Two Nerds, One Van & An Epic Search For Lord of The Rings Shooting Locations
Lord of The Rings Shooting Locations
Caution: The following may be too nerdy for some readers. Discretion is advised.
I’m a nerd. There’s no getting around it.
I am a massive sci-fi and fantasy movie buff. I may or may not have collected Star Wars figures and cards well into my late teens. My favourite board game may or may not be HeroQuest which is essentially Lord of the Rings style RPG. I may or may not have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy at least 10 times and the Star Wars trilogy over 20. I may or may not be able to pick out exactly what scenes were cut from the extended version to the theatrical release edit of both LOTR and Star Wars.
Need more proof? I used to work at Blockbuster. And I enjoyed it! BAAMMM!!!
Thinking about it now I’m actually quite surprised I ever got laid.
Fun Fact: If you ever meet me in person and you quote a line or are wearing a shirt from LOTR, we will become best friends instantly.
Thankfully I was able to bring my lovely wife out of the nerd closet; she is a Star Wars junkie and also adores the LOTR movies. We are both captivated by everything about the Lord of the Rings movies: the story, characters, acting, special effects, costumes, makeup and of course the stunning shooting locations that director Peter Jackson used to create Middle Earth which of course, were in his own home country!
After crisscrossing New Zealand’s North and South Islands, it became abundantly clear that this stunning country that features rolling green hills, snow tipped mountains, limestone pinnacles, spectacular waterfalls and charming little homes with smoke billowing from the chimneys, was the only place that could have been used as Middle Earth. You know it as soon as you get there.
The LOTR trilogy and now The Hobbit trilogy have helped increase tourism in the country to the point where there is actually a Lord of the Rings Minister in the government. It is said that the country saw a 40% increase in tourism between 2000 to 2006 and that approximately 6% of visitors state that LOTR is the main reason for their visit to New Zealand. Peter Jackson is pretty much royalty at this point, even got himself a knighthood.
I wouldn’t say that I wanted to come to New Zealand JUST for LOTR but it definitely ranked high. So as we drove across the two gorgeous islands we made sure to try and find as many Lord of the Rings shooting locations as we could. In order to get to some of the sites Alyse and I had to do things like drive for hours down gravel roads in the middle of nowhere, trek through rain and mud for hours, get our van out of a ditch and battle viscous sandflies in remote locations. Yup, we’re a bit nuts but it was all worth it!
If you are LOTR nerds like us I think you’ll enjoy seeing some of the film locations that we were able to get to on our trip and of course if you have any questions about these sites, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll help you out.
Let the nerdiness commence!
Shooting Location #1: Hobbiton
Physical Location: Just outside of Matamata, North Island
Hobbiton is by far the most visited, most famous and most expensive shooting location you can visit in New Zealand. But it is special due to the fact it is the only shooting location that has sets still in place. Yes, it is a bit pricey, $70 CAD per person but worth it for us.
Even with the big crowds and the cost, I loved Hobbiton. The guides are exceptionally well informed and have lots of trivia nuggets to share with those on the pilgrimage. I thought it was an incredible experience and I honestly would do it again in a heartbeat.
Shooting Location #2: The Dimholt Road
Physical location: Putangirua Pinnacles, North Island
This was definitely the most physically demanding LOTR shooting location that we visited but perhaps the most rewarding as well. To start out with, it was windy as hell and pouring rain and no other tourists could be found for miles. I have to give Alyse credit here because she doesn’t handle the cold as well as I do and still trekked an hour up to the top of a mountain in order to see the limestone pinnacles and then another hour or so back down the mountain and up a river of rock to where Peter Jackson shot the Dimholt Trail. If you recall, this collection of jagged limestone is where Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas ride down to meet the Army of the Dead under the mountain in Return of the King.
Shooting Location #3: Weta Cave
Physical Location: Wellington, North Island
So this is our heaven. From the minute we arrived at Weta Cave to the time we left we felt like we were transported back into our 12 year old selves. The Weta Workshop is the now mega successful special effects company that was responsible for not only the computer generated effects but for all the miniatures, costumes, weapons, and props in the LOTR trilogy.
Unfortunately (for me) we weren’t allowed to take any pictures during the tour because it is a functional studio where they are working on upcoming movies. The tour was fantastic as we were able to learn all about their conceptual design work as well as their costume and props development. They showed us not just LOTR stuff they had done but also props, costumes, weapons and miniatures of other movies like Avatar, King Kong, District 9, and The Chronicles of Narnia to just name a few.
We are such nerds that we were the only ones who stayed for the “Behind the Scenes” movie they showed afterward!
Not only would I go back here to visit, but I desperately want to work here!
Shooting Location #4: Edoras, Rohan
Physical Location: Mt. Sunday, South Island
Without a doubt this shooting location had the most stunning 360 degree panoramic of any place we visited. As we stood on the top of tiny Mt. Sunday, which during shooting had the entire town of Edoras built on it, we couldn’t help but feel like we were in the centre of Middle Earth.
Shooting Location #5: Anduin River (Overhead Shot)
Physical Location: Waiau River, South Island
We almost got stuck in a ditch trying to find this and the next shooting locations which were said to be close to each other. If we had a 4 x 4 we could’ve searched a bit more but we at least caught a glimpse of it.
Shooting Location #6: Dead Marshes
Physical Location: Kepler Mire, South Island
Now I know this doesn’t look like the Dead Marshes that Frodo, Sam and Golum had to cross in The Two Towers but this is the spot that all the LOTR location books say is right. Without 4 x 4 this was good enough for me!
Shooting Location #7: Lothlorien (Home of Wood Elves)
Physical Location: North Mavora Lake, South Island
This is the spot where the Fellowship leave Lothlorien (where the wood elves live) next to the lower Misty Mountains.
Shooting Location #8: River Anduin
Physical Location: Mararoa River Swingbridge at South Mavora Lake, South Island
This is where the Fellowship moor at the end of the journey down the River Anduin and where they are eventually found by the Uruk-hai.
Shooting Location #9: Fangorn Forest
Physical Location: Mavora Lakes, South Island
“What madness drove them in there?”
We couldn’t get up close to the famous shooting location of Fangorn Forest because it is on private land but even from a distance it was impressive. Of course it was the location where Merry and Pippen escape from the Uruk-hai.
Shooting Location #10: The Argonath on the Anduin
Physical Location: Kawarau Suspension Bridge, South Island
Now here we really had to use our imagination as it looked a lot different from the computer altered scenes in the movie, but this is the spot where the Fellowship passes through the incredible Pillars of the Kings.
There were definitely spots we missed due mostly to lack of time but also because the locations were too difficult to reach by camper van. One location stands out in my mind more than any other and that was Mordor. We had actually travelled to Tongariro National Park to where the shooting location was and had every intention of trekking New Zealand’s most famous day hike to see Mt.Reuapehu, Peter Jackson’s inspiration for Mt. Doom, but the weather had other plans.
That’s ok though, we still visited heaps of other fantastic sites, most of them way off the beaten trail so when we left New Zealand, or rather Middle Earth, we felt like we had really done our inner nerds proud.
What are your favourite Lord of the Rings shooting locations?
Ross & Alyse