Lord of the Rings New Zealand - Locations, maps and tours

 

Across New Zealand, stunning landscapes of Middle-earth unfold like a pop-up picture book right before your very eyes. But instead of viewing these jaw-dropping locations on the silver screen, New Zealand gives you free access to explore these places at your own pace.

And the best news of all, many of the filming locations from The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies are easily accessible.

So grab your keys, jump in your rental car and let us help you discover the epic landscape of Middle-earth on an epic Lord of the Rings Tour Itinerary

Let's get started!

The Lord of the Rings

Welcome to Middle Earth!

New Zealand LoTR Hobbit filming locations
Lord of the Rings Location Map

Lord of the Rings Filming Locations in New Zealand

1) Hobbiton

One of the best places to begin any Lord of the Rings New Zealand vacation is of course the Hobbiton Movie Set. Located in the agricultural region of Matamata, this permanent ode to Middle-earth is like stepping straight onto the set of one of the blockbuster movies. Located on acres of private farmland, amongst the blooming flowers and happily tweeting birds, sit brightly coloured Hobbit holes in a place so incredible you feel like you could bump into Frodo, Bilbo or Gandalf at any given time. Guided tours depart daily from The Shires Rest and end with a cold drink in a replica of the Green Dragon Inn. You can even watch Hobbiton come to life with twinkling lights as dusk arrives with an evening tour of the set.

Hobbiton

2) Hairy Feet Waitomo

Hairy Feet Waitomo is one of the newest Hobbit locations in New Zealand, and one of the most spectacular. A drive off the beaten track on a winding road through lush native bush brings you to this special location. Private farmland, framed by soaring ancient limestone cliffs, became Trollshaws Forest, is where Gandalf hands Bilbo Baggins the ‘Sting’ sword in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Other scenes, including the colourful arrival of Radagast, the attack of the Wargs and Ocrs and the area where the Company arrives at Staddle Farm, were also shot there. The sociable owners of Hairy Feet Waitomo take small groups on a guided tour of the location and give you the opportunity to have photographs taken with some of the props used in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Hairy Feet Waitomo

3) Mt Doom - Tongariro National Park

No Lord of the Rings New Zealand vacation would be complete without a visit to New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park – the home of the infamous Mt Doom. Of particular significance is the circular cone of Mount Ngauruhoe, the mystical mountain was transformed into Mt Doom, the atmospheric location of Mordor and home to Dark Lord Sauron. The wild volcanic landscapes of this area, complete with sub-alpine tussock and native flora and fauna, are spellbinding and set the scene for Emyn Muil and the Plains of Gorgonath.

Some other filming locations you might recognize inside the Tongariro National Park include:

  • Tukino Ski Field and the Rangipo Desert – on the eastern slopes of Mt. Ruapehu, Tukino was where Frodo, Sam and Gollum look upon the Black Gate of Mordor, and the plains of the Rangipo Desert below were used for many orc army scenes, including where things came to an end at the storming of the Black Gate in The Return of the King
  • Gollum’s Pool: Mangawhero Falls – see the spot where Gollum gleefully catches fish from the Forbidden Pool of Faramir’s Rangers of Ithilien in The Two Towers, just 15 minutes from the town of Ohakune on the road to Turoa ski field. The nearby Tawhai Falls, close to Whakapapa Village, were also used to film these scenes.
  • Whakapapa Ski Area – where Gollum, Frodo and Sam scampered up the Secret Stair into Mordor as the Witch-king’s orc army leave the Dead City of Minas Morgul, and where Isildur cuts the One Ring from Sauron’s finger during the historic Battle of Dagorlad, in the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Ohakune Beech Paddock – for a drastic change from the dark, sinister Mordor landscapes around Tongariro, some peaceful scenes depicting the outskirts of Hobbiton in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey were filmed on these green wooded fields just outside Ohakune.
Mt Doom

4) Weta Workshop - Wellington

Nicknamed ‘Wellywood’ due to the significant role the city has played in the development of the New Zealand film industry, Wellington is a Middle-earth must-do and there are plenty of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit-themed adventures to be found across the city and beyond. There are a variety of half-day tours to choose from, taking in locations like the Hobbiton Woods, the beautiful Rivendell and a tour of the Weta Cave Workshop in Miramar, giving you the chance to experience the inner workings of Sir Peter Jackson’s world.

