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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Traveling in New Zealand with The Lord of the Rings Movies

The Misty Mountains from The Lord of the Rings is actually the Remarkables by Queenstown

The Misty Mountains from The Lord of the Rings is actually the Remarkables by Queenstown

I was hooked after reading The Lord of the Rings books, but when The Lord of the Rings movies came out my interest went to completely different level. The books opened up my imagination, showing me what good fantasy writing was all about. But when I saw it on the big screen, with real world scenery, I knew I had to go see the places of Middle Earth for myself. I’m reminded of it all with this week’s release of The Hobbit, which I know will inspire a return journey to New Zealand to see more of where the pages came to life.

Ian Brodie's The Lord of the Rings: Location Guidebook

Ian Brodie’s The Lord of the Rings: Location Guidebook

The main reason for my trip down to New Zealand was actually Australia. I had some friends in Sydney who I wanted to see. But, if I was going to pay that much for an airline ticket, I thought it foolish not to go all that way and not see New Zealand. After all, based on what I had seen in The Lord of the Rings movies, it was spectacularly beautiful. So, to help me find the same spots where Peter Jackson made film magic, I picked up Ian Brodie’s The Lord of the Rings: Location Guidebook.

Thumbing through Brodie’s book, I could tell I would find everything I wanted to see and then some; there was Rohan, the Misty Mountains, Helms Deep, and much more. My only problem would be narrowing down exactly what I wanted to see, which was way more than what my disappointingly short week’s worth of time would allow. Nonetheless, I was not deterred, and set out – practically destroying Brodie’s book from overuse – to plan as much as I could in my available time.

Yellow-eyed Penguins on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin

Yellow-eyed Penguins on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin

After leaving Dunedin, which I wanted to visit for its yellow-eyed penguins, I headed west across the South Island toward Queenstown. A short, yet rough drive over what sometimes could be considered gravel roads, north of Alexandra, I stood near a reservoir in a great field covered with large, brown rocks. According to the directions Brodie gave in his book, I should be standing in the middle of Rohan. Here, from what he told me, was where the city in The Two Towers was attacked by the Uruk-hai Orcs and set a blaze; it is from here where the two kids fled on horseback to alert the king in Edoras.

The Uruk-hai set this fishing village ablaze near Alexandra in The Lord of the Rings

The Uruk-hai set this fishing village ablaze near Alexandra in The Lord of the Rings

I didn’t see it, though. And no matter how long I stood there, turning Brodie’s guidebook this way and that, I assumed I took a wrong turn somewhere. Despite the great amount of time I spent trying to get to the location, I wasn’t disappointed since it wasn’t a scene that was high up on my list to in person. It just so happened to be along my way to Queenstown, the middle of most of Middle Earth, so I figured I’d take the trip. It wasn’t until I got home and matched up my pictures to Brodie’s that I realized I stood exactly where the cameras were positioned to film the scene where what were costumed up fishing houses were set on fire; it is also the general area where the Wargs and their riders attacked the column of people fleeing to Helms Deep.

The Wargs and their riders attacked the refugees from Edoras in an area like this in The Lord of the Rings

The Wargs and their riders attacked the refugees from Edoras in an area like this in The Lord of the Rings

An overview of Queenstown

An overview of Queenstown

Queenstown was like one of those movies everyone talks up so much as being great that when you see it yourself, you simply shrug. It was underwhelming on the whole. But since it was the hub of a lot of movie scenes, and a good base from which to see Fiordland National Park – another priority for me to see on the trip – I made it a point to spend a couple of days in the area. And while I didn’t really care much for the city, in the end I’m happy I was there to see some of my favorite filming locations.

The Lord of the Rings Lothlorien forest scenes were filmed outside of Queenstown

The Lord of the Rings Lothlorien forest scenes were filmed outside of Queenstown

I spent my one full day in Queenstown on two separate half-day tours to see The Lord of the Rings movie locations. The morning tour took us west of town to see the forest of Lothlorien, where our heroes first met up with the elves in The Fellowship of the Ring. It is also here where Isengard, Saruman the evil wizard’s tower, was placed. Of course, as it wasn’t all glitzed and glittered up with computer generation as it is in the movies, it was hard to tell exactly what was filmed without really using my imagination. The same was not true, though, for another nearby location.

