Follow 'The Hobbit' into the real Middle-earth

New Zealand is well-loved by filmmakers, including 'The Hobbit' Trilogy director Peter Jackson, for its huge diversity of accessible and dramatic landscapes.

The crew for The Hobbit Trilogy spent 10 weeks on the road filming in 40 different locations throughout the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The three films in the Trilogy - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - were shot simultaneously.

From wandering through the lush green countryside at Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata in the North Island, to flying over dramatic waterfalls and cliff tops in Fiordland National Park on the South Island’s west coast, the films show that New Zealand has a Middle-earth experience for everyone.

Hobbiton - at home with Hobbits

Fans of The Hobbit film can begin their journey through Middle-earth in the same way that Bilbo did, at Hobbiton Movie Set Tours, near the farming town of Matamata in the Waikato region.

The set was first used for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and was re-built in permanent materials for The Hobbit Trilogy, so it could remain open as a tourist attraction.

At Hobbiton tourists can enjoy an in-depth Middle-earth experience - peering over a Hobbit’s front gate to see if anyone is at home, dancing under the party tree, swigging back a beer at The Green Dragon Inn or even staying for a feast fit for a Hobbit after a night-tour under the stars.

Waitomo - limestone caves

In the west Waikato, film-makers discovered what was to be the perfect location for the continuing journey of Bilbo and The Company.

The looming cliffs, unusual limestone rock formations and prehistoric forest at Mangaotaki Rocks, Piopio looked almost as if they had been created specifically for the film and supervising location manager Jared Connon described the area as "truly like another world".

Mangaotaki Rocks provided the location for Staddles Farm and Trollshaw Forest Rocky Hillside where a number of scenes were shot including The Company arriving at a destroyed farmhouse, the exit from the Troll Hoarde Cave, Gandalf bestowing Sting upon Bilbo, Radagast’s arrival and the Gundabad Wargs and Orcs attack.

Filming took place on a family farm just 45km from Waitomo and the ancient subterranean caves famous for glow worms and black water rafting. Three generations of the family live on the farm and they assisted The Hobbit Trilogy film-makers by altering their farming practice to allow paddocks to grow wild in order to create the right look for the 'Edge of Trollshaw Forest'.

Locals in the Waitomo area moved out of their homes to accommodate crew during filming, and Connon said members of this community are some of the most generous people he has worked with in New Zealand.

Visitors can experience this magical part of New Zealand through a tour of the location with Hairy Feet Waitomo who take visitors on a 90-minute guided van tour around the towering Mangaotaki Rocks.

Other attractions and adventures in the area are the famed Waitomo Caves where visitors can enjoy a walking cave tour, abseiling, rock climbing and black water rafting thrills. New Zealand’s highest cave abseil descends 100m into the ‘Lost World’.

Whanganui River Journey

While the exact location used for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is on a private farm, tourists can experience the alpine landscapes around Ohakune in the central North Island Ruapehu region, with a variety of tourism products.

Yeti Tours run kayaking trips down the Whanganui River from Mt Tongariro (used for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) to the Tasman Sea. On this overnight trip visitors can immerse themselves in nature, and spend a night in the wilderness surrounded by New Zealand native birds such as kiwi.

Or, if sitting back in front of a log fire with a wine in hand is more appealing, tourists can spend an evening or three at the Powderhorn Chateau, in Ohakune, where cast and crew stayed during filming.

The cultural significance of this region to New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people was not lost on The Hobbit Trilogy cast and crew. Martin Freeman (Bilbo) said the Central Plateau was his favourite location - "…it’s one of those sort of archetypal Kiwi places that you think, god, New Zealand has such amazing places".

Nelson’s sunny scenes

Moving down to the tip of the South Island, Nelson - on the north-western coast and New Zealand’s sunniest region - sets the scene for several locations in The Hobbit Trilogy.

Although only the private property of Kaihoka Station at western Golden Bay features in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, visitors can still get a good feel for the filming location with Cape Farewell Horse Treks. It’s possible to ride across private farmland to a dramatic cliff top that offers spectacular coastal views over Golden Bay. This is where The Company continue their journey along the steep rocky ridges used for 'Weatherhills Trees and Rocks'.

The film-makers were drawn to the region because of its proximity to Wellington (a 20-minute flight) and the diverse landscape which ranges from golden sandy bays and unspoilt national parks to rugged peaks and unique rocky outcrops.

