Middle Earth. Since springing from the rich reservoir of JJR Tolkein’s mind, it’s captivated readers, film fanatics and (since Amazon released Rings of Power last month) sofa-dwelling binge-watchers alike. But what is it about Lord of the Rings that casts such a spell on audiences of all ages? The hobbits? The elves? The wizened old men harbouring a 400 year old addiction to ‘pipe-weed’? Well, for our money, natural beauty has a big deal to do with it. The natural beauty of New Zealand, to be precise.
Tolkien was passionate about – and wanted to protect – the natural world. That’s why the forces of evil in his novels – Sauron and Saruman – were an industrial metal machine, pitted against the quaint rolling hills of the shire and the humble hobbits that lived there. And that’s why mother nature played such an important part of Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking trilogy, as well as Amazon’s new series, Rings of Power. The best bit? These are all very real, very beautiful New Zealand travel destinations you can visit in real life. So, for lovers of LOTR, or just lovers of stupidly beautiful vistas, here are the best Lord of the Rings filming locations you can (and should) travel to as soon as possible.
1. Hobbiton, Matamata
Let’s start with the obvious then, shall we? Lord of the Rings filming locations don’t get more on the nose than the real, living, breathing Shire – one of the most unique cinematic tourist attractions in the world. Nestled in the lush rolling hills of Matamata, in New Zealand’s North Island, the set was originally taken apart after filming of the LOTR trilogy finished. But when Peter Jackson and Co. recreated it to film the Hobbit, they realised this was something that deserved to be preserved.
And they were right. The most striking part about visiting Hobbiton is the incredible attention to the tiniest details, and – thanks to a busy team of talented gardeners – the fact there’s barely any artifice. The vivid green grass? Real. Those tomatoes? As authentic and delicious as they look. You can take a glance into various Hobbitholes, with little trinkets demonstrating which profession and status they have in the village, and then you can finish your tour with a flagon of mead at the Green Dragon pub. For fans, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Peter Jackson, mastermind of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, grew up just 30 mins from Wellington City Centre. So it makes sense that he used the city’s charms to his advantage when putting Tolkien’s fantasy world onto the big screen.
Remember the iconic scene from Fellowship of the Ring where the Hobbits duck under a tree to escape the Ringwraiths? You’d think its set in some remote, sweeping forestland, but in fact its a park located in Wellington Central. Yep, Mt Victoria is definitely one of the easiest Lord of the Rings filming locations on this list to find. Just hike up the hill, look out for a LOTR signpost and you’ll soon recall the icy fear you felt when you first saw the ghostly hand of the Witch King on the big screen.
3. Nelson Tasman
Nelson Tasman had everything Peter Jackson was looking for when it came to spectacular natural diversity. From the towering trunks of Chetwood Forest, where Aragorn leads the Hobbits from Bree, to the stark alpine karsts of Dimrill Dale where the Fellowship escape the Mines of Moria. Then there’s the water scenes: from Legolas and Taruiel meeting at Salisbury falls to the mind-blowing barrel scene along Pelorus River (both in The Desolation of Smaug).
Canterbury is home to Edoras, Rohan’s epic capital city. And like many of the locations on this list, this place has beauty to burn. From the clarity of its lakes to the majesty of its mountains, it’s not hard to picture Rohan’s riders galloping over the lush plains. And that’s why this is a must-visit Lord of the Rings filming location.
5. Mackenzie Country
Probs the most epic battle of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy takes place on the fabled Pelennor fields, where the forces of Mordor took on the armies of Gondor and Rohan (you may remember Legolas felling a massive elephant as only a badass elf can). Head to the town of Twizel to see the sweeping fields ahead (and maybe check out the mountain climbing and heli-biking whilst you’re there – this is New Zealand after all).
6. Southern Lakes
Te Anau is famed as a base for some of New Zealand’s very best hikes, as well as the gateway to the ethereal beauty of Milford Sound. But it’s also near to some pretty memorable Lord of the Rings filming locations. From Kelper Mire, where Jackson shot the grim landscapes of the Dead Marshes (with those creepy water ghost things), to the Mavora Lakes, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli chase Merry and Pippin’s trail. Even if you’re not keen to scope out every filming location, this is one of the most beautiful regions in the world. It’s a no-brainer.
7. The Hauraki Gulf
There’s a new kid on the block. Amazon’s outrageously expensive series, Rings of Power to be precise. And, luckily for us, it comes with many more spectacular Lord of the Rings filming locations, including the Hauraki Gulf just east of Auckland. Also known as Tikapa Moana, it features some spectacular volcanic beaches and coves – perfect for those sweeping shots of Galadriel and Halbrand reaching the shores of Middle Earth.
8. Coromandel Peninsula
When you see this sweeping stretch of coastline, home to mountains, native rainforest and spotless beaches, it makes perfect sense why Amazon scoped it out to shoot the Rings of Power. It has everything you’d want in a Lord of the Rings filming location: soaring scale, jaw-dropping beauty, and a rich gold-mining history that even dwarves would be proud of. Try and spot it next time you watch the show. Or better yet – visit there yourself.
9. Mount Kidd
One of the most remote regions in New Zealand’s Southlands, the foot of Mount Kidd provides ample waterfalls, cobalt lakes and rugged trails that could have been plucked great from Tolkien’s brain. Perfect then, for Amazon’s Rings of Power, where it shows off its dreamy looks in numerous scenes.