On location - 'The Hobbit' Trilogy journey

When New Zealand cinemas first screened 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' the audience was full of fervent film fans with more than just a vested interest in the plot.

Filming regions for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - which include Waikato and Central Plateau in the North Island, and Nelson Tasman, Mt Cook Mackenzie, Central Otago, Queenstown and Wanaka in the South Island - have enjoyed a steady influx of visiting fans wanting to experience their own slice of Middle-earth.

As well as providing stunning backdrops for the movies, locals are eager to show that these locations are real places - not just a figment of Middle-earth - where visitors can hike, bike, kayak, ski, relax and enjoy the attributes of a true Kiwi holiday.

Each region has a story (or two or three or four) to tell about when The Hobbit Trilogy film-makers, cast and crew journeyed to their particular neck of the woods or, in some cases, moved in for the duration of filming.

Queenstown - resort town

British actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry raved about his bungy jump at the original Kawarau Bridge Bungy site near Queenstown, in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

This same region became a favourite of Sir Ian McKellen: "I feel I know Queenstown quite well. I’ve been to places that have the same sort of spirit elsewhere in the world but nowhere in quite such a magnificent setting."

Queenstown is the southern hemisphere’s foremost all season, lake and alpine resort. Surrounded by majestic mountains and nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, it is a world-renowned filming mecca. Big screen movies, television programmes and hundreds of major commercials are shot in the region each year.

As well as spectacular and varied scenery, Queenstown offers just about every type of soft and adrenalin adventure invented, and woos visitors with luxury accommodation, top quality food and wine to be experienced in more than 150 restaurants and 177 vineyards.

Fiordland - wilderness park

Fiordland, on the South Island’s west coast, has an excellent network of walking tracks within the vast expanses of national park wilderness areas giving rise to the title 'walking capital of the world'. Fiordland was used in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as a location for Fangorn Forest, south of Rivendell / Arwen’s flight to the ford, and epic shots across the glaciers.

Director Sir Peter Jackson was drawn to Milford Sound by the dramatic landscape of mountains, cascading waterfalls, sheer rock faces rising from the sea, lush rain forests clinging to cliffs, and the rich wildlife population of seals, penguins and dolphins.

This watery paradise enjoys 82 rain days annually and New Zealand’s highest rainfall - all of which helps produce a series of natural marvels including spectacular waterfalls and rushing waterways.

Wanaka - world heritage gateway

Lake Wanaka - in the heart of New Zealand’s southern lakes region - is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park and Te Wahipounamu Dual World Heritage Area.

This region of soaring mountains and deep alpine lakes is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular landscapes, and a popular year-round holiday destination. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy featured Wanaka as south of Rivendell.

Canterbury - Mt Cook & Mackenzie Country

Canterbury is New Zealand’s largest region, and a playground for outdoor adventures from skiing, climbing and hiking, to whale watching tours and star gazing into exceptionally dark skies. This region is home to many high country farms, dry tussock plains, stunning blue alpine lakes and jagged mountain ranges.

The region was used for numerous locations for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Mt Cook region was used again for The Hobbit Trilogy. The largest battle scene filmed for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was the Battle of the Pelennor Fields set in the remote grassy fields of Twizel. Most of the 200 local residents were employed on the film for over a month.

Otago - amazing natural light

Otago - in New Zealand's southern South Island - is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Southern Alps to the west. The region, which has a colourful gold mining past, is now more famous for producing world-class gold medal wines.

Inland Otago's Maniototo district is characterised by wide open spaces and a sparse population. Further from the sea than anywhere else in New Zealand, it has New Zealand’s hottest, coldest and driest climate.

Hobbit Trilogy director Sir Peter Jackson said they chose to film in this area because of the special terrain and amazing natural light.
 

Nelson Tasman - dramatic locations

"I can’t believe Nelsonians get to wake up in this amazing paradise every morning." Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf the Grey)

The Nelson Tasman area boasts some of the most dramatic locations used in The Hobbit Trilogy and is famous for its sunny climate, outdoor adventure, the fascinating arts and crafts community and quality wines and food.

Some of the key props used in the epic The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - including the ‘One Ring’ were sourced from the vibrant community of artists and artisans - and a number of Weta Workshop’s key costume, prop and set designers call Nelson home.

Wellington - Jackson’s ‘special place’

"I know I speak for a company of Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and Orcs when I say that this city holds a special place in all our hearts. We cannot think of a more perfect way to send The Hobbit Trilogy off into the world than to celebrate with a huge party here in Wellington, where the journey began." Sir Peter Jackson

Sir Peter Jackson brought Hollywood to New Zealand, and has created his own film empire on Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula with Stone Sreet Studios (film studio), Park Road Post (post production facility), Weta Workshop and Weta Digital (special effects, make-up).

Wellington city and the surrounding districts offer visitors many other memorable experiences from a rugged coastline with native wildlife to thriving cafés, restaurants and diverse arts and culture.

The Central Plateau - Ohakune, Taupo

"So this is my favourite location [Central Plateau], it is beautiful. There’s a mountain, there’s a waterfall, there’s a beautiful view across the valley there, it’s one of those sort of archetypal Kiwi places that you think god New Zealand has such amazing landscapes." Martin Freeman (Bilbo)

The dramatic landscapes of the North Island’s Central Plateau - where volcanic mountains pierce barren desert and native forests, crystal lakes and deep flowing rivers beckon outdoor enthusiasts - is one of New Zealand’s favourite holiday destinations. It also became one of the favourite locations for the cast and crew of The Hobbit Trilogy who were "blown away" by the scenery and the cultural experience the local Māori people gave them.

While the Central Plateau is the North Island’s winter playground with skifields, hiking and cycling tracks, thermal hot pools and adventure activities, Lake Taupo to the north is a rich fishing ground and boaties’ paradise - making this a popular year-round destination. The mighty Waikato River which flows out of Lake Taupo provides the famous Huka Falls - New Zealand’s most visited tourist attraction -and the Aratiatia Rapids where filming also took place.
 

Hamiton Waikato - Hobbiton

Matamata - Hobbiton: In the lush countryside of Waikato, one of New Zealand’s most productive farming regions, there’s a slice of land that has become world-famous for something that the owners have taken for granted for generations.

The Alexander family farm which sits in rolling countryside just outside the town of Matamata was spotted by Sir Peter Jackson in 1998 during an aerial search for film sites for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Mature pine trees (one in particular - later re-named the party tree) in front of a picturesque lake with surrounding landscape untouched by 20th century clutter, perfectly resembled the Shire as described by author J.R.R. Tolkien. It became the famous setting for Hobbiton and was rebuilt in 2011 for The Hobbit Trilogy to remain a permanent tourist attraction.

"I’ll never forget that feeling of coming to Hobbiton the first time… there’s so many feelings of nostalgia and history." Elijah Wood (Frodo)

Waitomo: Subterranean waterfalls, glow-worm grottos, lost rivers and awe-inspiring ancient rock formations make Waitomo a destination like no other. With its name coming from wai which translates as water and tomo which means entrance or hole in Māori, Waitomo is an amazing setting for natural wonders and adventures.

Filming for The Hobbit Trilogy took place on private farmland just around the corner from the famous Waitomo Caves, and locals moved out of their homes to allow the film crew to stay in the area. This magestic area, with towering limestone caves, can now be explored during a tour with Hairy Feet Waitomo.

"One of the reasons Peter was attracted to Waitomo was we didn’t ever see limestone in The Lord of the Rings films. It was never shown - so this gave it a fresh feel," says Jared Connon, supervising location manager for The Hobbit Trilogy.
 

More information

New Zealand’s film star landscapes