It should come as no surprise to my readers that my 2020 New Zealand trip had a serious Lord of the Rings focus. My geekdom for LOTR runs strong and my desire to be an elf is far too real. For the longest time, I could only visit Tolkien’s Middle-Earth through books and movies. Thanks to those very same movies, though, my trip to New Zealand was like a portal into my own imagination.
Filming locations for the trilogy spanned over 150 locations across all of New Zealand from the North Island to the South Island. Here I’ll take you through my top 5 Lord of the Rings filming locations to visit while in New Zealand.
5. Hiding from the Black Rider – Mount Victoria, Wellington
“Get off the road, quick!”
This was a relatively easy to get to and find filming location located in the forest on Mount Victoria. I’m sure we all remember the scene when the hobbits jump off the road and under a root to hide from the Black Rider. The large tree trunk (and some of the root system) you see in that scene was a movie prop that was manufactured specifically for this scene, but part of the root overhang is very much real and still accessible on Mount Victoria.
There are tour groups that can take you to the site, but we found it simple enough to find on our own. Parking was a breeze and it was a short walk from the road.
Bonus points, you can also get a little “leaning against the ledge” hobbit photography done here, too.
4. Mount Doom – Mt Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park
Nestled in Tongariro National Park is Mount Ngaurohoe, an active stratovolcano located on the North Island of New Zealand. On a clear day, you can see the almost 2300 m tall Mount Ngaurohoe. I visited on a less than clear day. Sadly, Mt. Doom was surrounded by low clouds. That being said, it didn’t make this National Park any less stunning.
To get to Mount Ngaurohoe, you need to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Don’t worry, though. You don’t need to hike the entire 8 hours required to go one way. We hiked for a couple hours until we realized the visibility was not going to change. At that point, we still had some fun because, I mean, Mt. Doom.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is called the best day hike in New Zealand, so keep in mind that it’ll likely be busy with Tolkien fans and non-Tolkien fans alike. Still definitely well worth a visit.
3. Dimholt Road – Putangirua Pinnacles, Wellington
About 2 hours outside of Wellington, Aorangi Forest Park is in the Wairarapa region of the North Island. The Putangirua Pinnacles was used as the location of Dimholt Road in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. (Trivia, this was not the first time Peter Jackson used the Pinnacles in a film.)
There are a few ways to get to this filming location. We opted to walk for about an hour along the riverbed to get to where we took the below photo (and then backtrack). This location is absolutely breathtaking, but it will take quite a hike to get there. Remember sensible shoes, because those rocks are no joke. During a sunny day, that hour definitely feels longer!
Since this was a harder location to get to, it definitely felt more secluded than other places we visited. Once you arrive at the Pinnacles, though, it transports you somewhere else. It feels otherworldly.
2. Rivendell – Kaitoke Regional Park, Wellington
Only about a 45 minute drive from Wellington to Kaitoke Regional Park takes you into another world. Located in Kaitoke, northeast of Upper Hutt, Kaitoke Regional Park comprises mostly native bush and it’s super dense. As you drive into the park, it’s no surprise that Peter Jackson picked this filming location to represent Rivendell.
A number of sets were built out in Kaitoke, including Frodo’s bedroom, Elrond’s house, and the bridge in the kissing scene between Arwen and Aragorn. One particularly impressive piece of architecture isn’t actually from filming days. The gate to Rivendell, seen in my photos, was actually gifted to the fans of Tolkien’s work by Wellington Movie Tours and the Greater Wellington Regional Council, with assistance from Weta Workshop. It’s not a 1:1, but instead about half the size. As you can see, though, it’s still extremely impressive.
There are also reference boards that go over details from the film, the sets that were made and how Kaitoke played such an important role in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Hobbiton in Waikato graces this list. The Hobbiton Movie Set was an important filming location used in both The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also The Hobbit trilogy. This amazing attraction, located on a family farm, covers approximately 12 acres, and also has the tourist staples of souvenirs and a place to grab some breakfast (and second breakfast).
We were invited to take a private tour and I can’t recommend it enough. It was so nice to get to explore every hobbit hole, every detail, and have a dedicated tour guide to answer our questions and be far too patient as we took all the pictures. There is so much I can share about why this experience was such an amazing one. Check out my top 10 favorite parts of the Hobbiton tour here for more details.
It’s hard not to hear the sounds of the Shire as you enter Hobbiton. All the details, big and small, make this such an immersive and mesmerizing experience. This was a bucket list item for me and it should definitely be one for you.