10 Best Lord of the Rings filming locations
If you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings movies, you’ve probably wondered; “Where was Lord of the Rings filmed?” LOTR was filmed entirely in New Zealand! Peter Jackson thought that the beauty and ruggedness of Middle Earth would best come to life in New Zealand, and he couldn’t have been more right!
Tom is a big fan of Lord of the Rings and he made it very clear that he wanted to visit every filming location we passed during our New Zealand road trip. Many of the Lord of the Rings filming locations are very recognisable in real life too
So, where in New Zealand was Lord of the Rings filmed? It’s not just one place, there are over 150 LOTR movie locations across the country.
After visiting (almost) all of them, we’ve compiled a list of the filming locations you shouldn’t miss.
This is the map of the best Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand!
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Best Lord of the Rings filming locations on the North Island
Geothermal activity, massive volcanoes and all sorts of other rock formations made New Zealand’s North Island perfect to shoot some of the movies’ most iconic scenes. Follow this New Zealand North Island itinerary for the best route over the island to see it all!
1. Matamata - Hobbiton
Close to the town of Matamata sits the Hobbiton film set. This is where they filmed the scenes that took place in the village of Hobbiton, and parts of the Shire. The Hobbiton film set is the only film set from the movies that hasn’t been broken down after filming, instead, it has been turned into an open-air museum.
The only way to see it is with this guided tour through the Hobbiton village. Enter the hobbit hole of Bag End and imagine Bilbo and Frodo in their home waddling around on their big hairy feet while preparing tea, or drink a jug of ale and sing a song in the Green Dragon Inn.
Where to stay near Matamata
Matamata itself is tiny, and while there are some accommodation options, the bigger and more interesting cities of Tauranga and Rotorua are both less than an hour drive away, so we recommend staying there.
2. Tongariro National Park - Mordor
Tongariro National Park was used to shoot all the scenes that took place in Mordor, the land of the dark lord Sauron. This is where you’re able to see the most recognisable and most iconic landmark that was used in the movies: Mount Doom, or Mount Ngauruhoe as it is called in real life.
Better yet, if you walk the popular day hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it takes you past Mount Ngauruhoe, and a sidetrack even goes up to the summit.
Granted, the mountain does look a bit different in real life than it does in the movies, but with some imagination, you can easily picture yourself walking through the dark lands of Mordor, on your way to toss the ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Opt for this guided Tongariro Crossing Trek to have a guide accompany you that can tell you everything about the park and the filming locations.
A bit further down into Tongariro National Park on the Tukino Ski Field, the gates of Mordor were shot, and Meads Wall is the location used to film the Emyn Muil scenes, where Sam and Frodo find Gollum
The Forbidden Pool where Gollum catches a fish and then gets captured by Faramir is also shot in Tongariro National Park, divided over two shooting locations. The parts where you see Gollum in the water were shot at Tawhai Falls, while the parts where the waterfall is visible were shot at Mangawhero Falls.
We’ve been to both locations and the latter is definitely a more recognisable and more impressive location. “The rock and pool, is nice and cool, so juicy-sweeeeet! Our only wish, to catch a fish, so juicy-sweeeeet!”
Where to stay near Tongariro National Park
The park is big, so especially if you’re planning on walking the Tongariro Crossing you’ll need a place to stay nearby. Since it is a national park with only a small few settlements around it can be hard to find a decent place to stay, but don’t worry; we’ve gone ahead of you and already found the best accommodation options in the area.
3. Putangirua Pinnacles - Dimholt Road
Another very recognisable spot is the Putangirua Pinncales, where they filmed the Dimholt Road and where Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas enter the Paths of the Dead. The Putangirua Pinnacles are located just inland of the south coast of the North Island, not too far from Cape Palliser, the island’s southernmost point.
A two hour loop track first takes you to a viewpoint overlooking the Pinnacles, and then down to the Pinnacles to walk in between them. It is a very otherworldly and eerie feeling to walk in between these barren rocks, which makes it easy to see why they chose this location the film the Dimholt Road.
