by the Collected Mutineer
When planning the Collective’s New Zealand road trip, there were two LOTR-related locations that I knew for sure we had to see– Hobbiton and the Weta Workshop. As far as I knew at the time, those were the only two easily accessible places for fans and tourists. I assumed that the other locations, particularly shooting locations, were remote and possibly only reached by helicopter as mentioned a few times in the behind the scenes footage from the original trilogy.
But much to my excitement, I recently learned that there are a great many locations available to pretty much anyone who wants to see them. Of course, there’s a handy book that points all of them out. But to a trained Tolkienite eye, some of these places will be instantly recognizable. Stepping foot (or laying eye) on these spots is like walking into a dream. If you’re a fan of the films as well as the books, being able to walk in Middle-earth is one of the most surreal and beautiful things you can do. The Collective crew was nearly overwhelmed by how much all of New Zealand looks like the films–but of course, visiting the locations themselves is even more exciting.
Here are my top five LOTR related locations to visit the next time you’re on the North Island, mainly because we just saw them in person ourselves! (Please note that I’m not including the South Island, as I have not been there yet.) While there are day tours available for many places, like Hobbiton or the Hairy Feet Scenic Film Location Tour, driving there yourself is part of the experience. If you’re able to rent a car (and are okay with driving on the left side of the road–it’s easier than it looks), do so! The scenery is some of the best in the world.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. -Tolkien
I’m not sure that words can properly describe what it’s like to go to Hobbiton. The location for the Shire, which was used in both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is located on a working farm, complete with rolling green hills and pastures full of New Zealand sheep. The set was originally torn down after the first trilogy but was rebuilt in painstaking detail for TH films. Each hobbit hole is unique; each garden is full of real vegetables; you even get to drink a pint at the Green Dragon if you want. It’s easy to imagine Bilbo or Frodo in this idyllic setting, and I’m not going to lie–I got emotional.
From the vistas of Pandora to the slick suits of Iron Man, Weta Digital has been at the forefront of cinema’s most groundbreaking and stunningly beautiful visual effects.
Located in the capital city of Wellington, the Weta Cave and Weta Workshop is great for fans who admire the fine detail work that went into the creation of the films. Weta designed and manufactured everything from prosthetics to weaponry and everything in between. Want to see Eowyn’s sword or a life-size troll? Then you definitely need to come here. It’s a wonderful behind the scenes glimpse at visual effects–both digital and literal.
Therefore ere the Third Age was ended the Elves perceived that the Ring of Sapphire was with Elrond, in the fair valley of Rivendell, upon whose house the stars of heaven most brightly shone. -Tolkien
A short drive from Wellington, Kaitoke Regional Park was the main location for the Elven city of Rivendell. While a lot of the structures were added in post-production, several sets were used here–not to mention the scenery itself. While the sets no longer exist, you can still see trees, pathways, and similar things featured in the films. For example, there’s a particular tree stump that may look familiar to many, as well as a mossy knoll. Not sure what I’m talking about? No worries–everything is marked and described on placards for visitors. And the best part? There’s a replica of the door to Rivendell, from which we see the Fellowship depart. It’s about half the size of the original, but still fairly impressive. It’s the perfect spot for cosplayers!
Over the lip of the little dell, on the side away from the hill, they felt, rather they saw, a shadow rise, one shadow or more than one. They strained their eyes, and the shadows seemed to grow. Soon there could be no doubt: three or four tall black figures were standing there on the slope, looking down on them. -Tolkien
While you can’t visit the exact location of Weathertop, it doesn’t really matter because this entire stretch of the country pretty much all looks the same. Similar to Rivendell, the scenery and natural land were used, and the ruins were implanted later in post-production. These hills and outcrops of limestone are stunning to see in person–although getting there is a little more difficult than other locations. The roads are narrow, curvy, and a lot of the land is privately owned, which means you can’t really go traipsing anywhere.
Frodo gave a cry, and there was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring. -Tolkien
I have a confession–when we first saw Mount Ngauruhoe, we didn’t realize what it was. We thought that the majority of Mordor was filmed elsewhere and that this was just a cool mountain. Come to find out, Mount Ngauruhoe is an awesome volcano that was digitally manipulated to become Mount Doom. Located in the “desert” area of New Zealand, on the road from Lake Taupo, this sight is hard to miss. We were lucky enough to see it and the accompanying mountains covered with snow!
For more awesome spots that you can see for yourself, check out The Lord of the Rings: Location Guidebook by Ian Brodie. And if you have any questions about anything that our team saw in New Zealand over the last week, hit us up on Twitter!