On Tuesday, 20th October 2015, it will have been 60 years since The Return of the King – the third and final instalment in JRR Tolkien’s world-famous fantasy trilogy – first hit the bookshelves. Beloved wizard Gandalf the Grey once said: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And to mark this momentous literary milestone, all we want to do with our time is see the Lord of the Rings in real life. Enter New Zealand.
Here are six must-visit locations in the Land of the Long White Cloud or, as us Tolkien nuts know it, Middle Earth…
Otherwise known as: Hobbiton
Just two hours south of Auckland, Rotorua is home to acres upon acres of Waikato farmland – aka Matamata, aka Hobbiton, in all its glory. Visitors can take a tour of this verdant, scenic region and explore cluttered Hobbit holes (including the delights of Bag End), have a pint at the Green Dragon Inn and discover the abundant buildings and structures that make up The Shire. It’s a necessity for fans of the franchise, not to mention nature lovers: think rolling green hills, emerald hedgerows and sheep by the field-load.
Tongariro National Park
Otherwise known as: Mordor and Hidden Bay, the entrance to The Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Tongariro National Park is home to the Dark Lord Sauron and his crimson, all-seeing eye. Tolkien aficionados will recognise the lava-clad Mount Ngauruhoe – an active stratovolcano in the heart of the park – as the infamous Mount Doom, although in reality it’s often topped with white powder rather than spewing red-hot magma. That doesn’t stop keen hikers from trekking to the summit and throwing their rings in to save Middle Earth though. What better activity for wannabe heroes/hobbits?
Otherwise known as: Lord of the Rings – behind the scenes
Wellington is where the real movie magic happens. All the stuff behind the scenes – from SFX to post-production and editing – is done in Wellington. In fact, both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies (as well as a long list of other blockbusters) were finished up here and it’s where most of the cast, including the wondrous Elijah Wood, spent a lot of their shooting time.
This movie hub is also home to the Weta Cave in Miramar, a tour-worthy museum boasting original movie props, memorabilia and artwork. Any discerning fantasy film fanatic will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven here.
Otherwise known as: Lake-Town, the Pillars of the King
Queenstown is full of postcard-perfect scenes, no more so than those at Lake Pukaki – a surreal turquoise lagoon where the Hobbit-famous Lake-Town was shot. This glacier-fed inlet is just as mesmerising in reality as it is in the films, even more so in fact, as the waters are undisturbed by dragon fire. Instead they are flanked by the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps and, dependant on the season, surrounded by emerald or golden-brown trees. It’s an almost ethereal place, and it’s easy to see why Peter Jackson fell in love with it.
Te Anau & Milford Sound
Otherwise known as: Fangorn Forest
One glance at the pretty lakeside town of Te Anau and its backdrop – the iconic Milford Sound – and it’s easy to see why it was one of Jackson’s favourite shooting locations. Everything from the intensity of the soaring mountains, to the drama of the thunderous waterfalls, to the call of the wild in the lush forests, played a huge part in the trilogy, especially The Two Towers.
Remember the Great River Anduin? Or the Dead Marshes, where Frodo was rescued by Gollum? How about Fangorn Forest? The latter is perhaps the region’s most famous Lord of the Rings link; a mystical, deep, dark woodland that sits in the shadow of the Misty Mountains. In reality it’s not Hobbits bearing rings that roam here though; intrepid travellers and backpackers love to explore this rugged yet beautiful enclave on the west coast of the South Island.
Kaitoke Regional Park
Otherwise known as: Rivendell
It doesn’t get more Lord of the Rings than Rivendell. And it doesn’t get much more mystical than Rivendell’s body double – the Kaitoke Regional Park – either. It’s wilderness at its most wild, ripe for tramping, camping, horse riding and bike rides along bush-clad trails, yet it still maintains an air of tranquillity. It’s no wonder Jackson saw it as the perfect Elvish spot. Most of Rivendell was made-up of CGI of course, but look hard enough and your imagination will see the Tolkien in the towering trees, calm river pools and cliff-side greenery.
Want to discover New Zealand, Hobbiton and the rest of the LOTR-verse for yourself? Speak to one of our Travel Experts about our Middle Earth Explorer Journey. Call 0800 587 0058 or visit us in-store.