury. Mount Sunday lies in the Rangitata Valley and is approximately 2 hours southwest of Christchurch on the country’s South Island.
A full set was designed and built on Mount Sunday and it took a remarkable 9 months to build it at the top of the cliffs. This is where the Golden Hall was erected together with its surrounding buildings, the gatehouse and more buildings constructed at the foot of said cliffs. However at the end of shooting, the whole set was disassembled and the area was brought back to its organic state.
That’s sad news for the fans, but the place’s majestic views on top are worth the visit; you can walk the Mount Sunday track and on a good day, you will see a wide river plain rushing below enclosed by the country’s famed Southern Alps.
Takaka Hill, Nelson (Chetwood Forest)
Chetwood Forest was featured in the second LoTR film, The Fellowship of the Ring. This is where Aragorn led the band of hobbits into the rough country of Bree to escape the Black Riders.
Takaka Hill is a natural choice for the forest because of its craggy marble outcropping. The place is located in the border of Kahurangi National Park—which is also the shooting locations for the Rough Country South of Rivendell, Dimril Dale and Eregion Hills.
It is remarkable for its marble quarry (now obsolete) and masses of sinkholes and limestone caves including the Ngarua Caves which feature moa bone deposits and is open for public tours. One of the deepest caves found in the country, Harwood’s Hole, can also be found on Takaka Hill.
Majority of these caves drain into The Resurgence, a famed spring located at the foot of the hill.
Kawarau River, Otago (Argonath on the Anduin River)
The Kawarau River was the prime location for the Pillars of the Kings on the Anduin River, or simply called the Argonath. In the movie, the pillars were computer-generated but the river was filmed as is.
It is located off the highway 6 from Queenstown jutting towards Gibbston. The river drains into Lake Wakatipu in northwester Otago and it has plenty of forceful currents and rapids. Kawarau is a Māori name which means “many shrubs” because of the abundant growth of shrubs around the area, most of them exotic in origin.
The river is noted as an excellent place for rafting, especially the 400-meter long Dog Leg rapid. Other than savoring the spot where the mighty Argonath stood, you can also do river surfing, jet boating and even bungee jumping in the area.
Kepler Mire, Te Anau (Dead Marshes)
“There are dead things! Dead faces in the water!”
The Kepler Mire served as the Dead Marshes in the series, where Gollum leads hobbits Frodo and Sam, ultimately saving the former from the spell of the dead swimming in the muddy waters of the swamp.
The Kepler Mire can be found on the far side of the highway from the starting point of one of the Great Walks, the Kepler Track. In all fairness, it is a marsh so it can get wet and muddy in an instant. So if you want to see more of the area, you better be prepared with a pair of gum boots or any protective footwear.
Southern Alps, South Island (Misty Mountains)
The Southern Alps are NZ’s mightiest, longest and highest among peaks. It was the prime choice to portray Middle-earth’s Misty Mountains, the area where the Fellowship had to pass through in the first movie of the franchise. The mountain range stretches across the central and southern parts of the country’s South Island and is known for its exquisite glacier lakes and rivers.
It can be seen from any point in Queenstown but if you want views from below, you need to take a helicopter flight, which can be done at the top of the Queenstown Gondola. In addition, Mount Cook’s backcountry also served as shooting locations for the opening sequence of the second film, The Two Towers.
Snowdon Forest near Te Anau (Fangorn Forest)
The Fangorn Forest was set in Snowdon Forest close to Te Anau and can be accessed on the same direction as the Mavora Lakes (where a number of scenes were also shot). The forest is a stunning spot filled with open, grassy valleys and provides different recreational activities for trekkers of all ages. However, admission to certain parts of the area is private land so permission must first be obtained from the landowners before you can get to it.
Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast (White Mountains)
Mount Gunn, located near the Franz Josef Glacier, was the area where the beacons were illuminated to notify Rohan that Gondor needs help.
The mountain can be seen at the base of the glacier and from several locations as well.
It can be found on the west coast of the South Island. Scenic flights will further make you realize the astounding beauty of the Southern Alps.
Skippers Canyon, Otago (Ford of Bruinen)
The Shotover River at Skippers Canyon served as the place where Arwen overthrows the Nazgûl and protects Frodo from the enemy by conjuring a great, big flood. The area had a spot in the movie for several seconds because the river was actually only accessible from one side. In reality, Arwen and Frodo cantered down a crossing that’s located in another area, Arrowtown.
Skippers Canyon is a scenic gorge with a rich history and is located a few kilometers north of Queenstown. It can be accessed through the same road that directs to the Coronet Peak ski field. Shotover River was also famous for its gold-bearing waters.
Lake Wakatipu, Otago Region (Lothlorien)
Lake Wakatipu served as the backdrop of Lothlorien on several scenes in the series. In the book and movie, Lothlorien is the stunning forest kingdom of the Elves. The lake is the inland kind and is found in the South Island area of the country, in the southwestern corner of the Otago region.
The lake has a length of 80 kilometers and is considered as the longest lake in NZ. It is drained by the Kawarau River and the Dart River flows into its northern end. It is famous for its picturesque beauty, being enclosed by a bevy of lush mountains called the Remarkables.
