So, you’ve arrived in New Zealand and now you want to go check out all the places from that series of commercials for the country, whatsitcalled, oh yes, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit! That’s exactly what I thought when I got there, so I went out and got myself a guidebook which became rather like a bible to me as we went along: The Hobbit Location Guidebook. It also comes for Lord of the Rings, and I’m kind of thinking I’ll get that one when I return some day. These are the places that we managed to visit on the North Island:
This is the place that was used for filming one of the more extreme parts of the dwarves-in-barrels-in-river segment in the Hobbit. It’s actually a dam where the water is led out a couple of times a day, and it does look quite wild when you see it going from nothing to crazy in a few minutes. We were however most of all amused by two men in canoes who tried to sail through the rapids – the canoes had different intentions and carried on without the men most of the time.
This was quite expensive, something like 70 dollars for a 2 hour round tour, but if you’re a fan I’d say it’s worth it. It starts out with a slow bus ride from the Tourist Farm out to the actual set, where the driver quite entertainingly tells about what you can see in the landscape, movie facts and more. Arriving at Hobbiton your tour guide takes over, leading you through the area.
She was very knowledgeable, and even though there were absolute tons of people – 2000 people going through each day in high season – it was still thoroughly enjoyable. It really has that atmosphere that you connect with the Shire.
The ticket included a visit and a drink at the Green Dragon at the end of the round trip, with the option of purchasing a light meal as well. I went for the ginger beer and a scone, my partner for a special ‘Hobbiton’ dark beer and a beef&ale pie, all of which was really good and not very expensive.
My only bad remark was that the whole thing was way too short in duration – you simply don’t have enough time to explore it all when you’re a big group that has to wait for every Japanese tourist to finish taking pictures of their offspring in front of various hobbit set ups. Much later I have learned that there is actually an event called Hobbiton at Night – seeing the village at night, obviously, but then finishing with a proper big meal and as far as I could understand, a bit of a party! That’s definitely something I would go for when I hopefully some day return to New Zealand.
Turoa Ski Field, Car Park 3
Super romantic sounding location, I know. It was at the top of Mt. Ruapehu, the largest volcano in the North Island, and even though the weather didn’t exactly behave it was still an impressive view. Car Park 3 was used for filming the entrance to the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbit. We also found a Lord of the Rings location – that little stream in Ithilien where Gollum tumbles after a fish? Yep, same area, and very recognizable.
Tongariro National Park
The Middle Earth part stretches over the entire park as Mount Ruapehu was used for shooting scenes in Emyn Muil, which we got a bit of a taste of when we visited the Turoa Ski Field mentioned above. As we got above the cloud level it was bitterly cold and windy, and the terrain was not very welcoming.
The landscape that meets you when you commence the Volcanic Loop, the road circling the park, is desertlike and very different from the rest of the island which is otherwise green, hilly and Shire like. That particular desert landscape was used as ‘middle ground’ (not back ground, middle ground!) in the shots of the Lonely Mountain in the first Hobbit movie. When we were walking the Tongariro Crossing we heard many of our fellow walkers telling each other that Mt. Ngauruhoe, a cone shaped volcano the trail passes by, was the actual Mount Doom, but this is not true. It does look like it though.
Denize Bluffs, Piopio
I love that name, Piopio. I can’t help myself saying it like I’m a child pretending to shoot a gun.. Funny name or not, it is a beautiful and very special landscape, and very different from the experience of Hobbiton. First of all because it was only me and one more girl being showed around, which was awesome. Secondly because of the place itself, which was used for a whopping 20 minutes in the first of the Hobbit movies – it’s where they camp before meeting the trolls, and many scenes from the subsequent warg attack is also from there.
The owners have acquired a nice collection of replicas of various character’s swords and staffs, that we were encouraged to take outside and play with. I loved it – the swords were so heavy I could hardly lift one and hold it up in one hand for a photograph! Maybe I should start doing some pushups..
The owner of the place herself will be guiding you around the place. She had brought a whole bunch of movie still photos, so that we could see exactly where the actors had been. She also encouraged me and the other girl to pose in whatever spot an actor had been in: my favourites were posing like Bilbo when he had just received Sting, and sitting on a rock with a picture of Thorin sitting where I am sitting.. I was well amused, and also very impressed with the landscape itself – that very high stonewall in the background of the shots is over 90 meters tall!
In Wellington we went on a proper, full day Lord of the Rings movie tour, where we were put on a bus with a bunch of other people and then driven all over the city to see the places that had been used for filming. This was not so much about beautiful or impressive landscapes but more about appreciating the creativeness needed to evoke fx. Isengard from a city park.
Above: this is were the path up to Isengard was shot. Below: The path beneath Isengard where Gandalf and Saruman have their little stroll. Of course the guides had brought staffs so people could take reenactment pictures!
The guides were excellent and had brought plenty of still photos from the movies to show, so that we could confirm for ourselves that we were in fact in the right place: ‘See that tree over there? You can see that right there behind Gandalf’ and so on.
We saw the river where Aragorn got picked up by his horse after his fall off the cliffs – that was in a suburb behind a row of residential houses and very charming indeed. Rivendell was also in a park right outside the city, where they had put a smaller replica of the gate that the Fellowship is seen walking out of when they set out towards Mordor.
Finally on the city tour we went to Flagstaff Forest on Mt. Victoria, where the hobbits, hiding and fleeing from the Nazgul at the very beginning of the journey, was shot. Really lovely place, and it was fairly easy to recognize the movie spots. The guides spent an enormous amount of time coordinating reenactments using us tour goers as volunteers – kind of funny at first, but it became a little too much in my opinion.
After the city tour we went to the Weta Cave where we got to see a gallery of things that Weta Workshop had been making, not just for Lord of the Rings but a lot of other movies. I was super impressed with the level of detail and artistry in all the props we saw, and really cool that our guide was actually an employee – I think she was working in the digital department.
All in all, there is plenty to see in the North Island even though it might not exactly jump out at you. Make sure to check out my Middle Earth recommendations for the South Island below!
Have you checked out any of these places? What did you think? Comment below!
New Zealand as Middle Earth: South Island
8 Things You Must Do In New Zealand
On Road Tripping in New Zealand
The Beginner’s Guide To Hiking In New Zealand
Horseback Riding In Glenorchy, New Zealand