Middle Earth Adventures
So you’re planning that big Middle Earth holiday? You want to visit Rivendell, Lothlorien, Hobbiton, and maybe even Mordor? Well, there’s a lot to do and not much time to do it all, so pack your baggins and let’s head for New Zealand!
OK, first of all you’ll want to consider how long you intend to stay in NZ. It’s a small country, but there is certainly plenty to do – if you are planning on seeing both islands thoroughly then I would recommend at least 2 weeks. And then dates are the next thing to plan, and you’ll need to consider if there is anything in particular that you need to plan around e.g. the ROTK world premiere in Wellington on December 1st! Then you can go ahead and book flights. Depending whereabouts you are in the world, it could be difficult to get a flight to New Zealand (unless you live next door in Australia); you’ll have to find a suitable airline, and perhaps take a connecting flight. Once the flights are sorted and booked, then you can start planning where you want to go, and how you are going to travel!
In New Zealand there are several travel options – car hire, motorhome hire, coaches, trains, inter-island ferries, and air travel. Hiring a car or motorhome is great, enabling you to set your own pace and see whatever you want – the roads in New Zealand are great, often with spectacular scenery! There are some coaches that allow you to buy a pass, and then get on and off wherever you want around the islands, or else you can book a certain journey. There are also guided coach tours of New Zealand (Red Carpet Tours does special Lord of The Rings tours). You can go by train around the islands; there are some great scenic lines. As for getting between the North and South Island, you can fly (depending on where you want to go), or you can take one of the Inter-Island ferries, which travel from Wellington to Picton and back. If you are really serious about seeing LOTR sites, then I would suggest car or motorhome, as most of the sites are relatively remote.
There are endless options for accommodation as well – backpackers, youth hostels, caravan/camping parks, motels, hotels, lodges and so on. If you are going by motorhome, you can simply roll into a caravan/camping park at night and pay a small fee for site use. Otherwise, it really depends on your budget and if you are looking for cooking facilities as well. On my trip I stayed in tourist parks, which had cooking facilities, separate bedrooms and were generally quite comfortable. Wherever you stay, I’m sure you’ll find the Kiwis are all very friendly!
Okay, so you’ve worked out how long you’re staying, booked your flights and decided on accommodation and transport? Then lets go visit Middle Earth!
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and many of the cast had houses in or near the city, which has been dubbed the “home” of the Lord of the Rings films. There are endless attractions and sites in Wellington. The National Museum, Te Papa, is very popular, and played host to the Two Towers Exhibit for several months from December last year. The cable car is a very popular attraction, offering spectacular city views. There is also the Zoo, the Botanic Gardens, plenty of galleries and museums, as well as activities such as rollerblading, kayaking or windsurfing on the harbour, and fishing trips. Just one warning about Wellington; it has been nicknamed “Windy Wellington” and it certainly lives up to it’s reputation!
If you’re headed for the ROTK Premiere on December 1st, then you’ll be bound for the Embassy Theatre. It’s a beautiful old cinema, which has been restored and renovated in the past, on Kent Terrace. If you’re looking for a good spot on the red carpet, get in early! Last year there were people arriving and claiming their spots from 8am, with the premiere at 6:30pm! And expect a lot of people, and by that I mean a lot! And if you’re seeking accommodation, the Wellington City YHA is just nearby, offering good, cheap accommodation, suitable for premiere day!
There are a lot of film sites in and around Wellington including:
– “Get off the road!” From FOTR, it is the place where the four hobbits hid under a tree from a Black Rider. To see this location head to Mt Victoria situated right in the heart of Wellington.
– Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith were filmed at Dry Creek Quarry in Upper Hutt, just outside Wellington. The Quarry is closed to the public, so you can only look from the outside.
– The River Anduin was filmed on several rivers throughout NZ, one of which being the Hutt river at Poet’s Corner, just north of Wellington.
– The gardens of Isengard were filmed at Harcourt Park, again just north of Wellington. This was also where orcs were filmed felling trees around Isengard.
– Everyone’s favourite elven refuge, Rivendell, was filmed at Kaitoke Regional Park, not far to the north.
– The farewell to Lorien scene was filmed at Fernside, Featherston. The only way to see this location is by staying in the house at Fernside.
The cast and crew spent a lot of time in Wellington, and a few other LOTR-related sites to see would be:
– Marine Parade, just on the outskirts of Wellington, where a number of the cast lived, and Peter Jackson is rumoured to be building a rather spectacular house somewhere around this area.