Weta Workshop Wellington

Some of the most prominent Lord of the Rings filming locations you might recognise around Wellington include:

  • Mt. Victoria – within walking distance of the city center, this accessible forested area became the Outer Shire and Hobbiton Woods for many scenes, including the famous “Get off the road!” scene in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt  – used for sweeping shots of Saruman’s Gardens of Isengard 
  • Kaitoke Regional Park, Upper Hutt – one area signposted and recognizable as Rivendell, where Frodo recovered from the Ringwraith sword attack in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Dry Creek Quarry – it may seem quiet and unassuming now, but this was where the epic Battle of Helm’s Deep was filmed. It’s also where the set for the White City of Minas Tirith was built
  • Waitarere Forest – became Osgiliath Wood, where Gollum, Sam and Frodo walked on after leaving Faramir at Ithilien
Take a Quick Break and see our Scenic Lotr Video

5) Putangirua Pinnacles – Paths of the Dead

The seriously spooky Putangirua Pinnacles are towering pillars of earth located at the very bottom of the North Island. Follow in the footsteps of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli down the Dimholt Road in search of the Paths of the Dead! Often missed by international tourists, these incredible geological wonders look like giant spires reaching for the sky. Standing alongside them in the Aorangi Forest Park, you'll feel the eerie stillness in the air. You can hike to the Pinnacles via two different routes taking between 2-4 hours. Wear sturdy shoes: the Paths of the Dead can be a bit rocky underfoot. Allow a two-hour drive from Wellington or just one hour from Martinborough.

Putangirua Pinnacles – Paths of the Dead

6) Nelson & the 'One Ring'

Nelson, a sun-drenched region known for its white-sandy beaches, delectable wines, craft beers, and sublime seafood is the perfect place to start the South Island leg of your Lord of the Rings New Zealand adventure. Nelson is home to jeweller Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmith, given the task of creating 40 replicas of the famed One Ring for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. At the shop, you can view some of the rings created for the movies, or buy your own slice of Middle-earth with authentic copies for purchase.

The One Ring Nelson

8) Pelorus River – Dwarves in Barrels

The Pelorus River was the fabulous backdrop for the famous Dwarves in Barrels scene in The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug. This wild and beautiful river flows through the South Island's Marlborough region at the top of the South Island. Recreate the epic journey for yourself (in a kayak, not a barrel!) on a river expedition following the same route as the dwarves in the movie. Or if dry land is more your thing, take a 3-4 hour trek through lush podocarp forests, over a swing bridge and past thundering waterfalls with the sounds of rushing water and native birdsong ringing in your ears.

Pelorus River the Barrel Run kayak tour

7) Tasman region – 

Heading west out of Nelson towards the Tasman region’s stunning Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay you will cross Takaka Hill, which was used as Chetwood Forest in filming The Fellowship of the Ring, where the hobbits and Aragorn (as the ranger ‘Strider’) escaped after averting the Black Riders in the village of Bree. 

Dedicate a bit more time to Tasman and you can discover a whole host of famous Lord of the Rings filming sites in the area, including:

  • South of Rivendell, Mt. Olympus Boulder Lake – the dramatic rocky outcrops here are instantly recognisable as the spot where the Fellowship hid from Saruman’s black crows in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Dimrill Dale and Moria, Mt Owen – accessible only via helicopter tour or a challenging walk through Kahurangi National Park, this rugged location became Dimrill Dale and the mountains of Moria, where the bereft Fellowship flee Moria and the Balrog after Gandalf falls in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Salisbury Falls – also inside Kahurangi National Park, these cascading falls on the Aorere River are where Legolas and Tauriel met before arriving in Lake-town in The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug.
  • Weatherhills, Kaihoka Station – not open to the public but accessible by beautiful horseback tour, this private farm was used as the setting for the destroyed farmhouse that Bilbo and the others come upon in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

10) Mt Potts Station / Mount Sunday: EDORAS

Who can forget this iconic Two Towers movie scene: as Eowyn leaves the Golden Hall of King Theodin, the flag of Rohan comes loose and soars away over a desolate landscape as all hope seems lost. On the sheer-sided hill of Mount Sunday no trace of the Golden Hall movie set remains, but its ghost lives on at the hauntingly beautiful Mt Potts High Country Station, where Tolkien's Edoras came to life. Only 2.5 hours from Christchurch, it's a location any Lord of the Rings fan must visit while travelling the South Island. Channel your inner Eowyn experience Mt Sunday's spectacular 360 degree views with a guided 4WD tours departing from Christchurch or Methven. Specially designed for Lord of The Rings fans, you can even take your own iconic Mt Sunday selfie with a replica Rohan flag!

