Don’t despair, Tolkien fans – luckily, there’s an entire country’s tourism built on offering you Lord of the Rings and Hobbit-inspired experiences. (Well, okay, there are some other things to try and some great vineyards too). As big fans ourselves, we’ve picked the brains of Wellington guide John Barry and Red Carpet Tours’ Julie James, for sights and locations from the movies which are off the beaten path or fan favourites. These spots look good enough to make any visitor feel Smaug about their travels, whether a dedicated Tolkienist or just someone who added ‘NZ’ to their bucket list after watching the movies.
Given how passionate Tolkien fans can be, we also asked John and Julie for any stories of fan dedication. Apparently, proposals are very popular and it isn’t unheard of to spot director Sir Peter Jackson (probably barefoot).
So put on your pointy ears, pick up your axe and prepare to start out on the road that goes ever on: here are six locations for Tolkien fans to see.
One of the lesser known Lord of the Rings filming locations is the Putangirua Pinnacles, according to John. About two and a half hours’ drive out from Wellington, John says this is one of the more mind blowing sights to see with its pinnacles formed from erosion of the river bed, surrounding cliffs from flooding, and the wind and rain blowing from the South Pole.
Tolkien fans will recognise it from the films as the Paths of the Dead, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride the Dimholt Road to enter the mountain in order to claim the allegiance of the ghost army.
Rivendell is a popular sight for fans, John says, with a measuring pole at the location being particularly popular with children, who can find out if they’re as tall as a dwarf, hobbit or other characters (probably not an Ent).
Kaitoke Regional Park, about an hour’s drive from Wellington, was the filming location of the Last Homely House as well as the Fords of Isen. The Greater Wellington Regional Council teamed up with Adventure Safari Tours this year to open a replica Elvish archway at the site for visitors, since the site apparently contains no other indication of filming, aside from information boards up around the area.
To the south of Rivendell, Julie witnessed a mountain top proposal on one of the helicopter tours. The proposer had emailed her 12 months in advance to discuss options, with Julie giving him some ideas for the best spots.
“That day (day seven of the tour), he was very nervous and could not wait for the helicopter to take off. It was a magical scene, witnessed by the Fellowship (our tour group) and thankfully she said ‘yes’.”
Most fans find it difficult emotionally to pull themselves away from Hobbiton, Julie says. The farm in Matamata, about two hours’ drive from Auckland, saw the set for the Hobbit trilogy rebuilt in 2011 with 44 hobbit holes. The two-hour tour costs $75 per person, and fans will remember it as the home of Bilbo, Frodo and that one hobbit kid who expressed all our disappointment when Gandalf passed by in his cart and didn’t let off fireworks.
Travellers can stop off for a pint (“They come in pints?”) at the Green Dragon Inn, a replica of the building in the film, as part of the tour. Julie says that Hobbiton seems to be a fan favourite proposal site, with people agreeing to tie the knot outside Bag End and the Green Dragon Inn.
Meanwhile, John says he has taken quite a few Californian honeymooners on Lord of the Rings tours. “They are often very passionate about the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit locations and have chosen to intertwine this shared interest into their honeymoon experience.”
Laketown, or Lake Pukaki in New Zealand’s South Island, about a two hour drive from Timaru, is another place fans find it difficult to pull away from, according to Julie.
Mount Cook overlooks the lake, which reportedly takes its beautiful blue colour from glacial waters feeding into it.
Fans will know Laketown as the town built on, you guessed it, a lake, to avoid the wrath of Smaug the dragon, and the place where Stephen Colbert made his cameo. The location has also reportedly been used in the Lord of the Rings to backdrop location scenes.
Tasman Downs Station on the shores of the lake was apparently used for Laketown itself, with more than 700 people on set. Braemar Station was used in The Hobbit for scenic shots, the ‘Warg Chase’, the approach to Rivendell as well as the forest slopes of the Misty Mountains.
Another fan favourite according to Julie is Edoras or Mount Sunday in the South Island, about two and a half hours’ drive from Christchurch into the Ashburton District.
While nothing reportedly remains of the set, fans can visit by parking their car on Hakatere Potts Road and walking to the site, to imagine Grima Wormtongue being thrown down steps built onto the rock, and the banners of Rohan flying in the wind from the home of the horse people.
Or, you could always make like one of the couples on Julie’s tours, and propose to your significant other at the site. All we ask is that if you don’t accept, you say ‘neigh’.
Okay, so this isn’t technically a film location, but the Cave features props and collectibles, to-scale figurines, and a behind-the-scenes film.
John said he once took a tour out to the Cave in Miramar, Wellington, and was driving past the Park Rd Post Productions building. “I said that this is where Peter Jackson works on his films cutting and editing and that if he was in Wellington, he would often be in this building. On cue, Peter walked out of the building and into his car.”
It’s also apparently quite common to see Weta Workshop creative director Richard Taylor in the workshop, working on props and weaponry when customers choose to do the 45 minute Workshop tour, John says.