The Best Middle-earth Experiences in New Zealand

New Zealand has a lot going for it. Here, you can visit action-packed cities full of museums, art galleries, heritage trails and more. But for the past 20 years, something else has been bringing travellers from all corners of the globe to the island nation. The adventures of the fellowship and the land of Middle-earth. Since its release in 2001, the ‘Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy (and the since-released ‘Hobbit’ trilogy’) has captured the hearts and minds of countless people. From those already familiar with the books, to movie fan exclusives, everybody wanted to see the land that created Middle-earth on film. It’s hard to imagine those movies set anywhere else, with the snowy peaks, river carved valleys and lush green meadows making New Zealand the absolute perfect fit for Tolkien’s imagined world. New Zealand tourism was onto this right away, with almost every tourism ad of the last 20 years featuring some aspect of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit Trilogy. 

The filming locations for Lord of the Rings are spread out over both Islands and encompass the best of New Zealand scenery. There are tours that will take you to remote parts of New Zealand, to locations used in the film for only brief moments, but if you want to get the best Middle-earth experiences and pack as much into the time you have, then there are a few locations to start with, before getting into the smaller details of the movies.

Door and yard of a Hobbit home in Hobbiton.
Hobbiton Movie Set Tours

The Hobbiton Movie Set Tours are usually the first stop for any Middle-earth experience. During the production of the Hobbit Trilogy, the New Zealand Government and Peter Jackson had the brilliant idea to build the Shire and Hobbiton sets to last forever, with the original Lord of the Rings Hobbit set not only built for the production of the movie. At the Hobbiton Movie Set tours on the North Island, close to Rotorua, you can book several different tours, from the standard walk around to food-based tours for those who desire a feast fit for King Theoden himself. See the Green Dragon Inn, Hobbit holes and rolling pastures of the Shire to start your time in New Zealand. 

Fan fact - many fans wish to create the Nazgul scene in which the Black Rider chases the four Hobbits until they are concealed under a tree root by the side of the road. This scene was not actually shot at the shire, even though it takes place outside the shire. In real life, this scene was shot just outside the studio in Wellington, at the base of Mount Victoria.

The Hobbiton Movie Set Tours are a 34-minute drive from our Hamilton Airport rental car location or a 56-minute drive from our Hamilton Airport location.

Tongariro Natural Park volcano.
Tongariro National Park

From the start of the film and the lush green of the Shire, we move to the other end of the Middle-earth scale, Mordor, home to the Great Eye, Mount Doom and Sauron’s legend of orc’s, trolls, and other dark creatures. To encapsulate the atmosphere of Mordor, there was only one place that would suffice - Tongariro National Park. Known for its volcanoes and black sand, it is the spitting image (after some special effects) of what Tolkein described in his books. Tongariro is located close to the centre of the North Island, just south of Lake Taupo. The park offers some of the best walks and hikes in New Zealand, with mountain peaks, valleys, rocky cliffs and rolling fields. See Mount Ngauruhoe, which was used as a stand-in for Mount Doom. Ngauruhoe is a 2,000-year-old mountain and can be climbed by those adventurous enough.

Make sure to bring water and snacks, because a medium-paced hike will take 6-hours from car park to peak (return). There are other sites in the park that were used, such as the scene where Gollum catches his fresh fish (he likes them raw and wriggly) or the point at the start of the ‘Twin Towers’ (2002) film where Frodo and Sam are wandering around unguided as Gollum contemplates his eventual plan for the two Hobbits. The whole park is stunning and a terrific experience regardless of your position on Tolkien or if you are a fan of the books and films.

Tongariro National Park is a 1 hour and 7-minute drive from our Taupo Airport rental car location or a 1 hour and 27-minute drive from our Whangarei Airport location.

Hobbiton and Tongariro National Park are the two most jammed packed locations with others such as Weta Workshop (located in Wellington) offering a close up look at the props and sets of the films, the woods of Wellington used for parks of the Shire, Edoras or as we know it Rohan, and the Putangirua Pinnacles or the Paths of the Dead. Plan your tour of your favourite locations and take off in a rental car, or join a tour group and engage in activities such as horse riding through locations. 

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