Middle-earth might have been a figment of author JRR Tolkien’s imagination but New Zealand bears an uncanny resemblance.
Tolkien used the term Middle-earth to describe the "lands of men" or "mortal lands" in his books - The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - and even created maps outlining the place surrounded by ocean that he called "the old fashioned word for the world we live in".
For Sir Peter Jackson, the man who turned Tolkien’s famous books into even more famous movies, the land he lives in - his home country of New Zealand - provides the perfect setting to produce moving picture adaptations of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and more recently The Hobbit Trilogy.
After entirely filming The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in New Zealand, Jackson was adament that there was no reason to look outside the country for film locations for The Hobbit Trilogy as he considered New Zealand "the perfect Middle-earth".
Weta’s technical wizardry
Even without the technical wizardry employed by Jackson and his Weta team to add features and structures to existing landscapes, the unique and diverse geography of New Zealand’s North and South islands is naturally the nearest thing on earth to Tolkien’s imaginary world.
Since the first movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, New Zealand has been dubbed Middle-earth. More than a decade later, ‘Rings’ and now 'Hobbit' fans continue to travel to the country to experience the mountains, lakes, rivers and plains that were the backdrop to the movies' famous scenes.
More than 150 different locations throughout New Zealand were used to film The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, after Jackson and his team scoured the country for the most beautiful and diverse areas.
The rolling hills of Matamata became Hobbiton, Kaitoke Regional Park near capital city Wellington became Rivendell, and Queenstown was the setting for numerous scenes including Eregion Hills and the Pillars of Argonath.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy based on Tolkien’s fantasy epic generated US$2.9 billion in worldwide box-office receipts, and another US$3 billion from DVDs, merchandise and other sources.
The multi-award-winning films also inspired New Zealand businesses to provide tours to the sites of many memorable movie scenes. Tours still operate in more than 30 locations today.
Scores of tourists continue to visit New Zealand specifically to travel down Hobbit paths, hand-make their own personal ‘One Ring’, and handle replica swords, flags and helmets.
International Visitor Arrivals continue to increase into New Zealand with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies a factor in stimulating interest in New Zealand as a destination.
The Waikato region - where Hobbiton and the Shire are located in lush farmland near Matamata - is probably the most memorably linked with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies.
The working sheep farm with its rolling green hills and spectacular views to the Kaimai mountain range was been reconstructed in permanent materials for The Hobbit Trilogy, and continues to operate as a tourist attraction.
Tongariro National Park in the North Island’s central plateau became the Emyn Muil for The Lord of the Rings. Thousands now tread the same path as Frodo and Sam by walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often described as one of the best one-day walks in the world. The 17km trek passes volcanoes, steaming fumaroles, jagged lava flows and crater lakes.
From Wellington, The Lord of the Rings tours include helicopter rides over the limestone formations that formed Dimholt Road where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli rode to meet the ‘Army of the Dead’.
Wellington is home to Peter Jackson’s Stone St Studios, Park Rd Post, Weta Workshop and Weta Digital that was central to The Hobbit Trilogy production. While the movie business centre is off-limits to visitors, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit pilgrims can experience the Weta Cave.
South Island locations
In the South Island, specialised The Lord of the Rings tours take passengers by luxury 4WD into the remote back country of Canterbury and the Rangitata Valley to Mt Sunday and Mt Potts high country station which was transformed into Edoras, the capital of the Rohan people.
From Queenstown it’s possible to fly, drive, cycle or trek to many of the locations that provided the most dramatic scenery from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy - guided by companies and locals who worked on the movies and have insider knowledge.
Spectacular natural scenery - such as The Remarkables mountain range, nearby lakes, vast valleys, forests and fiords - which has enthralled millions of movie-goers as Isengard, the Misty Mountains and the Ford of Bruinen - is an integral feature of the New Zealand tourism experience.
This southern region is home to rare wildlife, ice-age glaciers, rugged mountains, deep lakes, meandering rivers and native forests - much of it unchanged since ancient times, yet all within a short distance of civilisation.
Other Middle-earth tours cover the Nelson region which provided locations for Chetwood Forest, Rivendell and Dimrill Dale. In virtually every region of New Zealand, tourists will be reminded of Middle-earth and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy - The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was famously filmed in one hit, making it one of the longest and most massive productions in movie history.
The numerous conservation areas that provided locations for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy are also listed on the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) website, which includes detailed information of where scenes were shot, GPS coordinates, Google map links, access roads, parks and reserves, and ideas for short walks in the vicinity. Many of these stunning locations also feature in The Hobbit Trilogy.