4WD journey to Edoras

9) Mount Gunn – Ered Nimrais and the Lighting of the Beacon Scene

Even by epic Middle-earth and Lord of the Rings standards, few landscapes are as dramatically striking as those used to depict the lighting of the beacons scene across the Ered Nimrais (or White Mountains) in The Return of the King. But unlike the fictional mighty mountain range that links Rohan with Gondor in Tolkien’s world, the breathtaking mountains in the film actually exist – and they are here, on the West Coast of the South Island at Mount Gunn. You can access viewing points over the locations used in filming by hiking a section of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley access track. Alternatively, several companies offer scenic flights over this stunning region. A real way to get a feel for how it is in the sweeping aerial shots in the film!

 

11) Mackenzie District – High Country Highlights

The Mackenzie District High Country of the central South Island is home to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook, and plenty of breathtaking landscapes. It’s an especially good addition to any Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit road trip in New Zealand if you’re driving from Christchurch and Canterbury to Queenstown or Central Otago, because it’s on the way! 

You should recognise the stunning, glacial-blue waters of Lake Pukaki,  in front of Mt Cook, as the location of Lake-town in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Only 15 minutes further on, just outside the town of Twizel, you’ll find the golden fields and rolling hills that laid the backdrop for the rousing Ride of the Rohirrim and epic Battle of Pelennor Fields at the climax of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The location is on private farm land and tours can be arranged, but you get more than a feel for it from the Pukaki Canal Road.

 

Mt Potts LoTR Filming Locations

12) Queenstown District - A Hobbity Feast of Locations

Surrounded by snowy mountains, endless lakes and rushing rivers, you'll soon see why so many Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie scenes were filmed around our Adventure Capital. Here are some highlights:

•    Skippers Canyon: where Arwen fought off the Black Riders
•    Lake Alta: Dimril Dale, where the Fellowship escape from the Mines of Moria
•    Kawarau Gorge: where the Fellowship sail between The Pillars of the Argonath
•    Paradise: the Gardens of Isengard
•    Earnslaw Burn: Rivendell (The Hobbit)

Some locations are easier to access than others, and there are companies specialising in 4WD and helicopter tours of the hard-to-reach places. If you can linger a bit longer, combine your love of Middle Earth with some classic Queenstown adventure activities! The Kawarau Gorge is home to the world's first commercial bungy jump site, and you can ride through the heart of Isengard (Paradise) on a half day horse trek.

13) Glenorchy region – Isengard and more 

Just a short drive or boat ride further on from Queenstown at the head of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is well worth a visit for its stunning location alone, as well as its access to world-class hiking routes through the Mount Aspiring National Park World Heritage Area including the Routeburn, Greenstone-Caples and Rees-Dart tracks. 

For visiting Lord of the Rings lovers, though, it’s a must. Among many incredible Lord of the Rings film sites surrounding Glenorchy, you can find:

  • Isengard: feel like you’re strolling through the Gardens of Isengard in Glenorchy and Paradise, or stop at the Isengard Lookout on the Glenorchy-Routeburn Road for the best spot to take in the Dart Valley, Saruman’s on-screen home
  • Lothlorien: 20 minutes up the Dart River valley from Glenorchy, a native beech forest near Paradise became the magical forests of Lothlorien, the “fairest part of Middle-earth” and home of the elven queen Galadriel
  • Mount Earnslaw: the sweeping north-western slopes featured as the intro for Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog in the dramatic opening scenes of The Two Towers, while Earnslaw Burn was also used as Rivendell and the Misty Mountains Paths in The Hobbit trilogy.
  • Closeburn: see Amon Hen, where Merry and Pippin were captured and the Fellowship were split up after the Uruk-Hai attack at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, as well as where Frodo, Sam and Gollum make camp at Ithilien in The Two Towers
  • Twelve Mile Delta: where Frodo and Sam marveled at the giant oliphants and saw their battle with the Rangers of Gondor in Return of the King, and where Sam famously scoffed at Gollum for not knowing how to cook potatoes in The Two Towers!
Glenorchy scenes from LOTR

14) Lake Wānaka

The jaw-dropping landscapes around Lake Wānaka and the Southern Alps were used for many different scenes. Simply staring out over the waterfront from the town center, you can see the majestic backdrop of where Gandalf was rescued from Orthanc by the giant eagle (Gwaihir), while an area around the small farming settlement of Tarras became Tolkien’s Great East Road, where Arwen sped away from the Black Riders with a poisoned Frodo toward the Ford of Bruinen. Driving the other direction out of Wānaka through the Cardrona Valley and the Crown Range, you can see several impressive film sites including the ‘Seat of Knowing’ (Amon Hen), landscapes of Dimril Dale, and (imagine) the River Anduin’s imposing (computer-generated) Pillars of Argonath. 

