The story originally began as a sequel to J. R. R. Tolkien’s earlier high fantasy novel The Hobbit, but as time went on, it soon developed into a much larger story which shaped the modern fantasy genre, changing it forever. From the tranquil Shire to the fiery lands of Mordor, the locations of Middle-earth are yours to explore.
The only country where The Lord of The Rings was filmed in New Zealand, where film locations were spread over more than 150 places. Find out more in this One guide to rule them all.
Table of Contents
The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Shire and Hobbiton
Beyond the town centre of Matamata lies the Hobbiton Movie Set. This is a key filming location in The Lord of The Rings that can easily bring Tolkien’s epic masterpiece to life. Hiding under the rolling hills and lush pastures, Hobbiton boasts more than 44 hobbit houses. This includes Bag End, the famous home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. At the beginning of the film, the famous wizard Gandalf arrives at the village at Bilbo’s 111th birthday party. There, he entrusted the One Ring to Frodo and convinced him to start his journey to destroy the Ring, once and for all.
Whakapapa Ski Field
One of the key scenes at the beginning that set up the story in The Fellowship of the Ring is located in the Whakapapa Ski Field. That’s the place where Isildur cuts off Sauron’s finger and where the armies of Mordor leave Minas Morgul, once a mighty fortress of Gondor. At the end of the film, Sam and Frodo decide to walk down into a vast rocky maze of Emyn Muil.
Tongariro National Park
Home to Mount Doom and Mordor, Tongariro stands out among other national parks in New Zealand. This is because of its spectacular volcanic rock formations, barren hills and ash landscapes. When you gaze upon this UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is immediately clear why it was chosen for the set depicting the base of the sinister Lord Sauron, the main villain of the story. On the set for the film, the crew has digitally crafted a perfectly symmetrical cone of St. Ngauruhoe. It was the place where the One Ring was initially forged and later on, utterly destroyed.
A prominent feature of the Wellington landscape, Mt. Victoria offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the nearby Wellington city, the harbour and its surrounding hills. On one of its bewitching forested trails, you might come to the spot where Sam and Frodo hid from the Nazgûl under tree roots. As well as that, here lies the site where the hobbits raced to the Bucklebury ferry in order to escape the Black Rider.
Kaitoke Regional Park
Dense rainforest paired with crystal clear rivers made the ideal setting for the Elven realm of Rivendell, one of the most important locations in The Fellowship of the Ring. Wooden structures such as Frodo’s bedroom were placed for the purposes of filming. There he recuperated after being stabbed atop Weathertop. Several other scenes including Elrond’s house and the bridge where Arwen and Aragorn shared a kiss were also filmed here. Kaitoke Regional Park is about a 45-minute drive away from Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.
Hidden amidst the lush forest, Harcourt Park is an excellent choice to have a family gathering. Namely, it has junior and senior playgrounds, paddling pools, bike tracks and more! However, this was also the exact spot where Gandalf and Saruman strolled through the gardens of the Isengard fortress, while Saruman warned him that the Ring of Power had finally been found.
Otaki Gorge Road
The edge of Hobbiton was filmed at the Otaki Gorge Road. There Gandalf leads Sam and Frodo east into the mountains. Upon arriving at the outer region of The Shire, the wizard departs as the hobbits continue on their perilous journey to Mordor, the ominous realm ruled by the malicious Dark Lord Sauron.
The thriving gardens of Fernside were used as the outside area of Lothlórien. It is a place where the Fellowship received gifts from Galadriel and was bid farewell by her and the rest of the elves before continuing their travels down the River Anduin.
Dubbed “The playground of the gods”, Mt. Olympus is a club ski area located on the South Island. It is instantly recognisable by its remarkable rock formations and outstanding mountain views. This is where the black crows that Saruman summoned, also known as the Crebain, were searching for the Fellowship in order to terminate them and retrieve the One Ring. Luckily, they were able to hide behind the rocky landscape and wait until the area was clear so that they could safely continue their path.
Situated close to the Abel Tasman National Park, Takaka Hill is noted due to the great number of elevated hills. Altogether, they form an extraordinary sight that is surely a beauty to behold. Spectacular marble karst rock formations were skillfully used as the filming site for Chetwood Forest, where Aragorn decided to help the hobbits flee the Black Riders from Bree. In clear weather, you can observe the lovely views over Golden and Tasman Bay, as well as the mountains of Kahurangi National Park.