It was the stunning pinnacle rock formations at Mt Owen, in Kahurangi National Park, that director Peter Jackson chose for Dimrill Dale in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Visitors can fly into the area with Reid Helicopters, who also flew for both movie trilogies and helped scout locations within the region.

Lake Pukaki - Kiwi farm experience

Braemar Station at Lake Pukaki - in the Mount Cook Mackenzie region - was used in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to portray epic scenic shots, the 'Warg Chase' and approach to Rivendell.

The property was also used for the forest slopes of Misty Mountains where The Company escapes from inside the mountains.

Visitors can stay at the station (as The Hobbit Trilogy crew did), and enjoy activities including helping out on the farm, fishing, bike riding, or a quiet picnic by the lake.

Queenstown - Hiking heaven

Known for its exceptional natural beauty, Queenstown in the South Island is a popular base for some of the world’s best hiking experiences, including Pass Burn Track on the Mavora Walkway - one section of New Zealand’s national walkway Te Araroa which travels the length of the country.

Passburn was used for the approach to Misty Mountains in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The film location is on land owned by New Zealand’s Ngai Tahu Maori tribe and managed by the Department of Conservation so there is public access.

The hiking route offers a three- to four-day walk, through varied landscapes of mountains, lakes, beech forest and tussock country.

Tourists can also take to the skies with a local helicopter company, such as Heliworks or Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, who flew for cast and crew during filming.

Other locations for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the Queenstown region include Mararoa Saddles at Lake Wakatipu described as Wildlands- Prologue where Thorin leads the dwarf refugees onwards.

The dramatic scenes of 'Misty Mountain Paths' where The Company trek below a majestic waterfall then along sub-alpine bluffs towards the Misty Mountains were shot at Earnslaw Burn - a short helicopter flight from Queenstown and said to be a favourite of Peter Jackson.

In this dramatic landscape, where a sheer wall of granite rises 800m from the basin floor, a monumental glacier cascades from the top of the cliff to form ice caves below that melt during summer to create dozens of waterfalls.

Fiordland - Bird’s eye view

Fiordland National Park is another location used in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy that has been revisited in The Hobbit Trilogy for some epic scenic shots.

'Wild Country' was the description given for the scenes where the eagles soar through the sky, and Carrock Summit was the location where the eagles deliver The Company to the summit.

Visitors can take a helicopter flight into the wilderness region with numerous tour companies such as Real Journeys, which offers a tour option of a landing in Milford or Doubtful Sounds, and a cruise through the fiords for an intimate experience of spectacular waterfalls and wildlife like pods of playful dolphins.

The Queenstown Southern Lakes region is ranked #8 by international travel authority Lonely Planet for its year-round activities and spectacular scenery.

Wanaka - a snowy end

Tourists may choose to finish their Middle-earth adventure in the ski resort town of Wanaka, a 40-minute drive from Queenstown.

Treble Cone Ski Area, which was used for the Misty Mountain pathways in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is a world-class ski field renowned for its off-piste terrain and unrivalled views across Lake Wanaka and the Central Otago region.

The ski field is abuzz during winter months but, with the longest vertical run in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, the slopes have plenty of room for all to enjoy.

Alpine Peaks in the Wanaka region was also described as 'Wild Country' for the first film and provided the backdrop for eagles soaring.

Central Otago - epic landscapes

Not far from Wanaka and Queenstown, two further locations - Klifden Station in Ida Valley and Hartfield at Middlemarch in Central Otago - also provided epic landscapes for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey where the Orcs and Wargs hunt The Company.

Middlemarch, a small town of 165 residents, is located in the Strath Taieri valley 80km northwest of Dunedin and is flanked by the spectacular Rock and Pillar Range to the west. Locals pride themselves on good old fashioned, down-to-earth hospitality which cast and crew experienced when they stayed in the region during filming.

Schist rocks dominate the landscape and the region boasts a unique inland salt lake, known as Sutton Salt Lake. The Taieri Gorge train is a novel way to get to the area, and Middlemarch is a good setting-off point for the popular Otago Central Rail Trail - New Zealand’s longest and most successful cycling trail.

The 150km trail follows the route of the former Otago Central Railway and has been developed so that horse riders, mountain bikers and walkers can continue to experience the rugged scenery that this region is famed for.