15) Poolburn Reservoir – Plains of Rohan

The rock–strewn, tussock-lined Maniototo Plain in Central Otago is surely the closest thing on Earth to Middle-earth’s rolling golden Plains of Rohan. It should be no surprise, then, to discover that Sir Peter Jackson decided to use the breathtaking Poolburn Reservoir, just outside the Central Otago town of Alexandra, as a prominent Lord of the Rings filming location. Instantly eye-catching by its sparkling blue waters, marbled by creamy swirls of ice, this stunning lake and the surrounding landscape of Rough Ridge was used as the setting for the refugees from Edoras crossing Rohan, before being attacked by orcs and wargs in The Two Towers.

16) Fiordland - Welcome to Middle Earth

Fiordland National Park could easily be renamed "Middle Earth": the entire 12,000 square kilometres of this World Heritage Area could have leapt from the pages of a Tolkien novel. This popular Southland tourist doubled for a huge number of Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit locations including:

•    The Dead Marshes - where Gollum pulls Frodo from the ghost-filled waters (Kepler Mire)
•    Fangorn Forest - magical home of Treebeard and the Ents (Snowdon Forest)
•    The Anduin River - where the Fellowship bid farewell to the elves of Lothlorien (The Waiau River)

Base yourself in Te Anau and explore by helicopter, jet boat or on foot. To truly immerse yourself in Middle Earth, grab your backpack and take a multi-day hike on the Milford Track. Hiking through ancient forests, past cascading waterfalls and misty mountains, you can't get much closer to a Hobbit's journey. (There are day walk options too if you just want a little taster!)

17) Southland / Mavora Lakes – the Limits of Middle Earth

Just over the hill from Te Anau and Fiordland National Park – and just as enticing for visiting Tolkien fans – is the less-touristy area of Mavora Lakes. Here you can find an impressive number of recognisable Lord of the Rings filming sites. Among them are:

  • Nen Hithoel – at North Mavora Lake, where the Fellowship made their fatal camp on the River Anduin at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, where they were ambushed by the Uruk-Hai 
  • Fangorn Forest – where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli discover the mound of dead orcs, and that Merry and Pippin wriggled free from them in The Two Towers 
  • Lothlorien – on the Mararoa River at South Mavora Lake, where the Fellowship depart the elven realm on the River Anduin
Fiordland LOTR filming locations

The perfect Self-Drive Lord of the Rings vacation:

A 14-day self-drive expedition is a perfect way to enjoy an unexpected Lord of the Rings New Zealand adventure. Beginning your journey in Auckland – New Zealand’s City of Sails – in the North Island it is approximately 2.5 hours of scenic drive through rich agricultural landscapes to reach the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata in the Waikato region.

Hairy Feet Waitomo in the small New Zealand farming town of Piopio will be your next stop and takes approximately 2 hours to drive from Matamata. From here your options are endless – and a visit to the geological wonderland of Waitomo Caves, where thousands of twinkling glowworms light the way, is another New Zealand must-do.

A drive to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington will take approximately 5.5 hours and from Waitomo and a breathtaking ferry trip across the Cook Straight (this takes approximately 2.5 hours) will bring you to Picton, a small seafaring town at the top of the South Island.

It takes approximately just 1 hour and 40 minutes to drive from Picton to Nelson, passing through Pelorus home to the barrel run scenes where you will encounter some of New Zealand’s most precious landscapes. At around 9-hours the drive from Nelson to Canterbury is the longest on this suggested itinerary – but this can be broken up stopping in various places along the way.

From the Lake Pukaki area, it’s a 3.5-hour drive back to the ‘Garden City’ Christchurch where you can depart New Zealand.

If you have been waiting to visit Peter Jackson's Middle Earth then click here to see our full range of Lord of the Rings Tours

Or, you can message our LOTR experts directly and they will help you put together (and book) your own, personalized dream New Zealand adventure.

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Elizabeth Marshall
By
Elizabeth Marshall
: 26 Mar 2015 (Last updated: 8 Jan 2024)

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