Twelve Mile Delta, Wakatipu (Ithilien Camp)
This is the place where Frodo, Sam and Gollum became witnesses to the encounter between Faramir’s Rangers of Gonder and the warriors and Oliphaunts of Harad. The area is located outside Queenstown, accessible by driving on the highways towards Glenorchy until you see the signage for the Twelve Mile Delta camp site and picnic spot.
Other than movie connections, the place also features Bob’s Cove Track, small climbs with varying terrain and exotic wildflowers surrounding the lakeshore.
Putangirua Pinnacles, Aorangi Forest Park (Dimholt Road)
The Pinnacles is where the Army of Dead meets up with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in the third installment, The Return of the King. To go to the area, you need to drive around 13-km along the Cape Palliser Road from the turn-off at the Lake Ferry. The reservation features a nice selection of tramping grounds and a camping site.
The place’s eerie, dismal rock formations proved to be a perfect backdrop for the scene. The Pinnacles came to be millions of years ago when the Aorangi Range was an island; the mountains became eroded and various gravel and scree were in turn washed out of the coast, forming a sedimentary seam.
The Putangirua Stream has uncovered this gravel layer to the elements; some were washed away while some of the sediments clustered together, resulting into the Pinnacles.
Tongariro National Park (Mordor)
Tongariro National Park was the best spot to bring Mordor to life. Mordor is the home of the Dark Lord Sauron, a hissing volcanic terrain that is surrounded with forbidding geological formations called the Gorgoroth. Majority of Frodo and Sam’s quest into the dark lands were shot on and around the Tongariro.
Tongariro National Park is a World Heritage Site, thus utmost care was observed and done during the shooting to help safeguard the area’s delicate ecological surroundings. The sites can be toured by yourself but accessing and recognizing several areas can be difficult so it’s best that you go for guided tours if you want to fully appreciate the settings.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing acts as the desolate landscape in the movie while Emyn Muil’s cliffs, gorges and severe rocks were in actuality the area behind Aorangi Lodge. Meanwhile, the Whakapapa Ski Area is the place where Isildur successfully slashes off Sauron’s finger with the One Ring.
Mount Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park (Mount Doom)
Mount Ngauruhoe is a active volcano which acted as Mount Doom, the place where the One Ring was created and structured and in the end, destroyed by the hobbits.
You can climb the mountain, and from the starting point, is about 5 to 6 hours of return walk. It is not an easy walk though because the whole cone is made up of pliant ash.
Please consider that filming the peak of the mountain is forbidden because the Māori considers it a sacred domain.
Fort Dorset, Seatoun, Wellington (The Town of Bree)
Bree was the place where men and hobbits mingled without a care. The Prancing Pony Inn in this town acted as the spot wherein Aragorn, the Son of Arathorn and heir to Isuldor met hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.
The set for the area was accomplished in Fort Dorset, which was an erstwhile Army base in Seatoun, Wellington. Public access is forbidden but the base can be observed by going to the border of Burnham Street in Seatoun.
Queen Elizabeth Park, Kapiti Coast (Pelennor Fields)
The final combat scene in the trilogy were filmed at the Queen Elizabeth Park, which is located south of Paraparaumu on the coast of Kapiti. In the film, the fields all over Minas Tirith was the spot where Rohan and Gondor’s forces linked arms together with Aragorn’s Army of the Dead in order to vanquish Mordor’s dark forces.
Wellington Town Belt, Mount Victoria (Nazgûl Escape)
Once out of the Shire, the Hobbits had a brief encounter with one of the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths—shadowy entities who were mortal kings in their previous life whom Sauron gifted with rings of power, bounding them to him and eventually succumbing to evil.
They were tasked by their master to retrieve the One Ring from the ring-bearer Frodo and return it to him. Those memorable scenes were filmed around the Wellington Town Belt on Mount Victoria.
Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt (Isengard)
In the book and movies, Isengard was a primeval stronghold located at the southern end of the Misty Mountains which faces Rohan. Within the circle of the area stands the Orthanc tower, which houses Saruman the White. Gandalf the Grey journeyed to Isengard to confer with Saruman, but Saruman was already manipulated by Sauron thus he took Gandalf as prisoner.
Harcourt Park served as the setting of the fictional land and can be accessed by heading north of Upper Hutt on Highway 2 and turning left at the Brown Owl until you reach Akatarawa road.
Kaitoke Regional Park, Upper Hutt (Rivendell)
Rivendell was the place where the Fellowship was established to take the One Ring to Mount Doom and obliterate it. It was also the spot where the Sword of Elendil was held in reserve to be taken upon the return of the King of Gondor. It was shot in the Kaitoke Regional Park, which is located in the slopes of the Rimutaka.
Now that you have an idea of the places where some of the memorable scenes were filmed, the next best thing to do is decide what to do with the opportunity given to you, to rephrase Gandalf. Pick a favorite from the list or, better yet, visit them all to truly experience the books and movies, and fully appreciate the beauty of New Zealand as well.