A Movie Fan’s Guide to New Zealand

Exploring New Zealand takes on a whole other dimension for movie fans. As a movie fan, you get the extra thrill that comes with being in a location you recognise from one of your favourite scenes. New Zealand is known as “Middle Earth” to many, since the release “the Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movie trilogies. Since the release of these blockbuster movies visitors from all over the world have flocked to New Zealand to take in the majestic scenery showcased in these films.

But, the beautiful and varied landscape that offers filmmakers endless scope for filming locations has led to a myriad of films being made in New Zealand. Some backdrops you might not even realise are in New Zealand. Here is a guide to New Zealand for movie fans covering some of the most famous movies and where they were filmed.

Lord of the Rings

Let’s start with the most obvious. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was filmed all over the country, so there are a lot of places to visit.

North Island

  • Matamata – The Hobbiton movie set is only remaining movie set from Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, it is located in Matamata in the Waikato Region. A short, two-hour drive from Auckland, here you can take a tour and explore rolling hills of The Shire, see the hobbit holes and enjoy a beverage at the Green Dragon Inn.
  • Tongariro National Park – The primary setting for the land of Mordor, Tongariro national park has breathtaking scenery. Mt Ngauruhoe played the part of Mt Doom. The one-day hike known as the Tongariro Crossing which crosses between the summits of Mt Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe has been dubbed one of New Zealand’s best one-day hikes. The Tawhai Falls, also in Tongariro national park was Gollum’s pool.

Tongariro Emerald Lakes

  • Putangirua Pinnacles – Or, “The Dimholt Road” in Lord of the Rings: Return of the king. The Putangirua Pinnacles are in the Aorangi Ranges in the Wairarapa District near Wellington. This landscape of eroded pillar formations is the location where Aragon, Legolas and Gimli first encountered the Army of the Undead.

Putangirua Pinnacles

  • Wellington – Home to a host of filming locations, the easiest to reach is Mount Victoria which can be reached on foot from the city centre. Hobbiton Woods was represented by the forest areas here. Harcourt Park became the Gardens of Isengard and part of the river Anduin was depicted by the Hutt River (between Moonshine and Totara Park). The tranquil Kaitoke Regional Park played the role of Rivendell.
    The suburb of Miramar in Wellington is the home of Weta Workshop and Weta Digital Weta, which were essential to the creation of the films. These sites are not open to visitors, but Lord of the Rings movie fans can experience the Weta Cave.

Related: see our Lord of the Rings Private Tours.

South Island

  • Tasman Region – The Takaka hill was the site to represent the Chetwood Forest where the Hobbits were led to escape the Black Riders. Dimrill Dale was depicted by Mt Owen in Kahurangi National Park (you’ll need to take a helicopter trip to take in this real-life movie set).
  • Mt Sunday – Further south in the Canterbury region, in the high country, the Ashburton area sits Mt Sunday, this was the set (no longer intact) for Edoras, the primary settlement of the Rohan people.

Mt Sunday

  • Twizel – The rough landscape around the town of Twizel is where director Peter Jackson filmed perhaps the most epic battle scene of the Trilogy, The Battle of Pelennor Fields.
  • Franz Joseph Glacier – Hike to the base of the Franz Joseph Glacier, and you will see the rugged mountain landscape that provided the backdrop for the scene where beacons were lit between Gondor and Rohan.
  • The Kawarau Gorge – This is another location used to depict the Anduin river. A rafting trip down the Kawarau Gorge is the best way to take in this phenomenal scenery.
  • Fiordland – Snowden Forest, in Fiordland National Park, played the part of Fangorn Forest. The Waiau River was used to represent parts of the Anduin river, and the surrounding mountains became the rugged country to the south of Rivendell.

The Hobbit

  • Matamata – The Hobbiton movie set used in the Lord of the Rings movies was also used to film the Hobbit trilogy.

Hobbiton, New Zealand

  • Pio Pio – The cliffs and surreal limestone rock formations and the forest at Mangaotaki Rocks in Pio Pio feel like Middle-Earth. This area was the location for Straddles Farm and Trollshaws Forest where various scenes from The Hobbit: The Incredible Journey took place.
  • Turoa, Mt Ruapehu – Turoa is a ski field on Mt Ruapehu that, during the warmer months becomes the tussock fields that provided the setting for Hidden Bay in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
  • Twizel – The scene in The Hobbit: The Incredible Journey where Frodo and his gang were being chased by Wargs was filmed here (the same location for The Battle of Pelennor fields in Lord of the Rings).

The Last Samurai

The village in the movie starring Tom Cruise is in the Uruti Valley in the Taranaki Region, near to the town of New Plymouth. The public road takes you 600 meters from the site, and the station down the road offers tours of the village for a charge.

King Kong

Wellington, the country’s capital, became New York City and also Skull Island in the 2005 remake. Special effects were done by Weta Workshop, also in Wellington.

The Chronicles of Narnia

The most memorable filming location is Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel. Flock Hill in Canterbury was the backdrop of the confrontation between Aslan and the White Witch. Woodhill Forest, near Auckland and Glenorchy in the South Island, are other key locations in the Film.

Cathedral Cove

Vertical Limit

The movie set for this movie set on K2 was filmed at Aoraki Mt Cook, in the Southern Alps and The Remarkables mountain range near Queenstown. All the scenes that were not in the mountains were shot around the beautiful resort town of Queenstown.

Aoraki Mt Cook

Pete’s Dragon

The giant Redwoods of Whakarewarewa forest, Rotorua provided the location for the 2016 Film (special effects also by Weta Digital). The enchanting forest in this movie can be explored during a visit to Rotorua. Follow the forest tracks on the ground for free or pay to explore the forest canopy from the walkway of suspended bridges. Rotorua is included in some of our Lord of the Rings Tours.

Whakarewarewa Forest, New Zealand

There are loads more real-life movie sets to be found all over New Zealand, some more well-known than others. The guides at The Road Trip are experts in finding all the secret spots in New Zealand where Lord of the Rings was filmed, as well as other movies. Many of our Lord of the Rings tours will also take you to areas featured in other movies and we can create an itinerary customised to your interests.

If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand get in touch to talk about how we can make your adventure even more magical with your own private tour of filming locations from some of your favourite movies. Call us at +64 2191 0433, email us at [email protected] or use our contact form.