To some, New Zealand is simply home. To many others, it is a land of beauty and mystery. The small country hit previously undiscovered fame with the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, where the beautiful countryside meshed perfectly with the idyllic wonderland of Tolkien’s fantasy. New Zealand has always been a beautiful tourist attraction. Now more than ever people are flocking to it for the scenery they saw in the new Hobbit movie.
Peter Jackson chose New Zealand as the ideal filming location for the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films for a few simple reasons. It is a beautiful location with highly varied scenery. The mountains, the rolling plains and the stunning rivers are all real places in New Zealand. Jackson only had to add in a few buildings and statues to get the perfect fantasy look and feel he wanted.
Are you interested in visiting New Zealand and seeing the sights? There are a number of tour companies dedicated to offering Lord of the Rings and Hobbit tours through the country, of course. That said, you might be better off on your own, exploring each area without a group of tourists crowded around you. If you want to create your own custom tour, here are the must-see locations you find both in film and in real life.
Tongariro National Park
In the Movie: The fires of Mount Doom and the sullen glow of the ever-searching Eye of Sauron light this area otherwise shrouded in smoke. No plant life grows in Mordor, the blasted wasteland where the greatest evil in history makes his plans. The mountain that rises over all was the heart of the forge where the One Ring was made, and it is those fires that ultimately destroy the ring for good.
In Reality: Mount Doom is actually the fabulous Mount Ngauruhoe in this New Zealand national park. It is not an active volcano, and in reality is more of a giant mount of ash than a rocky mountain. You can park nearby, climb the soft mountain and see all of Mordor in a single glance.
Finding the park is easy. It is only a short drive from the village of Whakapapa. In addition to Mount Doom, the park contains three or four other scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mordor might not feature heavily in the Hobbit, but the shadow of Mount Doom is one simply not to be missed in a visit to New Zealand.
For more about Tongariro National Park, see this story.
In the Movie: The idyllic village of Hobbiton is where it all begins twice over. Situated centrally in the middle of the Shire, Hobbiton is the ancestral home of Bilbo Baggins, protagonist of the Hobbit. It is this same home from which Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin all depart in the Lord of the Rings. The Shire is an idyllic land of hills and valleys, rivers and grasslands. Hobbits live in peace here in their homes under hills.
In Reality: Two hours south of Auckland or a short jaunt west of Tauranga, you will come across the area known as Matamata. This is the location of Hobbiton, including Bag End, Bilbo's home. Much of the set, including the buildings under the hills, was built and grown over the course of a year prior to filming. The exact location is Alexander Farm, a private residence. Fortunately, tours are available so you can visit the hobbit holes yourself.
Hobbiton suffered a bit of degradation between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit. Fortunately, the area has been restored for filming the Hobbit trilogy, so the area remains a brilliant attraction. Of course, you won't be able to step inside the hobbit holes and bump your head on the chandelier like Gandalf - the interiors were filmed at a different location.
For more about Matamata, see this story.
In the Movie: After leaving the Shire, Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves come across an abandoned farmhouse falling into disrepair. In this area, they encounter the trolls, gigantic fearsome creatures that captured the party for a feast but were turned to stone by the morning sun. Later, sifting through the troll hoard, Gandalf gives the blade Sting to Bilbo. Even later, in the same area, orcs and wargs chase down the group through rocky terrain, distracted by Radagast long enough for the party to make it to the hidden entrance to Rivendell.
In Reality: The Waitomo area is only a short distance west of the Matamata area that contains Hobbiton. All of the filming listed above took place in Waitomo, from the chase scenes through rocky terrain to the abandoned farmhouse and the cavernous troll hoard. Waitomo is known for unusual rock formations and an ancient forest. The entire area truly looks like something out of Tolkien's novels, and little alteration was necessary to film the scenes for the movie.
Waitomo was a tourist destination even before the Lord of the Rings put New Zealand in the hearts of the world. The Waitomo Caves were already famous for black water rafting, glow worm tours and cave abseiling. Now you can visit and enjoy the caves, or you can explore the farmlands where Bilbo and the dwarves almost met their ends.
For more about Waitomo, see this story.
In the Movie: the Misty Mountains feature heavily in the Hobbit. They contain one of the more surreal and terrifying moments of the film, where the adventuring party must take shelter both from a horrible storm and from mountain giants tossing boulders at one another. The group takes shelter in a cave, but this turns out to be just as bad, where they are dropped into the goblin caves and must fight for their lives to escape. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, both Isengard and Khazad-dum were located at various points of this mountain range, which stretched from Angmar to Rohan.
In Reality: North-west of Dunedin lays the city of Queenstown. This city lies in the shadow of a mountain range known as The Remarkables. Queenstown itself is a centre for tourism and adventure, known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Having been a central tourist attraction for years, Queenstown offers all of the amenities of a modern city with the adventure of mountainous hiking country.
What is there to do in The Remarkables? You are free to have an adventure of your own. Six different locations around Queenstown were used for filming various scenes in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and several Hobbit tours can be found in the area. If a guided tour isn't quite your style, you can take to the slopes for ski and snowboard adventures. Hiking trails, tunnels and glacier tours are all available all year round. This is all without even mentioning everything there is to do in Queenstown itself.
Fans of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings will find much to love about New Zealand. The country seems to have been formed specifically for the fantastic and beautiful scenery necessary to do Tolkien's epic justice. Dozens of other locations around the country await discovery by dedicated fans. You could easily find yourself lost in the wonder of New Zealand and never want to leave.
For more about The Remarkables, see this story.