Isengard in The Lord of the Rings was placed over the lake using computer generation

Isengard in The Lord of the Rings was placed over the lake using computer generation

Standing on the opposite side of a rustic campground, it was obvious enough to me: I was exactly where the giant oliphants tromped on by as Frodo and Sam watched from a ledge. Their lookout, which is where they were captured by Feramir and his scouts from Minas Tirith, was across the field. And seeing it, the first Lord of the Rings site I truly identified, made me giddy beyond description. Unfortunately the afternoon tour dashed much of my excitement upon the nearby Remarkables, known as the Misty Mountains in the movies, a mountain range visible form Queenstown.

Frodo and Sam watched the Oliphants in The Lord of the Rings in what is actually a Queenstown campground

Frodo and Sam watched the Oliphants in what is actually a Queenstown campground

I so wish I had saved the information on the company who I booked my tours with out of Queenstown, because I’d warn you against them and their false advertising. They had promised, in their brochure which I have long since tossed, as well as on the phone, that they would take me to see where Arwen summoned the water horses to wash away the Nazgul wraiths. Instead they took us partway into the canyon, pointed and said it’s all the way down at the bottom, and if anyone in the tour wanted to see it up close we would need to book a full day tour, since it was not possible to get there and back with the half day one.

Getting a closer look at Queenstown's Remarkables, known as the Misty Mountains in The Lord of the Rings

Getting a closer look at the Remarkables, known as the Misty Mountains in the movies

Instead of going all the way to The Ford of Bruinen, actually known as the Shotover River in Skippers Canyon, they took us to a nearby river to do some gold panning. Yes, gold panning. Where was that scene in The Lord of the Rings? I don’t know. I can’t recall it. But I do know, right at about the point when the tour guide told us there was no actual gold left in the river and we’d only be finding fool’s gold, I was feeling pretty ripped off. There was nothing I could do to complain and get my money back, though, since they did actually take us to some movie locations on the tour; we did see the Anduin River where the fellowship approached the giant computer-generated Argonath statues.

Through a lot of computer generation, this became the River Anduin with the Argonath statues in The Lord of the Rings

Through a lot of computer generation, this became the River Anduin with the Argonath statues

Driving out of Queenstown to Fiordland National Park, in hindsight, I wished I would have simply stuck with Ian Brodie’s book and done the locations on my own. As it was, since I was traveling on my own, I thought it would have been fun to meet up with some fellow movie geeks and see the locations. I suppose this is partly why I was so disappointed with Queenstown. Well, that and the park and Milford Sound, neither of which are in the movies, were so incredibly spectacular that they overshadowed anything else I did on the trip, really taking me from a disappointed extreme to one of awe.

Day trips to Edoras and the golden hall of Meduseld are possible from Christchurch. After Fiordland National Park, I made for it at the tail end of my time in New Zealand. It would be the crowning stop of The Lord of the Rings movie locations for me on this trip; I decided to save Hobbiton and the North Island for another time, always assuming Peter Jackson would go back and make the prequel. And since now he is, I have all that much more reason to return to New Zealand and the North Island: I can see the filming locations for all of the movies and truly get my geek on!

Approaching the capitol of Rohan, Edoras and the golden hall of Meduseld

Approaching the capitol of Rohan, Edoras and the golden hall of Meduseld, in The Lord of the Rings

Edoras, known as Mount Sunday in real life because farmers in the area used to gather there on Sundays for church services and to get drunk on whiskey, is on the edge of the Canterbury Plains near the town of Methven. It is on private land, though, so it is not possible to visit unless you are on specially guided tour. I booked one out of Christchurch, but with much more success than with the ones out of Queenstown. By the end of it all, I was once again bouncing with excitement; the tour company had promised Edoras, but ended up under-advertising and delivering so much more.

Mount Sunday was used for Edoras in The Lord of the Rings

Mount Sunday was used for Edoras in The Lord of the Rings

The tour group sat quietly in the shuttle van watching the scenes from The Two Towers, which had drawn us to this location. The guide tried to engage us, but we were all too wrapped up in watching the movie to interact much. Finally though, after a lot of driving, we arrived at the gate; it was truthfully no more than a simple metal farm gate, but it felt like the gilded doors of Meduseld were opening before us. And, in a manner of speaking, they were.

