How to Plan the Ultimate Lord of the Rings Trip to New Zealand
One of the most visually stunning movies of all time, The Lord of the Rings was entirely filmed in New Zealand. Seeing the scenic backdrop in the fantasy trilogy is the reason many travellers come to NZ. Experience Middle-earth to its fullest by visiting the filming locations, the movie sets, or a design and prop workshop. We’ll cover how to plan a Middle-earth trip to New Zealand in this Lord of the Rings vacation guide.
Whether you want to take a self-guided tour of the Lords of the Rings locations by finding all the filming spots or meet the team behind the movie magic on tours and Lord of the Rings tour packages around the country, you’ll find a way to satisfy your Middle-earth nerd in New Zealand.
Hot to Plan a Trip to New Zealand
While this Lord of the Rings vacation guide focuses on the LOTRs aspects of your trip to New Zealand, the logistics of organising the rest of your trip are covered in The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.
Fun Facts About The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand
Before we get started with this Lord of the Rings vacation guide, you might enjoy these fun facts about the behind-the-scenes of The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand:
- The tree that stands above Bag End has been completely manufactured; every single leaf has been individually painted and attached
- Most of the Fellowship actors took up surfing in New Zealand during filming, and we don’t blame them – check out The Best Surf Regions in New Zealand to see how you can get into it yourself
- Because Sean Bean, the actor that plays Boromir, was afraid of flying in a helicopter, he hiked to many of the alpine locations himself in costume – which will you choose: The Top 50 Hikes in New Zealand or the 10 Best Helicopter Tours in New Zealand?
- The New Zealand government had a Minister for The Lord of the Rings for the duration of the production
- Many of the horseriders for the battle scenes were teenage girls in costume; they were the majority of the locals with a horse – you can be a rider too with the 10 Best Horse Treks in New Zealand
- Shelob, the spider in The Return of the King is based on the New Zealand tunnel web spider – check out more interesting animals you might see in the 21 Animals and Birds Unique to New Zealand.
How to Get to The Lord of the Rings Locations
There are two main ways of experiencing The Lord of the Rings locations in New Zealand: independently (self-drive tour) or on a guided tour.
Self-Drive Lord of the Rings Tour
Because many LOTRs locations are in remote areas, it is easier to visit them with your own vehicle. Most travellers to New Zealand either travel by car or campervan. Learn everything you need to know about renting a vehicle in our Guide to Renting a Car/Campervan in New Zealand.
Plan your own itinerary including some LOTRs locations for a general sense of Middle-earth scenery (more on that in the sections below). Use our 23 Lord of the Rings Locations You Can’t Miss in New Zealand to add dots to the map for a self-drive Lord of the Rings tour around New Zealand.
Alternatively, follow one of our New Zealand itineraries, which all include some of the LOTRs highlights.
Guided Lord of the Rings Tours
There are some Lord of the Rings tours that usually offer transport from the nearest township or city to the locations, provide insider knowledge of the filming that took place in these locations, and even have costumes and swords to re-enact some scenes.
It’s also worth noting that a great deal of the Lord of the Rings filming locations is on private land. Tour guides have permission to access these lands with groups, so you can see the exact filming locations. All in all, guided LOTRs tours are a fantastic inclusion to your Lord of the Rings vacation when planning a trip around New Zealand.
The Top Lord of the Rings Tours in New Zealand
- Nomad Safaris in Queenstown (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook)
- Hassle-Free Tours in Christchurch (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Rover Rings Tours in Wellington
- Leisure Tours in Wellington (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Weta Workshop in Wellington (on Klook, Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata (on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday)
- Hairy Feet Waitomo in Piopio.
The Lord of the Rings Tour Packages
Experience most of the LOTRs highlights on a multi-day group tour with Red Carpet Tours. Their 10-14-day trips around New Zealand include transport, guided experiences, some meals, entry fees to private LOTRs locations, and more.
The Lord of the Rings Filming Locations: Where Was The Lord of the Rings Filmed?