– The Chocolate Fish Café, which was one of the favourite hangouts of the cast. It is famous for being one of the only cafes around to have a major road running through the middle of it, with chairs in the café itself, and on the other side of the road next to the water. If you are in Wellington at premiere time, who knows, you might even be lucky enough to see some of the cast dropping in!
– Lyall Bay, where many of the cast learnt to surf, and spent a lot of time.
OTHER NORTH ISLAND SITES:
Heading North from Wellington, Otaki Gorge was the location of some of the “Leaving the Shire” scenes. While the actual location is on private property, I strongly recommend taking the drive through the gorge; it is very spectacular. Just a warning though, the road is dirt, and very narrow with a sheer drop on one side, so take care – it can be quite nerve racking when a large camper van is heading down the road in the opposite direction!
The Waitarere Forest, on the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington, was the location of Trollshaw and the Osgiliath Woods. If you remember from TTT the woods where Frodo, Sam and Gollum were walking at the very end; that was filmed here in this beautiful forest.
Ohakune is a small skiing town at the base of Mt. Ruapehu. In winter it is a bustle with skiers, however in summer it is relatively quiet. About halfway up Mt. Ruapehu (on the Ohakune side) is the location for the scene in TTT where Gollum is trying to catch a fish, and Sam calls him Stinker, which leads to an argument between Frodo and Sam. It was also used to portray parts of Ithilien. If you visit this site, make sure you are aware of weather conditions, and even in the middle of summer wear very warm clothes – especially if visiting on one of NZ’s many rainy days!
TONGARRIRO NATIONAL PARK
Tongarriro is a very popular national park, featuring three volcanoes – Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Tongarriro, and Mt. Ngaugruhoe. The Whakapapa ski fields on Mt. Ruapehu became Mordor and Emyn Muil. They were used in portraying the prologue battle in FOTR, and Frodo and Sam struggling through Emyn Muil in TTT. It is an instantly recognisable location, and well worth a visit. But remember, weather conditions are changeable and treacherous, so wear suitable warm clothes, check weather reports, and if possible, inform one of the staff at the Café that you are going to take a look. And remember, no matter how warm it is on the ground, it is going to be cold and very, very windy up in the mountains; when I visited the site in the middle of summer it snowed!
Matamata is a small rural town near Hamilton, and one sheep farm here became Hobbiton. “Rings Scenic Tours” does Hobbiton tours for NZ$50, and it is your only way to see Bag End, the Party Tree, and much more. It is a brilliant tour; you see everything from the technical car park to the place where the Green Dragon was. The tour guides will tell you countless behind-the-scenes stories about all the filming, building and other work that took place at the farm. And on the way back to the tourist information centre, if you’re lucky, they will stop at a shop which will give you an ice cream as big as your head for NZ$2.50 (although most people opt for something slightly smaller)!
There are several more remote locations in the north of the South Island, including Chetwood Forest, South of Rivendell and Dimrill Dale. Chetwood forest is located at Takaka Hill, a beautiful location; at the summit you can obtain views of the Golden and Tasman Bays. South of Rivendell, the location where the Fellowship hid from the crebain, is located at Mt Olympus. This site can only be reached by helicopter, and Nelson Helicopters offer a LOTR package that will fly you over Takaka Hill, Mt Olympus and Mt Owen, the location of Dimrill Dale where the Fellowship mourned the loss of Gandalf.
MT POTTS STATION
Everyone who has seen The Two Towers will no doubt have fallen in love with the spectacular scenery of Edoras. Well, although I can’t speak from experience, I imagine it would be even more amazing in the flesh! Mt Potts Station is in the Rangitata Valley, in the Canterbury region, and offers you an amazing view of Mt Sunday, the hill on which Edoras and Meduseld were created. The mountains are beautiful, as is all the scenery, and you can easily imagine the riders of Rohan galloping across the plains to the summit. Accommodation is available at Mt Potts Station in alpine cottages or a lodge, for very reasonable prices. Just one warning, the area around Mt Sunday is basically a “wind tunnel” (as Bernard Hill described it), with winds reaching up to 180km/h!
A piece of privately owned land in Tarras was used to portray part of the “Flight to the Ford” scene, with Arwen and the Nazgul weaving through the trees to reach the ford. Some of the location can be seen from the road, although the actual location is private property.
