You don’t have to be a massive J.R.R. Tolkien fan to enjoy the stunning outdoor filming locations in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and Hobbit (2012-2014) film adaptations. However, for those who enjoy all things Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and the outdoors, there’s no better trek than following in the footsteps of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards through Middle Earth—or, as most people call it, New Zealand.
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In 2017, my husband and I spent our “babymoon” (I was a few months pregnant with our first child), exploring the north and south islands of New Zealand. Being massive fans of the LOTR books and films, we made it a point to visit several filming locations on both islands between our caving, kayaking, hiking, and wildlife-viewing excursions.
If you want to experience a LOTR-inspired adventure in an outdoor-lover’s paradise, swipe these parts of our New Zealand itinerary.
1. Hobbiton Movie Set – Matamata
The real-life version of Hobbiton is in Matamata on New Zealand’s north island. This is the actual location where they filmed many iconic scenes in the Shire throughout the LOTR and Hobbit trilogies, and as soon as you step foot here, you’re transported to Frodo’s green, lush world.
You can choose from several tours of this movie set, but if you’re a big fan, the one to do is the evening banquet tour. Your guided tour of the 12-acre property takes place at dusk. You stroll through the Shire, admiring Hobbit holes—including the Baggins’ residence on the hill—and end the evening at the Green Dragon Inn, where you’re served a downright ridiculous amount of good food. (Plus a free ale, for the non-pregnant folks.)
2. Hairy Feet Tour – Piopio
Tucked away on a private family farm is the gorgeous scenery featured in over six minutes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. When you visit the north island, you can take the Hairy Feet Scenic Film Location Tour, see several Hobbit filming locations in one stop, support a family, and have a really good time outdoors.
Your guide will give you behind-the-scenes tidbits from production and take you around the property, stopping to show you pictures from the movies in the exact spots the scenes were filmed. You’ll feel completely immersed in Middle Earth. Before you leave this area, go caving to see glowworms in nearby Waitomo.
3. Mount Doom (aka Mount Ngāuruhoe) – Tongariro National Park
Journey next to Mordor and hike all or part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which takes you near the base of Mount Ngāuruhoe, an active volcano that you could also choose to summit, although it is not recommended. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging day hike within Tongariro National Park that’ll take you about eight hours as you hike the 12 miles past steam vents, emerald pools, lava flows, and a harsh, volcanic landscape worthy of Sauron himself.
If you want to see Mount Doom without attempting the entire crossing, you can park at the Mangatepopo car park and hike to South Crater. This is where you’d break off to summit the volcano, if you had an evil ring to destroy. Since it’s not advised or desired by locals, it’d be best to keep on going to complete the crossing or take some photos and turn back before your four-hour parking limit expires. (If you plan to complete the crossing, you’ll need to take a shuttle.) An alternative is to park at the Mangatepopo car park, hike to the waterfall at Soda Springs (about 6 miles out and back), and enjoy the volcanoes from a distance.
As of mid-October 2023, a reservation will be required to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
4. Wētā Cave and Workshop – Wellington
Before you leave the north island, all LOTR fans should stop in at the Wētā Cave and Wētā Workshop in Wellington on the southern tip of the island, even though it’s not technically a filming location. Wētā Workshop is the creative company behind the costumes, props, and miniatures for the LOTR film trilogy, and you can see a lot of fun props from the films here. You can visit the shop and mini-museum (called the Wētā Cave) for free and add on a tour of the workshop if you’re a movie buff.
On your way to Wellington as you head south from Tongariro National Park, you can also make a stop at Kaitoke Regional Park, where Rivendell was filmed.
5. Isengard, Lothlórien, Misty Mountains, and More – Queenstown/Glenorchy/Paradise
There is spectacular scenery to see in the greater Queenstown area on the south island, including a crystal-blue inland lake called Lake Wakatipu, Mount Aspiring National Park, and the Remarkables mountain range. Scenes from the elvish forest of Lothlórien, Isengard, and the Misty Mountains were filmed in these areas. Take a guided tour to get the full experience, but be forewarned, you’ll start out on a tour to see film locations, but the jaw-dropping beauty of this part of the country will completely steal the show.
While on the south island, visit Fiordland National Park, not only to see where Peter Jackson filmed scenes in River Anduin and Fangorn Forest but also to kayak through sheer cliff faces and the calm blue waters of Milford Sound.