Filming took place all over New Zealand. As you travel around the country you will realise that pretty much everywhere could well have been in the LOTRs! The rolling green hills in the North Island look like The Shire, and the majestic mountains in the south could be the Misty Mountains. But any die-hard fan should see the exact LOTRs locations, which we have scouted out and listed in the 23 Best Lord of the Rings Locations in New Zealand.
Although filming for the LOTRs took place all over New Zealand, the areas that are easiest to visit and that have multiple filming locations include Queenstown, Tongariro National Park, Wellington, Te Anau, Canterbury and Matamata. We’ll cover those locations in this Lord of the Rings vacation guide.
The Lord of the Rings in Wellington, North Island
Wellington doesn’t have the nickname “Wellywood” for no reason. Not only is Wellington New Zealand’s capital city, but it’s also a hub for film-making in New Zealand. The Lord of the Rings was filmed in several locations around the city. Plus, the majority of special effects, props and studio effects were created in studios around Wellington.
Here are a few locations and studios to add to your Lord of the Rings must-do list:
- Lord of the Rings props and special effects – Weta Workshop
- Forest Road of The Shire – Mt Victoria
- Dimholt Road – Putangirua Pinnacles
- River Anduin – Hutt River
- Isengard – Harcourt Park
- Rivendell – Kaitoke Regional Park
- Pelennor Fields – Queen Elizabeth Park
- Minas Tirith & Helm’s Deep – Dry Creek Quarry
About Weta Workshop
In the Miramar suburb of Wellington are the Weta Workshop and Weta Cave: home to the conceptual design, props and make-up/prosthetics of The Lord of the Rings.
See the array of weaponry on display, miniatures of Middle-earth’s cities, and get up close and personal with huge models of Uruk-hai and trolls.
A guided tour is ideal for movie buffs interested in the inner workings of the LOTRs movies and the process behind designing and manufacturing props. The workshop is not exclusive to The Lord of the Rings but was also behind the scenes in The Hobbit, Avatar, The Chronicles of Narnia, many of the Marvel movies, and more.
How to Plan a Trip to Wellington
Now how do you plan a trip to Wellington, where do you stay, and what else do you do there? No matter your travel style or budget, a great place to start is The Complete Travel Guide to Wellington.
The Lord of the Rings in Matamata, North Island
The Hobbiton Movie Set, a short drive from Matamata, is the last remaining built set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Tours of the movie set allow visitors to relive the magic of the movies where it doesn’t take much imagination to see where the movie was shot right in front of your eyes. It’s by far the most popular Lord of the Rings attraction in New Zealand and a must-do on a Lord of the Rings vacation.
After your day tour or evening tour, sit down in The Green Dragon Tavern for a cup of beer, cider or ginger beer brewed, especially for Hobbit fanatics.
How to Plan a Trip to Matamata
Aside from Hobbiton, there are plenty of other things to do in Matamata while you are there. Check out 11 Things to Do in Matamata. However, most treat Matamata and Hobbiton as a pitstop while travelling around the North Island, typically choosing to stay in nearby hotspots such as Rotorua. Plan a trip to Rotorua by following the advice in The Complete Travel Guide to Rotorua.
The Lord of the Rings in the Tongariro National Park, North Island
Tongariro National Park is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its culture and natural landscape, but it was also chosen to be the backdrop in many scenes for The Lord of the Rings. More specifically, the volcanic landscape made the perfect location to depict Mordor. While many scenes were filmed around the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand’s largest volcano, the most iconic site has to be Mt Ngauruhoe used to play “Mt Doom” itself.
Check out these Lord of the Rings locations when you are in the Tongariro National Park:
- Mt Doom – Mt Ngauruhoe
- Gollum’s fishing pool – Mangawhero Falls
- Emyn Muil – Whakapapa Ski Field
- Isiliador cuts Sauron’s finger off – Whakapapa Ski Field
- The Black Gate – Rangipo Desert
- Hidden Bay (entrance to the Lonely Mountain) – Turoa Ski Field
For more details on finding these locations, take a look at The Famous Lord of the Rings Filming Locations in Ruapehu.