The area around Wanaka was used for various shots of the Fellowship heading south from Rivendell, and the Southern Alps were used as a backdrop for Gandalf’s rescue on Gwaihir from Orthanc. Wanaka is a charming town on Lake Wanaka, and the nearby ski fields make it a popular spot in winter. If you get the chance, stop by the Cadrona Hotel, one of New Zealand’s oldest pubs, in the Cadrona Valley. Ian Brodie guarantees that one can’t help but reminded of the Prancing Pony!
The Kawarau River, with spectacular cliffs enclosing it, was used to portray the Argonath. It can be viewed from the road that leads to Chard Farm Winery, just opposite the A.J. Hackett bungy jump. I strongly recommend a stop, but take care on the very narrow road – and please, stop and pull over to let those big motor homes go past! Extreme Green Rafting offers you the chance to raft down the Anduin, or if you prefer a softer option, the Kawarau jet will take you past the same spot. Both operate from Queenstown.
Arrowtown is a lovely little old gold panning township, just outside Queenstown. The Arrow River was used, along with Skippers Canyon, to portray the Ford of Bruinen. To reach the location, you will have to wade through a bit of the river- but only ankle deep. However, be warned that even in the midst of summer, the water is icy cold, and wading in early in the morning, as my group so adventurously did, will probably result in pain! But while your feet recover from the pain, enjoy something to eat from the local bakery – it’s good enough for any hobbit!
Skippers Canyon provided the other half of the location for the Ford of Bruinen. The road to reach the site is closed to rental vehicles, as it is often dangerous, however some local 4WD operators will take you there, and it is definitely a spectacular view!
Queenstown is my favourite place in New Zealand; the scenery is spectacular (with snow or without!), the people are friendly and it is the adventure capital of the world. Located on Lake Wakatipu, with the stunning background of the Remarkables, it is simply breathtaking. One absolute must-do in Queenstown is the Gondola trip to the top of Bob’s Peak; one of my abiding memories of my trip was sitting up in the bar, watching the sun set over Queenstown, the Remarkables and the Lake. It is truly the sort of scenery that makes you want to live there! There are so many activities and sites in and around Queenstown – you could stay there a week and still not have seen everything! For adrenaline junkies, like myself, there is not one, but four bungy jumps to choose from, including the highest in New Zealand, the Nevis Highwire Bungy. This was the bungy that Orlando Bloom and Dominic Monaghan chose to attempt, and jumping from a cable car suspended 400 feet above the Nevis River is not something a lot of people can boast to have done! Then of course there is jet boating, white water rafting or sledging, Fly By Wire, high ropes courses, river surfing, canyoning, paragliding and parachuting, mountain biking, wind surfing, water skiing, catarmarans and yachting, horses, rock climbing, mopeds, aerobatic flights, scenic flights (by plane or helicopter) or hot air balloon flights. And then of course in Winter Queenstown becomes the ultimate ski resort! So there is definitely something for everyone in Queenstown.
There are several sites around Queenstown, with Skippers Canyon, the Kawarau River and Arrowtown (see above) all not far away. Then there are a few more within half hours drive from Queenstown:
Deer Park Heights
This hill, about twenty minutes from Queenstown, was used for several locations, including the shots of the Rohan refugees making their way to Helm’s Deep, as well as some publicity shots for Gandalf, amongst other things. It makes a nice place for a picnic, and you can get up close to tame deer, goats and llamas.
The Remarkables ski field was used for a shot of the Fellowship heading down Dimrill Dale to Lothlorien. This location can be reached by car and then a further hike, or with Heliworks helicopters, who offer several Lord of The Rings flights.
Closeburn, just 8km from Queenstown, was one of three locations used for the portrayal of Amon Hen; here the Seeing Seat was built, and some of the battle was filmed. Although the actual site is not accessible to the public, it is still worth stopping in; it makes a great place for a picnic by the lake!
Twelve Mile Delta
Twelve Mile Delta is 4km past Closeburn, and was used to portray parts of Ithilien. It is native New Zealand bush. There are several walking or mountain biking tracks that will allow you to see the locations.
Glenorchy is a tiny town situated about an hour’s drive from Queenstown, at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. Some areas outside Glenorchy were used for the filming of three sites: Lothlorien, Amon Hen and Isengard.