See if you can find the exact crack in the rocks where they filmed the entrance of the Paths of the Dead. “The way is shut. It was made by those who are dead, and the dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.”
Wellington played a massive role in the making of the Lord of the Rings movies. Not only were movie locations like Rivendell, Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith filmed in the Wellington region, Wellington is also the home of Weta Workskop.
Weta Workshop is where all special effects for the movie were done, where most of the props and costumes were made, and it was also one of the indoor filming studios. Now Weta Workshop opened part of the building as a museum called Weta Cave, where visitors are told about the making of special effects and props, and where many of the props used in the movies are displayed.
Kaitoke Regional Park is where Rivendell was filmed. Big structures were built in the woods to bring Rivendell to life, which were all removed after filming. Later a gate was placed in the park to depict the gate of Rivendell.
Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith were both filmed at Dry Creek Quarry. In this quarry, massive sets were built in order to shoot the epic battle scenes of Helms Deep and Minas Tirith. The battle of Helm’s took 120 days to film.
For Minas Tirith, Peter Jackson actually used the French town of Mont Saint-Michel as inspiration. Part of the Helm’s Deep set was then used to built up sections of Minas Tirith, although the big aerial overview shots of Minas Tirith were filmed using a smaller replica, which was still pretty massive.
Nowadays the Dry Creek Quarry is just a quarry again, and if you didn’t know these two massive sets and battle scenes were filmed here, you probably wouldn’t even bat an eye at it.
Where to stay in Wellington
Wellington is a very lively city and with quite a few filming locations around you can easily base yourself here for a few days, before taking the ferry from Wellington to New Zealand’s South Island. These are the places that we like to stay at in Wellington.
Best Lord of the Rings filming locations on the South Island
The seeminly endless snow-capped mountain rainges, dense rainforests and stunning waterfalls on New Zealand’s South Island really made Middle Earth come to live. Follow this New Zealand South Island itinerary for the best route over the island to see it all!
5. Mount Owen - Dimrill Dale
After the escape from Moria, where Gandalf and the Balrog both fall into the deep, the Fellowship emerges into Dimrill Dale. The exit from Moria and the woods and hills they run into were filmed on Mount Owen. Getting to this filming location isn’t easy though.
The area is only accessible by foot or by air, so unless you have a helicopter like the cast and crew had, you’re looking at a 6-8 hour hike.
6. Mount Sunday - Edoras
The impressive Mount Sunday is where they built and filmed the city of Edoras, the capital of Rohan. It took a total of nine months to built this set, with the main majestic Golden Hall on top of the cliffs, and the gate and city walls at the foot of the mountain.
As with all the sets, this one was completely removed after filming as well, but Mount Sunday is a worthwhile visit nonetheless. From the mountain you’ll have a stunning view over its surrounding scenery, with the winding Rangitata River flowing below, and the green Hakatere Conservation Park stretching out in front of you. This tour from Christchurch is the perfect way to explore Edoras and learn more about the movie set.
7. Twizel - Pelennor Fields
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where the forces of Gondor and its allies fight the forces of Sauron in front of Minas Tirith, is perhaps the most epic battle in the whole Lord of the Rings saga. One thing is for sure, it was the biggest battle in terms of how many people were on set to film it.
The battle was filmed on the fields surrounding the small town of Twizel, and involved over 1700 people on set, including almost everyone living in Twizel as extras.
The fields are on private land, but if you want you can book a Pelennor Fields tour and try to re-enact the battle. Hopefully, you can do it quicker than the 32 days it took to film the battle in the movies. Even if you’re not interested in a tour, the area is just gorgeous with mountain ranges in all directions and Mount Cook National Park just around the corner.
8. Queenstown, Glenorchy & Paradise
The area surrounding Queenstown and the nearby villages of Glenorchy and Paradise is arguably the most beautiful area in New Zealand, and therefore logically also where many scenes for the movies were filmed. The lake, the surrounding snow-capped mountains, the woods and the fields of green really make you feel like you’re walking in Middle Earth.