How to Plan a Trip to the Tongariro National Park
The Tongariro National Park is located between the two hotspots of Taupo and Ohakune. Plan your trip to both of these exciting destinations by using The Complete Travel Guide to Taupo and The Complete Travel Guide to Ohakune.
The Lord of the Rings in Queenstown, South Island
Queenstown is renowned for its adventure activities and outstanding scenery, so it’s no surprise that this popular South Island destination was chosen to feature in The Lord of the Rings.
Most of The Lord of the Rings filming locations can be accessed a short drive away. Alternatively, tours with Nomad Safaris are available to take you to some of The Lord of the Rings location highlights. Find out more, check out reviews and book your trip on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook.
Here are some Lord of the Rings locations in Queenstown to include in your Lord of the Rings vacation:
- Arwen’s river flood – Skippers Canyon
- Dimrill Dale – Lake Alta
- Edoras to Helms Deep – Deer Park Heights
- River Anduin – Kawarau Gorge
- Faramir Vs. the Oliphaunts – Twelve Mile Delta
- Isengard – Paradise
- Rivendell (The Hobbit) – Earnslaw Burn
For an in-depth location guide to each of these Queenstown Lord of the Rings locations, check out The Guide to The Lord of the Rings Locations in Queenstown.
How to Plan a Trip to Queenstown
Queenstown is located in the lower half of the South Island and has its own international airport. Find out how to plan a trip there, complete with accommodation and activities, using The Complete Travel Guide to Queenstown.
The Lord of the Rings in Te Anau, South Island
Te Anau is the gateway to the majestic Fiordland National Park and also a great base to scout out The Lord of the Rings filming locations. A real mix of scenes was shot throughout the area to display different locations of Middle-earth. Lakes and rivers were mostly used in these scenes, which many can be accessed by driving and/or taking hiking trails.
Here are some Lord of the Rings locations around Te Anau to include in your Lord of the Rings vacation:
- Dead Marshes – Kepler Mire
- Fangorn Forest – Snowdon Forest
- Anduin River – Waiau River
- Edge of Fangorn Forest – Mavora Lakes
- Lothlorien – Mararoa River
- End of the Anduin River journey North – Mavora Lakes
For more details on reaching these locations, take a look at our The Guide to The Lord of the Rings in Te Anau.
How to Plan a Trip to Te Anau
Te Anau is only a couple of hours drive from Queenstown so is a good destination to couple with Queenstown. Find places to stay in the 10 Best Hotels in Te Anau or 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Te Anau. Plus, find activities in the 5 Te Anau Must-Dos.
The Lord of the Rings in Canterbury, South Island
There are two main areas in the expansive Canterbury region of the South Island that were used during the filming of The Lord of the Rings: Mt Sunday and Twizel.
Mt Sunday – Edoras
Getting more off the beaten track, Mt Sunday is home to one of The Lord of the Rings most stunning filming locations. An entire set for Edoras was constructed atop of the mountain found about 2 hours drive out of Christchurch in the Ashburton Lakes on the foothills of the Southern Alps.
Mt Sunday can be accessed by car (be aware that much of the area is gravel roads). Alternatively, tours with Hassle-Free Tours depart from Christchurch and Methven taking you to the location – more details on Viator and Tripadvisor. A walking track takes you up the mountain providing endless photo opportunities.
Twizel – Pelennor Fields
This high country town in the South Island was chosen to depict the majority of the scenes for the Battle of Pelennor Fields. The sweeping grassy fields with the backdrop of the Southern Alps was the perfect location for Lord of the Rings battle scenes.
The fields used in the filming itself is on private land, so access is only available on a Lord of the Rings guided tour with One Ring Tours in Twizel. Nevertheless, that also means the opportunity to get photos with props and costumes! [Update: One Ring Tours is no longer operating. We will update this page if another tour becomes available].
More About Planning a Lord of the Rings Trip to New Zealand
That’s it for our Lord of the Rings vacation guide to New Zealand. We have a few more guides to help you plan the best Lord of the Rings trip to New Zealand possible that we haven’t already mentioned: