Long before Game of Thrones did wonders for tourism in places like Iceland, Ireland and Croatia, there was another fantasy epic that had travelers flocking to see its beautiful real world filming locations. We’re of course talking about Lord of the Rings and the Pacific nation of New Zealand. Fans of the movies couldn’t wait to visit all of the New Zealand destinations used as Lord of the Rings filming locations to represent Middle Earth.
It’s been nearly twenty years since the film series was in cinemas, but Lord of the Rings will soon be returning to our screens in a very different way. Amazon is currently in the middle of producing a Lord of the Rings TV series which will take viewers back to Middle Earth. What’s more, the Lord of the Rings Amazon series is also filming in New Zealand which means more gorgeous New Zealand scenery. To tide you over until the new series debuts, here’s a list of where the Lord of the Rings films were shot in New Zealand.
Where was Lord of the Rings Filmed?
It’s common knowledge that Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand which is home to an incredible variety of landscapes, making it well suited as a filming location.
The country is made up of two islands; North Island and South Island, but much of the signature mountain scenery is found on the South Island. While there were a few spots filmed on the North Island including near Wellington, Matamata, and Port Waikato, most of the locations below are situated on New Zealand’s South Island. Because of the fantasy setting, most locations used for the films are out in the countryside rather than in easy-to-reach city locations.
Lord of the Rings Tours in New Zealand
With so many Lord of the Rings fans coming over to New Zealand, it is little surprise that tours became available showing travelers where the films were located. Most tours to Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand focus on just one or two locations, but there are a few longer tours that visit more spots from the films.
- From Wellington: Lord of the Rings Half-Day Tour
- From Wellington: Weta Cave & Lord of the Rings Full Day Trip
- From Christchurch: Full-Day Lord of the Rings Tour to Edoras
- From Queenstown: Lord of the Rings Full-Day Tour
- From Queenstown: Half-Day 4WD Lord Of the Rings Tour to Glenorchy
Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
You can find your own way around to the different locations either by using this article or a location guidebook to help plan and navigate. In fact, the New Zealand Department of Conservation has compiled a list of locations with coordinates and access roads used to reach them, which will be invaluable on a self-guided tour of Lord of the Rings locations.
There’s really no better place to start this list than at the incredible set of Hobbiton. The film crew actually constructed an entire hobbit village on a farm near the town of Matamata, complete with hobbit-holes built into the countryside. Hobbiton is of course where The Fellowship of the Ring begins, introducing us to the hobbits, Gandalf, and the One Ring. The real-life Hobbiton has been open for tours since 2002, receiving a major upgrade when it was used again for Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy. On a visit to Hobbiton you’ll get to see hobbit-holes of all different scales, but most importantly Bilbo and Frodo’s home of Bag End.
2. Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park, in the center of the North Island, covers around 796 km² and is home to multiple Lord of the Rings filming locations but two of the most popular are Mt. Ngauruhoe and the Tawhai Falls.
For the better part of three films Frodo’s quest was to reach the appropriately-named Mt. Doom to throw his ring into the volcano. What you might not know is that an actual volcano was used to depict Mt. Doom. If you too want to visit Mordor then you’ll need to head for Mt. Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Crossing hiking trail offers some of the best views of Mt. Ngauruhoe and lets you climb up the mountain as well. Just remember, you won’t have Sam there to carry you.
Elsewhere in the national park you’ll find a waterfall and pool commonly known now as Gollum’s Pool. Actually called the Tawhai Falls, this beautiful waterfall spot was used for the scene in Two Towers when Gollum is fishing unaware that Faramir and the Rangers of Ithilien have their bows trained on him. While the setting was digitally altered for the film it really is a pretty spot all on its own.
3. Mavora Lakes Park
Mavora Lakes Park with its diverse scenery was used for a number of the scenes at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and the start of Two Towers.
After paddling down the Anduin River the Fellowship bring their boats onto shore along North Mavora Lake. Soon after, Merry and Pippin hide from the fight with the Uruk-hai in the same area by the lake. In Two Towers, fields and forest near the lake are used for the scene where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli search for the missing hobbits on the edge of the forest.
4. Skippers Canyon
The character of Arwen makes quite the first impression in The Fellowship of the Ring. She creates a flood to wash away the Nazgûl chasing her and Frodo on horseback. The location used for this scene at the Ford of Bruinen is Skippers Canyon, which itself makes quite an impression in real life. The canyon, in a river valley outside Queenstown, is an especially picturesque spot with the Shotover River flowing through it and mountains all around.
5. Fiordland National Park
Another large national park that was used for multiple different settings in the films was Fiordland National Park at the southwestern tip of the South Island. On a visit to Fiordland National Park you have the opportunity to see both the mighty River Anduin and the gnarled Fangorn Forest.
In a trilogy full of captivating aerial shots, one of the best is of the Fellowship paddling down the River Anduin after leaving Lothlórien in The Fellowship of the Ring. Many of New Zealand’s rivers were used to depict the River Anduin, chief among them was the Waiau River near Te Anau. The best way to see the parts of the Waiau River that were used for filming is to take the Kepler Track that follows the riverbank.
