Real Middle-earth in Ruapehu
The jagged rocks, rugged plateaus and volcanoes, which make up the Ruapehu district in the North Island Volcanic Plateau, created the perfect eerie backdrop for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). There couldn’t be a better place to depict the famous fantasy series. But where exactly are The Lord of the Rings filming locations in Ruapehu?
A handful of Mordor scenes were filmed in various locations around New Zealand’s largest active volcano, Mt Ruapehu. With the exception of the outskirts of Ohakune, which was used to show the lush green area of The Shire in The Hobbit. While some locations are difficult to get to without a tour guide, there are some walks taking you to the very location. Always keep in mind how some scenes were digitally modified, but nonetheless, you can still identify the locations if you know the movies well.
More Movies Filmed in Ruapehu
The Ruapehu District has also starred in other movies and TV series. It’s not just about The Lord of the Rings, people! Can we say that?
- Flight of the Conchords – The New Zealand comedy folk duo became internationally famous with their TV series. One episode was filmed near Ohakune starring the local livestock
- Without a Paddle – From the comedy movie about getting lost in the wilderness, Seth Green, Burt Reynolds and crew joined local personalities on the streets of Raetihi in 2004
- River Queen – Starring Samantha Morton and Kiefer Sutherland, River Queen was filmed on the Whanganui River in 2005
- Smash Palace – This Kiwi movie was filmed in the Horopito car museum.
The Lord of the Rings Filming Locations in Turoa
Mt Ruapehu itself is part of Middle-earth in The Hobbit Trilogy. The cast and crew spent a day filming on the Turoa Ski Area, after significant planning with the Department of Conservation and the local Maori. Mt Ruapehu is a sacred mountain to the local Iwi (Maori tribe) so it was essential for the film crew to respect their cultural values. They also had to respect the conservation efforts by building scaffolding and boardwalks to protect the vegetation and wildlife.
Turoa became the setting of Hidden Bay, which was the entrance to the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
The Lord of the Rings Filming Locations in Ohakune
About 6km (4 miles) from Ohakune, the Ohakune Beech Paddock was a filming location for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Its wooded green fields depicted the outskirts of Hobbiton quite the contrast to the rest of the sinister Mordor landscapes filmed in the area.
Mangawhero River and Mangawhero Falls on Ohakune Mountain Road is now more commonly known as Gollums Pool to visitors. This was used for a scene in LOTR: The Two Towers where Gollum is catching fish, while Faramir threatens to set his archers on him. Tawhai Falls, now more commonly known as Gollum’s Pool, was also used for this scene.
On the Whakapapa side of Mt Ruapehu are some more Mordor locations. Iwikau Village and the sharp volcanic rock, cliffs and ash behind Aorangi Lodge was the location of Emyn Muil.
The Whakapapa ski area is also where Isildur cuts off Saurons finger in the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring, as well as the scene where the armies of Mordor leave Minas Morgul on the Orc Road.
Outside of the winter months, you can take the Meads Wall 30-minute walk also at the Whakapapa ski area.
Starting in the car park at the top of Bruce Road, head past the bottom of the Sky Waka gondola towards the wall – easy! More of the Emyn Muil scenes were shot here, specifically where Frodo and Sam get lost on their way to the Black Gates of Mordor and the first time they meet Gollum.
The landscape appears to be a desert due to its poor soil quality from years of volcanic battering. The orc army scenes from LOTR was filmed in this less-travelled area, which is east of the three volcanoes and west of the Kaimanawa Range. In particular, the Rangipo Desert was seen during the storming of the Black Gate where Gimili says: “Certainty of death, small chance of success What are we waiting for?”
It’s pretty common knowledge between LOTRs fans that Mt Ngauruhoe is Mt Doom. As you drive or hike your way around the North Island Volcanic Plateau you’ll see this perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone is just as impressive as you can imagine in the movies or books, despite it being digitally modified in the movies to be a taller eruptive mountain. The modification was also necessary to not show the peaks of the mountain onscreen, as it is sacred to the local Maori people.
A common activity for any Ringer is to hike up Mt Ngauruhoe, which is a detour of the Tongariro Crossing, and pretend to throw a ring into the summit! Nerd on!