Nan Curunir (The Wizard’s Vale) was filmed in a large field with the backdrop of Mt Earnslaw, not far from Glenorchy. Dart River Safaris will take you there, or you can reach the site by car. Dart River Safaris involve jet boating, 4WDs and trekking through the beautiful area of the Dart River Valley. It’s a whole day adventure, and wholly enjoyable.
Lothlorien and Amon Hen were filmed in a beech forest called Paradise, about 20km from Glenorchy. The forest was used to portray the Fellowship entering Lothlorien, and for the Amon Hen fight sequence, and the death of Boromir. Dart Stables offers an overnight trek that will take you through amazing country to Paradise, where you will stay overnight in small huts, before returning to Glenorchy the following afternoon. It is your only way to reach the location, and it’s certainly a very magical one at that. The horses are beautiful, well trained and several were used for filming (I was lucky enough to ride Sam, who rides in TTT and ROTK!). The company is great – not only are the guides friendly, but also some of them were extras in the films, and of course, you are not likely to be the only LOTR fanatic on your trip! And the scenery is spectacular. But be warned, a reasonable level of fitness is recommended, as you will ride for 6-8hrs per day, and you are likely to feel some pain in the rear regions after the adventures!
The Mavora Lakes, a few hours drive from Queenstown and about one and a half or so from Te Anau, were used to portray Fangorn Forest, Nen Hithoel and the Silverlode River. The edge of Fangorn Forest can be found along the unpaved road into the lakes, Nen Hithoel can be found at the southern end of North Mavora (and also the place where Merry and Pip hid from the Uruks) and the Silverlode River can be found at the swing bridge at the northern end of South Mavora (warning: this bridge can only handle one person at a time!). It’s a beautiful place, well worth a trip.
Te Anau is located on Lake Te Anau, and is the gateway to Fiordland, with trips from here leaving to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, some of the most spectacular places in New Zealand (as argued by the countless tourists that visit each year). There are a few sites around Te Anau.
The bush off Takaro road, 15km or so outside Te Anau, was used to portray the Three Hunters searching in Fangorn Forest.
Waiau River and Kepler Track
The Waiau River was one of several used to portray the River Anduin. Energetic fans can undertake the three-to-four-day Kepler Track, while others can obtain views via the Te Anau/Manapouri Highway.
These lakes in the mountains near Lake Manapouri were used to portray the journey south from Rivendell, as well as Arwen’s flight to the ford. These locations can only be seen with Heliworks helicopter flights.
CENTRAL OTAGO REGION
Central Otago has spectacular scenery, and was used for the portrayal of Rohan in two areas.
The Ida Valley was used for the portrayal of Rohan extensively; involving the Uruks, Merry and Pippin, Eomer and his riders, and the Three Hunters, as well as many other general shots. It can be reached by road from Alexandra.
Poolburn Dam, in the Ida Valley, was used to portray the burning of the Westfold, and where Morwen sent her two children, Freda and Eothain, to raise the alarm at Edoras. It is a popular fishing site, and for general recreational activity.
The Lonely Planet Guide to NZ
Ian Brodie’s LOTR Location Guidebook (trust me- it will become your best friend!)
www.purenz.com General NZ information, a good starting point.
www.redcarpet-tours.com Red Carpet Tours, for those wanting to see the film sites on an organised tour
www.wellingtonnz.com Provides excellent information about Wellington
www.queenstown-nz.co.nz Excellent source of Queenstown tourist information
www.whakapapa.co.nz Information about Tongarriro National Park
www.nelsonhelicopters.co.nz Nelson Helicopters official website
www.mtpotts.co.nz Mt Potts Station information
www.extremegreenrafting.com Extreme Green Rafting, for information about rafting the Anduin
www.hobbitontours.com Tours of the location used for Hobbiton in Matamata
www.fernside.co.nz For visitors interested in staying at the location used for “Farewell to Lorien”
www.uhcc.govt.nz Information regarding Upper Hutt, where there are several film sites
www.dartriverjet.co.nz Dart River Safari and Funyaks information
www.glenorchy.co.nz Dart Stables information
www.fiordland.org.nz Information regarding Te Anau, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound
There is no shortage of information on the net about New Zealand; this is only a small selection of the wide range of information. Many of these websites also provide helpful links to other sources of information. Good luck with your planning, and whatever you do I hope you enjoy your stay in Middle Earth!