Fangorn Forest is quite a pivotal setting at the start of the Two Towers, both for the characters it introduces and also for its ancient atmosphere. It might be hard to believe that such a place actually exists in New Zealand but visit Snowdon Forest in Fiordland National Park and you’ll see it does. It’s here in Snowdon Forest with gnarled roots and twisted tree limbs that we see Aragon track Merry and Pippin after they escape the Urukhai. Fangorn is also the home to the ents, but sadly you haven’t got much chance of seeing them.
6. Putangirua Pinnacles
Some LotR filming locations are worth visiting regardless of their connection to Lord of the Rings. One such example are the Putangirua Pinnacles. Caused by erosion over a hundred thousand years, the area in the Aorangi Mountain Range of North Island features a bizarre cluster of rock pinnacles. The pinnacles were used as the backdrop to film the Paths of the Dead as Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli go to enlist the Army of the Dead in Return of the King.
7. Mount Sunday
Much of The Two Towers focused on the kingdom of Rohan, home to characters such as Eomer and Eowyn. Rohan was shown to feature endless fields across rolling hills with dramatic mountains overlooking it, with its captivating capital Edoras resting on a hill. While the set for the city was dismantled after filming, the splendid scenery of Mount Sunday on which it was built still remains. The spot is nestled within the Southern Alps not far from major mountains like Mount Taylor and Mount Cook, guaranteeing some phenomenal views if you visit.
8. Kaitoke Regional Park
Cities like Wellington were not viable filming locations for Lord of the Rings, but there are some filming locations close to Wellington worth visiting. Probably the most interesting is Kaitoke Regional Park which was used for some scenes set in the elven city of Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring. Also close to Upper Hutt you’ll find Harcourt Park which was used in the first film’s scenes of Isengard, home to Saruman. Then there’s the Hutt River, another of the rivers used for Anduin River scenes.
Could there be a more perfect name than Paradise for a destination used as the mystical elven forest of Lothlorien? Found close to popular tourist destinations like Queenstown and Milford Sound, Paradise was used for the scenes when the Fellowship first encounter the elves there. Other parts of the woods were also used later for the big fight with Uruk-hai and death of Boromir at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring.
10. Mount Aspiring National Park
Continuing our tour of New Zealand’s national parks used by Peter Jackson, we come to
Mount Aspiring National Park where various scenes were shot. This large national park on the west coast of the South Island was used for all sorts of landscape shots, including various snowy peaks of the Misty Mountains. Slightly more accessible spots to visit though include Dan’s Paddock and the Dart River Valley, both of which were used for the landscape around Isengard, although Dart River Valley was quite heavily altered in post-production.
11. Franz Josef Glacier
Already one of the best places to visit in New Zealand, the fact that Franz Josef Glacier is also connected with Lord of the Rings just gives you another reason to visit. The glacier itself wasn’t featured in the movies, rather it was the view from Franz Josef Glacier Valley towards Mount Gunn in the Waiho Valley. This incredible view is what you see as the mountain-top beacons are lit along the White Mountains calling for aid to Gondor.
12. Twelve Mile Delta
Watching Sam and Gollum interact is always entertaining in Lord of the Rings, especially when they bicker over food while making camp in Two Towers. The campsite scene, as well as the ambush by Faramir and the Rangers of Ithilien on the Oliphaunts, was filmed out in the scrub near Twelve Mile Delta Campsite on Lake Wakatipu. Just near the campsite you’ll find a lookout which shows the view Frodo, Sam, and Gollum had of the ambush.
13. Port Waikato
There were some particularly gripping scenes with the Nazgûl early on in The Fellowship of the Ring. One was when they attacked the hobbits in the ruins of Weathertop. Although the ruined fortress of Weathertop isn’t real, the distinctive limestone hill they sat on certainly is. Weathertop’s hill and many moody limestone rock formations like it can be found in the countryside around Port Waikato on the North Island.
14. Kawarau Gorge
One of the harder filming locations to recognize in New Zealand is probably Kawarau Gorge near Queenstown on South Island. This is because in the movie the two colossal stone statues of the Argonath have been digitally added in. Still, it is indeed the Kawarau River and Gorge used for this spot along the Anduin River by the Pillars of the Kings. Nearby you’ll also find the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, a popular spot for bungee jumping.
15. Ben Ohau Station
Lord of the Rings had plenty of epic battles in it, but the biggest spectacle has to be the Battle of Pelennor Fields outside the city of Minas Tirith in Return of the King. It makes sense then that this massive confrontation on wide-open fields of grass was filmed at Beh Ohau Sheep Station near the town of Twizel, the kind of place where you’ll find plenty of open space. It’s important to note that this sheep station is private land, but tours can be arranged in Twizel.
Bonus: Weta Cave & Workshop
Although it’s not a filming location in the same sense as the other destinations on this list, it’d be wrong to leave the incredible WETA Cave off this list. Located in Wellington, this is the headquarters of WETA Workshop, the people behind the state-of-the-art special effects and props used in The Lord of the Rings movies. Visiting the WETA Cave you’ll see life-sized sculptures and showcases full of props and a free documentary on what goes on behind-the-scenes with their work.
Great write up on these NZ movie scene locations! There’s an app, SetJetters, that shows the exact location of these scenes. I’ve visited some of these.