While being the highest peak in Kahurangi National Park at 1875 metres, Mt. Owen is also quite famous as being the site where the Fellowship emerged into Dimrill Dale. This happens right after the escape of Moria, where Gandalf and Balrog, a powerful demonic monster, fall into the dark abyss. However, this area is only accessible by foot or air. This means that, unless you go with the helicopter like the crew and the cast did, you have a 6-8 hour long hike before arriving at the destination. Besides that, Mt. Owen is also the location of New Zealand’s longest cave system, Bulmer Cavern, which is 64 kilometres long!
These impressive mountain ranges were used throughout the trilogy, including both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. The Remarkables surround Queenstown, providing a commanding position of the Wakatipu Lake and the city which proved to be an ideal setting to depict the Misty Mountains pathways and the site of Isildur’s Fall. They were also used as the slopes of Dimrill Dale where Aragorn leads the Fellowship after losing Gandalf.
You might recognise Kawarau River from the scene where the Fellowship paddled along the River Anduin, passing along two pillars carved as Isildur and Anárion. Together, they’re known as The Pillars of the Kings that stand on both sides of the river at the entrance to the Nen Hotel. In order to get to the exact location, it is required to find a corresponding river trip. However, you can also get closer to the river by bungee jumping over the Kawarau Gorge. The other option is visiting the Chard Farm, a family-owned winery that offers tours and tastings of their most exquisite alcoholic beverages.
Also known as the site of the renowned Isengard, Glenorchy was chosen as the filming location of a glorious stronghold that came into the possession of Saruman. Quickly, it became his personal domain and the base of his operations. In the films, Saruman replaced lush forests and grass with cold stone, grand machinery and deep pits used to forge weapons and breed Orcs, which were one of his greatest assets in the war. This rustic town offers many opportunities for jet skiing, kayaking and horse riding. So, it’s easier to explore and lose yourself in the land that truly embodies Middle-earth.
In accordance with its name, Paradise is serene rurality filled with green pastures, magnificent mountains and an awe-inspiring forest. These characteristics made Paradise the perfect spot to film the Lothlórien forest, an elven ethereal home. This location was used to film the spot where the Fellowship was ambushed by the elves. It was also used as the scene in Amon Hen when the Uruk-hai managed to kill Boromir and capture Merry and Pippin. Alas, this property is on private land so it cannot be visited at any point, but you can still visit the nearby forest alongside the Glenorchy-Paradise Road.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Grand glaciers, majestic mountains and river valleys filled with vast wildlife – are only some of the things that describe Mt. Aspiring National Park. It was named after Mt. Aspiring, one of the highest peaks in New Zealand. Known as the hiker’s paradise, this national park is made out of a large number of pathways that are scattered throughout the place. Interestingly, some take several days of hiking to reach it. Even Gandalf chose to ride along one of those scenic routes called Rees-Dart Track before he arrived in Isengard and discovered that Saruman had fallen under the influence of The Eye of Sauron and betrayed them all in the process.
Once known as “The richest river in the world”, the Shotover River that flows through Skippers Canyon was the filming site of the Ford of Bruinen, located near Rivendell. During this scene, Arwen summons the flood at the Ford by invoking the waters from the Misty Mountains. This is causing it to wipe out the Nine Ringwraiths that pursued the Fellowship. Even though rental car companies won’t be able to drive along this narrow road, there are plenty of local operators that can take you up the canyon without any problems. Mountain biking and trekking are also an option for the more adventurous ones.
Ever wondered which river appeared in the opening shots of The Fellowship of the Ring? Well, the answer is the Waiau River, the largest of the Southland rivers! It served as another shot of the River Anduin. More specifically, it covered the section where the Fellowship paddled towards Argonath after departing Lothlórien. The rugged landscape of South Rivendell was well portrayed by the soaring mountains and lush forests in the background.
Mavora Lakes Park
Another area that served well as Rivendell is Mavora Lakes Park also recognised as a part of the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area due to its impressive landscape of snow-capped mountains, sparkling lakes and dense grassland. The South Mavora Lake was used for the scene where the Fellowship placed Boromir’s body in a small boat, letting it drift alongside the River Anduin, guiding him home. The North Mavora Lake was used at the end of the first film, where Frodo and Sam parted with the Fellowship and crossed the lake to continue their journey to Mordor.
The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Whakapapa Ski Field
Inside the rocky crags of Emyn Muil, the two hobbits wandered aimlessly through the maze, until they encountered Gollum and captured him. When Frodo learned that Gollum knew the way to Mordor, he released him from his bonds and they all ventured towards the Black Gate. At Whakapapa Ski Field you can take a walk up to the Meads Wall and see the spot where the hobbits met Gollum for the first time.