We parked at the edge of a wide, flat valley that was ringed with mountains. From there we would hike in and to the top of the small hill in the distance – Edoras. And from atop it, we would look out on the horse kingdom and imagine ourselves all set in the fantasy world of The Lord of the Rings. Well, at least I would in my excitement.

From atop Mount Sunday, I imagine the Uruk-hai marching toward Helms Deep

From atop Mount Sunday, I imagine the Uruk-hai marching toward Helms Deep

Movies or not, Mount Sunday is a special location. It is stunning. Beautiful. Ringed by snow-topped mountains, the wide valley with a little belly button of a hill in the middle is picturesque beyond what I had imagined from the movie scenes filmed there. It required virtually no computer generation. It was perfect just as it is, which made it that much more special for me; so many other scenes required special effects, and thus my imagination to feel like I was there where the movie was filmed, but not with Rohan and Edoras.

Helms Deep was placed at the base of the mountains near Mt. Sunday

Helms Deep was placed at the base of the mountains near Mt. Sunday

Starring out from atop the hill, I felt content. Happy. There was no other place I wanted to be at that time. Except maybe Helms Deep. While squinting at the base of the mountains I reached for The Lord of the Rings: Location Guidebook the tour guide brought with him. And sure enough, as I suspected by what I was seeing, Helms Deep was superimposed on a side of the mountains a short distance away from where we were then. So, yeah, sure, while it took the column of evacuees a seemingly long time to reach the fortress, it was in actuality no more than a short walk across the valley to get to. And when Aragorn, presumably drowned and good and dead, spied it from a distance atop his horse on a hill, he was actually standing on Mt. Sunday, Edoras.

Standing atop Mount Sunday (Edoras) you can see the valley the Uruk-hai marched down (middle) and the location for Helms Deep (left)

Standing atop Mt. Sunday you can see the valley the Uruk-hai marched down and Helms Deep

I paged through Ian Brodie’s book some more while standing on the hill. Another location looked oddly familiar just to the right of Helms Deep. And, sure enough, it was: this is the same valley the Uruk-hai marched down as they headed to the assault on the fortress. The tour company had not mentioned it to us, nor had they said anything about Helms Deep, leaving out that extra incentive for the trip, so it was more than a pleasant surprise to me when I spotted them both. It truly made up for all of the disappointment the other company caused in Queenstown.

Flying out of Christchurch back to the United States a few days later, I felt both sad and happy. I was disappointed to be leaving. I had seen so much in my brief stay in New Zealand, but there was so much more out there – both in regards to The Lord of the Rings and otherwise – that I wanted to see, I wasn’t quite ready to leave. But I was also happy with what I had experienced and the thought that someday I would return to see movie locations for The Hobbit. Thankfully Ian Brodie is putting together another book, one which I’ll most certainly use as when I travel to the North Island and all of the amazing sites, like Hobbiton, both from the movies and not, which it has to offer.

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6 Comments on “Traveling in New Zealand with The Lord of the Rings Movies”

  1. Gray Cargill December 10, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Ah, I love this! I have GOT to get to New Zealand some day to see all these places. I agree with you, though, not all tour companies are created equally and it really does matter whether you get a good one or not. Sounds like you did pretty well sniffing out sites on your own, though.

    • Jason's Travels December 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      I definitely want to get back. There’s a lot I missed, LOTR’s and otherwise, on the South Island. And there’s so much to see and do on the North Island, particularly now that The Hobbit is coming out – I can hardly contain my geekdom!

  2. Traveling Ted (@travelingted) December 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Fantastic post. I am also a big fan of both the books and of course the movies. Cannot wait to see the Hobbit. I loved seeing your pictures. So cool that you could see the places where they filmed the movies.

  3. Talita Novacoski November 12, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    This is wonderful! I am a fan of The Lord of The Rings too, and going to New Zealand is a huge dream of mine. These photos are amazing! Thank you for sharing. I am from Brazil. I’m looking for pictures in high-res to make a photo panel and use it at a wall in the place were I work. Do you allow me to use one of your photos?
    Thank you very very much!

    • Jason's Travels November 12, 2013 at 10:25 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Talita. If the photo is strictly for personal use, feel free to grab it. Otherwise, if it’s for something else, please send me a note through the “About” section on the site. Thanks.

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