I received a Christmas card from my mother-in-law in New Zealand that was postmarked “From Middle Earth”. Does that give you an idea of how big a deal the release of the first instalment of The Hobbit movie is in New Zealand?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey topped the US box office for its first three weekends in cinemas, demonstrating the appeal of both the story and some clever film making, even for those who have never read JRR Tolkien’s iconic fantasy novel.
New Zealand’s fabulous landscapes have provided the setting for the filmakers’ Middle Earth in both The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogies. As a result tourists have flocked to visit the film locations and enjoy what is for many a dream travel destination.
From the rolling green hills of the Shire to the snow capped Misty Mountains, New Zealand proved the perfect place to bring Tolkien’s world to life. You can go on all sorts of tours to see the locations and the gorgeous scenery but as a New Zealand native let me introduce you to a few of The Hobbit film locations I know and love.
First stop is the rich farmland of the Waikato province (where your faithful travel blogger happened to grow up). Rarely on the New Zealand tourist trail in the past, it is now home to an unusual attraction. The Hobbiton film set built for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, then repaired and expanded for the filming of The Hobbit trilogy is tucked away on a privately owned farm.
A partnership between LOTR/Hobbit director Peter Jackson and the farm owners have turned the Hobbiton film set into a charming tourism magnet. Take a look at this post on my travel blog for more images and the low down on visiting the Hobbiton film set in New Zealand.
Travelling south in New Zealand you come to the central plateau of the North Island. The volcanic landscapes and mountains here offer marvellous hiking, climbing and skiing. In the LOTR and Hobbit films this is the location for Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mount Doom. Steaming fumaroles, convulsed rocks, surreally-coloured lakes and blackened lava flows are all too real in this active volcanic area – Mt Tongariro erupted again just a few months ago. Mt Doom itself is played by two mountains – Ngaruhoe and Ruapehu.
Wellington has been dubbed “Wellywood” and New Zealand’s tiny but vibrant capital city at the base of the North Island enjoyed hosting many movie stars over the past decade and more of filming. It is the base of LOTR and The Hobbit movie director Sir Peter Jackson, and also home to the Weta Workshop studios responsible for many of the amazing special effects in the films. A surprising number of scenes were also filmed around Wellington, particularly on Mt Victoria. The city has created a guide to show off its sights from The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and other movies.
Heading across Cook Strait to the South Island of New Zealand, the country’s most spectacular scenery is still ahead of you. The area around Twizel and Tekapo in the Otago Province’s MacKenzie country played host to filming of the epic battle at Pelennor Field, as well as the scenes in An Unexpected Journey where Bilbo and the dwarves escape orcs and wargs.
Also in this region is the Mt Cook/Aoraki and Mt Aspiring National Parks, as well as the lakeside town of Wanaka. There was a film base at Wanaka’s Treble Cone ski field and here in the remote and high country were filmed Gandalf’s flight to Rohan with Gwaihir after his rescue from Orthanc. Also the River Anduin, the Pillars of the Argonath were filmed in this southern lakes region.
The Lindis Pass featured as part of Fangorn Forest and then over the Crown Range is Queenstown, overlooked by The Remarkables mountain range, which stood in for Middle Earth’s Misty Mountains. From Queenstown it is an easy drive out to Glenorchy and the valley of the Dart River, passing location settings for Ilithien and where the Amon Hen scenes were filmed.
In New Zealand’s deep south is the huge Fiordland National Park, a land of deep waters and deeper beech forests, marked by craggy mountains. The township of Te Anau beside its picturesque lake was a base for a number of scenes in LOTR including the River Anduin, Fangorn Forest and the Dead Marshes.