Tongariro National Park
Commonly known as Gollum’s Pool, Mangawhero Falls in Tongariro National Park were used in the second film of the trilogy. ere Gollum hunts for fish in the Forbidden Pool before being interrupted by Faramir and Frodo. While Faramir threatened to have him a shot, Frodo intervened and went down to join him. Mangawhero Falls has a prominent 20 metres long waterfall which offer beautiful views of its slopes while trekking along the national park’s numerous paths.
Dry Creek Quarry
The first-scale battle of the War of the Ring, also known as The Battle of the Hornburg, was filmed in Dry Creek Quarry. The famous last battle scene in The Two Towers took 120 days to film, mostly during the night and under inconvenient weather. From a modest quarry to a fortified gorge in the White Mountains, the climactic clash at Helm’s Deep has been praised as one of the greatest movie battles of all time. There we finally saw the destruction of Saruman’s mighty forces.
Used as a site to film many scenes in Osgiliath Wood, Waitarere Forest was the site where
Sam, Frodo and Gollum were seen passing by after Faramir released them as his prisoners. Consequently, after the attack of the Ringwraiths and their Fellbeasts, Frodo realised he had little time to destroy the Ring before it destroyed him. This was also the filming site of Arwen’s vision of the future, where she wanders aimlessly through the woods after the death of her beloved Aragorn.
Kaitoke Regional Park
The beautiful nature of the Kaitoke Regional Park was used as the Fords of Isen in The Two Towers. During the First Battle of the Fords of Isen, Éomer tried to find Théodred amid many fallen soldiers, only to find him alive, but mortally wounded. After burying Théodred in a barrow outside the gates, he succeeded in his role as the King of Rohan.
The secluded mountain served as the ideal location for Edoras, the capital of Rohan in The Two Towers. The grand wooden gatehouse at the foot of the mountain stood proudly in order to welcome all travellers and guide them to the great Golden Hall. This was the place where Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf arrived by horse in order to meet with King Théoden at Meduseld, where Gandalf freed the King from the corrupt influence of Saruman.
Deer Park Heights
Situated in the heart of Queenstown, Deer Park Heights is a 5 km long farm carefully placed on top of a flourishing field, snugly hugged by The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. This site was used for many scenes in Rohan including the escape of the Rohirrim refugees from Edoras to Helm’s Deep and Aragorn’s fall off a cliff after a tedious battle with the wargs. The close-up comedic shot of Gimli falling off his horse was also filmed here. One more shot was the hill where Legolas returns to the Rohans to warn them about a new wave of attack that was about to begin. Driving access to the park is not available, however, you can still take a relaxing walk and see some of the best views of the Queenstown region.
Mount Aspiring National Park
If you think that this national park seems familiar, it’s because it was previously used in the first film of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. The magnificent snow-capped Mt. Earnslaw rises from the park up to 2,819 metres, giving it a commanding view of the nearby cascading waterfalls and rivers. It was used in the opening sequence of The Two Towers as Zirak-zigil, one of the great peaks of The Misty Mountains, before continuing the story inside the mines.
Twelve Mile Delta
Right in the middle of thick shrubbery and rugged mountain ranges lies Twelve Mile Delta, the site of many famous scenes in The Two Towers, including the spot where Faramir and the Rangers of Gondor attack and defeat an army of giant Oliphaunts. Sam, Frodo and Gollum watched the battle unfold right in front of their eyes as they hid behind the nearby bushes. The preceding scene covers the part where Sam and Gollum discuss the best way to prepare potatoes.
Welcome to the land of the Rohirrim, also known as Poolburn Reservoir located in Ida Valley, a surreal landscape with imposing desolate plains and rocky outcrops. Many of Rohan scenes were filmed at the Poolburn Reservoir. One of them is the Orc attack on the Rohirrim Village or when Aragon, Legolas and Gimli were chasing after the Uruk-hai to save Merry and Pippin before they were brought to Saruman.
Located in Fiordland National Park in New Zealand, Snowdon Forest is well known for its awe-inspiring, untouched wilderness. Its valleys, rivers and rugged granite tops were used as the location for Fangorn Forest, the home of the Ents. One of those ancient creatures, also known as Treebeard, saves Merry and Pippin from danger, while they convince him why he and the rest of the Ents should march on Isengard.
For those who like to hike, it is highly recommendable to visit the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. Here, you’ll find Kepler Mire, which was used as the Dead Marshes. If you visit on a dreary day, the place looks just like the films, so just be careful and don’t fall into the muddy waters as Frodo did!
