BagoGames on Flickr© BagoGames on Flickr
BagoGames on Flickr

5 New Zealand Features That Inspired Avatar

© BagoGames on Flickr

What is it About New Zealand That Inspired Avatar?

As we all know, New Zealand has become the backdrop of huge blockbusters in the past – most famously The Lord of the Rings. New Zealand is hitting the big screen once again to depict the land of Pandora, the world of the Avatar movies. Not has the live filming and special effects been created in New Zealand for Avatar, but there are a quite a few New Zealand features that inspired Avatar along the way.

Creator of Avatar, James Cameron, has lived in New Zealand for a few years where landscapes and cultures are said to have had an influence over his work on the Avatar movies. See these Avatar inspirations for yourself when backpacking or travelling through Aotearoa, New Zealand!

At the time of writing, the production of the Avatar sequels has been secretive, so we will update this article as more information is revealed.

1. The Maori Culture

Indigenous cultures are a huge theme in the Avatar movies. Avatar creator, James Cameron, has said this was partly inspired by New Zealand’s Maori culture. In particular, the Polynesian sounds inspired Cameron’s writing for place names and family names on the planet of Pandora. By working with Maori people during the making of Avatar, Cameron has said that he is subconsciously influenced by the indigenous culture. What’s more, a scene was even shot to depict a style of Haka that could have been used on Pandora in the first Avatar movie. However, the scene didn’t make the cut.

To see some of the Maori culture for yourself in New Zealand, check out 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.

5 New Zealand Features That Inspired Avatar© Mitai Maori Village - Destination Rotorua

2. The New Zealand Trees

With so much likeness between the Tree of Life in Avatar and some of the native trees in New Zealand, there is much speculation that the trees must have inspired Avatar. The Tree of Life has been likened to Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest Kauri tree that translates in English to “The King of the Forest”.

Find out where to see Tane Mahuta for yourself in 10 Outstanding Things to Do in Opononi & Omapere.©

3. New Zealand Visual Effects

Avatar is praised for its hybrid of live-action filming and visual effects used to create this world of Pandora. The special effects for Avatar were actually created in New Zealand from Weta Digital. This is that same company that brought us effects from The Lord of the Rings. Visitors to the capital city of Wellington can even check out the studios and learn about the effects and props created for Avatar at the Weta Workshop.

Details on visiting the Weta Workshop in the Guide to The Lord of the Rings in Wellington.

Tourism NZ© Tourism NZ

4. The Glowworms

Much like the bio-luminescent insects that light up the forests of Pandora, the glowworms of New Zealand light up some of the caves and forests of New Zealand. Look up at a grotto of glowworms inside of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, for instance, and you will feel like you have been transported to a sci-fi world.

See the glowworms for yourself by following the tips in 7 Places to See the Famous Glowworms in New Zealand.


5. The New Zealand Landscapes

James Cameron has lived in New Zealand for a number of years now, a country which he is said has evoked his imagination. In a Tourism New Zealand video, he was quoted saying: “Sci-fi mirrored in the world around him,” so the New Zealand environment and landscapes is likely to have helped shape the world of Avatar.

Get inspired by New Zealand’s landscapes with Natural Wonders of New Zealand.

Tourism NZ© Tourism NZ


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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