For instance, the woods of Closeburn, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, was used to film Amon Hen. This is where the Uruk Hai catch up to the Fellowship, capture Merry and Pippin, and kill Boromir. You can almost see Lurtz running through the trees on his way to cut your head off.
Just around the corner from Closeburn, at the Twelve Mile Delta, Ithilien Camp and Ithilien Lookout were filmed. This is where Sam, Frodo and Gollum see Faramir and his rangers fight the Haradrim on their Mûmakil/Oliphaunt.
If you continue on the road alongside Lake Wakatipu you get to the picturesque village of Glenorchy. Just off the bank of the Dart River is where Isengard was filmed.
When you go even further down the road to Paradise (yes, this place is actually called Paradise, and it lives up to its name), you get to the forest where the filmed Lothlórien. The surrounding mountains you see here were used for a low of aerial mountain shots, mainly for the parts where you see Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas chase the Uruk Hai that captures Merry and Pippin.
If you’re up for a leisure afternoon of fun activities and Lord of the Rings sightseeing, then book this funyakking tour over the Dart River, to explore many of the LOTR filming locations that are otherwise not accessible.
If you drive the other direction from Queenstown you get to the Kawarau River. This river was used to shoot parts of the River Anduin and the Argonath, the river that the fellowship uses to get from Lothlórien to Amon Hen.
The fields and hills on the south side of Queenstown called Deer Park Heights were used to film parts of the lands of Rohan. Specifically the jouney from Edoras to Helm’s deep, where the warg riders attack and Aragorn falls of the cliff.
Apart from the many Lord of the Rings shooting locations there is plenty of other stuff to do and see along the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy and Paradise.
Where to stay in Queenstown
Queenstown is possibly our favourite place in New Zealand, as the natural beauty surrounding this lively town can hardly be described in words. Aside from the mesmerizing views, Queenstown is also known as the adrenaline capital of the world, as almost every extreme sport or activity you can think of can be done here. All in all plenty of reason to spend a few days, or weeks, or years in Queenstown.
9. Poolburn Reservoir - Rohan
A lot of other Rohan scenes, like the villages in Rohan that get attacked and shots of the vast Rohan plains were shot at the Poolburn Reservoir. When you drive through this nature reserve it instantly feels like you’re in Rohan with is big desolate plains, mesmerizingly blue water and oddly shaped rocky outcrops. Welcome to the lands of the Rohirrim.
10. Fiordland National Park
The mesmerizing Fiordland National Park is full of massive mountains, glacial lakes and rivers, dense forests and green plains, which made it perfect for filming quite a few scenes for the movies.
If you like hiking, we suggest walking the Keppler Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. On the Keppler you’ll find the Kepler Mire, which was used as the Dead Marshes. On a dreary day this really looks like the Dead Marshes, and you’re really hoping that you don’t fall in and see what Frodo saw in those waters.
Then further north Mavora Lake was used to film Nen Nithoel, the lake on the River Anduin, were the fellowship reaches the shores of Amon Hen and where they later release the body of Boromir in a small boat and it falls down the massive waterfall. Some other parts of the River Anduin were also shot in Fiorland National Park, on the Waiau River.
Close to North Mavora Lake lies Snowdon Forest, this forest was used to film Fangorn Forest, where the Merry and Pippin get saved by Treebeard. “You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”
If you decide to go to Fiordland National Park, make sure you check out Milford Sound, because if you don’t you miss out on one of the most mesmerizing places you can imagine.
Where to stay in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is quite big, and other than some campsites and huts there aren’t many places where you can stay. This makes Te Anau, a small town also known as the Gateway into Fiordland National Park, your best option for some decent accommodation.
While there are many many more locations that were used to film scenes for the movies, the locations we’ve listed are where the biggest and most crucial scenes were filmed, or where many different scenes were films. If you come by a location that we haven’t listed, then it is in our opinion either too difficult to reach to be worth it, or too small or insignificant to mention.
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