Mavora Lakes Park
In The Two Towers, The South Mavora Lake was used for the scene where Merry and Pippin escaped from the Uruk-hai and fled further into the forest, while Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli tried to track them. However, they found a pile of dead orc bodies and clues that indicated the hobbits were still very much alive.
The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
The Shire and Hobbiton
Following the destruction of the Ring, the Hobbits return home to The Shire to continue on with their lives. After a few years, Frodo decides to depart Middle-earth and go to the Undying Lands, along with Gandalf, Bilbo and the Elves. Before his departure, he entrusted the Red Book of Westmarch to Sam, which chronicled the adventures of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins.
Tongariro National Park
Striking plains in the Rangipo Desert were used as the location in The Return of The King where Gimli gave a rousing speech to the army before they marched and stormed the Black Gate of Mordor. The nearby Tukino Ski Field and Mt. Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park served as the site where Sam, Frodo and Gollum looked over the Gates of Mordor before continuing their climb, observing the vast Orc army situated right beneath them.
Dry Creek Quarry
The Gondor city of Minas Tirith was constructed over the base of the Helm’s Deep set in Dry Creek Quarry. Important events such as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Crowning of King Aragorn II Elessar took place here. The tedious battle began when Orcs attacked the main gate with a battering ram, overflowing the city and discouraging the remaining defenders. Gandalf tried to confront the Witch-king himself, but the Lord of the Nazgûl had managed to break his staff and render him powerless. However, when they heard the Horns of Rohan, Saruman’s army found themselves in an extremely unfortunate strategic position.
The Putangirua Pinnacles
A place known for its incredible set of rock formations nestled deep in the hill at Wairarapa, the Putangirua Pinnacles were used as a location for the third film in the trilogy, The Return of The King, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli sought the Paths of the Dead, a hunted pass through the White Mountains. This distinctive place is about a 2-hour drive away from Wellington or an hour from Masterton, making it an ideal spot to have a day trip.
Queen Elizabeth Park
The last area of natural dunes on Kāpiti’s coastline is Queen Elizabeth Park. It was mostly used for close-up shots from the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Besides that, it was used to capture the attack of the Nazgûl and the Mumakil as they tried to conquer the city of Minas Tirith. On the other hand, the scene where Merry searches for Pippin with the fallen oliphaunt behind him was also filmed here. The park is located about 48 km from Wellington, and entry is free of charge.
Used as a filming location for the Path to Grey Havens which led out of Middle-earth, this is the spot where Arwen has another vision of her possible future. She watches closely as a little boy runs up to Aragorn, while he slowly picks him up with a smile. As soon as she noticed the star of Elendil on his necklace, she knew that was her son.
Another side story that helped us understand Gollum’s past was filmed at Fernside, also known as Gladden Fields in Middle-earth. On Sméagol’s birthday, he and his cousin Déagol went fishing alongside the River Anduin. Out of the blue, a fish pulled Déagol underwater where we found the One Ring, still half-buried in the mud. When he refused to give it to Sméagol, the other one killed him in a fit of rage and hid the body, which was never found. The scene ends with Sméagol, later known as Gollum, admiring the Ring with great desire.
Just like in the previous film, Mt. Sunday still served as the setting for Edoras, the capital of Rohan. However, in The Return of The King, the armies of Rohan finally make their way back to the capital, while Aragorn tries to persuade them to come along and aid in the war for Gondor against Sauron.
The extensive field near the town of Twizel was used as the scene of one of the most crucial events in the whole saga – The epic Battle of the Pelennor Fields in The Return of The King. The filming of the battle took 32 days and involved over 1,700 people on set, including almost everyone from Twizel as extras. The location is on private land, however, it is possible to book a Pelennor Fields tour and try to re-enact the famous battle. In this scene, the men of Gondor and Rohan clashed with tens of thousands of Orcs, Haradim, trolls and more. It was also the place where King Théoden and the Witch-king of Angmar perished.
West Coast Region
The towering mountain of 836 metres was used as the background during the famous scene where the warning beacons were lit as Minas Tirith came under siege. All the way between Gondor and Rohan, the flames of recently lit beacons dotted the White Mountains. In truth, only one beacon, Ered Nimrais Beacon, was the real one, the others were computer generated. The best views of Mt. Gunn can be achieved by taking a scenic flight or by hiking along the Franz Josef Glacier Valley.
Deer Park Heights
For The Return of The King, this location was used as the site where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli finally emerged from the Paths of the Dead. This is also where Gandalf and Pippin travel to the stone city of Minas Tirith, where the wizard kept the hobbit safe from Sauron’s forces, as Sauron wrongly assumed that Pippin was carrying the One Ring.