Travel the road to the northern end of Lake Wakatipu – beyond the buzzy year-round tourist resort of Queenstown, New Zealand – to the little farming settlement of Glenorchy, then follow the sign pointing upstream and into the hills. Finally, 20km further on, Paradise appears just before the end of the gravel road.
Visitors who make it to Paradise Valley enter a special place. Here, in glorious isolation, great dollops of natural grandeur and a magnificent palette have combined in perfect balance.
While the world comes to Queenstown – New Zealand’s busiest holiday resort – the road to Glenorchy and Paradise Valley is much less travelled. But, without ever taking that road, millions of people have already seen Paradise via the magic of cinematography.
Sir Peter Jackson is just one of the many directors who have chosen these landscapes to backdrop a major motion picture. Jackson has previously used the Glenorchy region for numerous scenes in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Hobbit Trilogy.
Among others, the Glenorchy region featured in The Lord of the Rings as Isengard, Lothlorien and Amon Hen. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Mt Earnslaw above Paradise was used for the Misty Mountain Paths.
For The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson’s team spent weeks building Beorn’s House at Arcadia Station. The film crew were on set for four days.
The epic landscapes of New Zealand’s vast Southern Lakes region are a cinematographer’s dream. Dramatic untouched wilderness with immense geographic diversity makes this other-worldly region the epitome of Middle-earth.
The region can be credited with providing the most film locations for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies with scenes featuring picturesque locations from giant snow-capped mountains, hanging alpine valleys, twisting braided rivers and intensely coloured lakes to virgin native bush, rugged rocky cliffs and majestic waterfalls.
Not only does the landscape and clarity of natural light lend this region to film making but the added bonus of it being New Zealand’s top tourist destination ensures easy access and a strong infrastructure to support the needs of world famous cast and crew.
Andy Serkis, who played Gollum and worked as Second Unit Director on The Hobbit Trilogy, is among those impressed by the Queenstown region: “I was in a very fortunate position directing the second unit on this so I got to fly round in a helicopter over Queenstown and look at all the extraordinary places down there and shoot the most incredible places … it is endless really.”
Arcadia Station – a working high country farm in Paradise Valley – was chosen as the setting for Beorn’s House in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
While it was not the first time a major motion picture had filmed at Arcadia, it was by far one of the grandest film sets to have been built there. Six weeks of intensive construction, landscaping and set dressing brought the gigantic home and fortress of Beorn to life.
Arcadia is the Greek word for Paradise; nearby landmarks include the Garden of Eden, the Rock of Ages, Peter’s Tomb and the Jordan River – the early pioneers were clearly in awe of the glorious landscape.
It was a memorable location too for Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) who described escaping the Queenstown crowds “up in the lake and into the mountains, and that’s perhaps my favourite spot.”
Originally designed in England, the homestead at Arcadia Station – which sits beside Diamond Lake - was built in 1906 by Joseph Cyprian Fenn. It was bought in 1951 by the artist Lloyd Veint, and is now in the hands of the next generation – Jim and Roz Veint. The farming couple are no strangers to the film industry, having enthusiastically hosted and supported several major international productions on their property.
For film makers, Paradise is a rare combination of an outstanding landscape and isolation that is backed up by great infrastructure and a local crew base only an hour down the road in Queenstown. The country town of Glenorchy is also able to provide accommodation, coffee and food, petrol and diesel pumps, and an army of locals – including the local volunteer fire brigade – who love to get involved, making Paradise accessible and functional for a production.
Glenorchy – a small town of 200 people – lies on the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, a scenic 45-minute drive from Queenstown. When it was first populated by scheelite miners in 1862, the only way in and out was by boat.
Approaching from the south, the lake and shores are dominated by the craggy peaks of Mt Earnslaw towering above the golden shores of the braided Dart River valley.
Known as the ‘Gateway to Paradise’, Glenorchy has cafes, shops, and a thriving tourism industry. There are a variety of outdoor activities based on visits to location scenes in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies – from funyaks (inflatable boats) and jet boat adventures on the Dart River to horse treks through the Paradise Valley, and helicopter scenic flights and landings on Mt Earnslaw.
Heliworks offer a spectacular heli flight and landing at Earnslaw Burn – high in the mountains above Glenorchy, this location provided the spectacular backdrop to the Misty Mountains Paths where The Company of Hobbits trek below a majestic series of waterfalls, then along sub-alpine bluffs toward the Misty Mountains.
Glenorchy is also the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park – one of New Zealand’s most popular destinations for hikers and nature lovers. The multi-day Routeburn Track begins on the south side of the Dart River but for the less adventurous there are many other well-graded walkways that lead to points of interest.
On the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, one of New Zealand’s top luxury lodges – Blanket Bay Lodge was a home-away-from-home for members of the cast filming during The Hobbit Trilogy. Built in timber and stone in the grand style of a fine alpine lodge, this magnificent resort has stunning views over Lake Wakatipu and the Humboldt Mountains – and became a favourite with Sir Ian McKellen who famously commented: “Who needs an after-life when there is Paradise on Earth?”
Queenstown is the Southern Hemisphere’s premium all-season lake and alpine resort and New Zealand’s number one tourist destination – renowned for adrenalin thrills, spectacular scenery and luxury style.
Adventure and indulgence go hand-in-hand in Queenstown. The region has some of New Zealand’s best luxury accommodation, world-class golf courses, and award-winning wines.
The spectacular landscape of majestic mountains, crystal clear alpine lakes, thundering waterfalls and fast running rivers has also won favour as an inspiring destination for film-making, and a thriving local film industry has grown up around these opportunities.
Summer pursuits during long hot days on Queenstown’s lakes include fishing, hiking and relaxation. Autumn’s crisp, clear days offer great golfing conditions, and the colourful contrast of falling leaves against a mountainous landscape. In winter, snow-covered mountains attract crowds of skiers and snowboarders to nearby ski-fields for an action-packed season that often lasts into spring.