The Lord of the Rings is one of the most successful film trilogies of all time and has won numerous awards, including 17 Academy Awards. With over 150 New Zealand Lord of the Rings filming locations, we are spoilt for choice. This guide will help you find your favourites.
Directed by Sir Peter Jackson, the epic high fantasy film trilogy was filmed entirely in New Zealand. Jackson hand-selected many of the locations because they fit well with the story and setting of the original novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The film locations for Rivendell and Mordor were especially important to him, as they are key locations in the story. However, much of the varied landscape and intriguing natural features throughout the country provided the perfect backdrops for Middle-earth.
In fact, there are LOTR locations all around New Zealand, on both the North and South Islands. Some of the better-known film locations include Tongariro National Park, Hobbiton Movie Set, Mount Victoria in Wellington, Queenstown, and Fiordland National Park.
Lord of the Rings movie trilogy includes The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.
Key New Zealand Lord of the Rings locations
Before we get into the details of the film locations and scenes, take a look at the map and see how much of New Zealand was included in the films.
Map of key New Zealand Lord of the Rings filming locations
- Hobbiton Movie Set (the Shire)
- Tongariro National Park (Ithilien, Mordor, and Mount Doom).
- Wellington and Wairarapa regions (Gardens of Isengard, the River Anduin, Rivendell, Osgiliath Wood, Paths of the Dead)
- Kahurangi National Park (Dimrill Dale and Rivendell)
- Mount Sunday in the Canterbury region (Edoras)
- Mount Gunn, near Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast (Ered Nimrais)
- Otago region (Argonath on the Anduin River, Dimrill Dale, Ford of Bruinen, Isengard, and Ithilien Camp)
- Southland region (Anduin River, Fangorn Forest, Nen Hithoel, Rivendell, and Silverlode River)
Note that NZ required all physical sets to be removed following filming to preserve the country’s natural beauty. Therefore, as you travel through New Zealand, you need to use both your memory and imagination to recall the scene details. The exception is commercial locations like Hobbiton and Weta Cave.
Tour New Zealand Lord of the Rings locations
We have plenty of details on these tours below, but for those who just want a tour, and don’t want to seek out the locations on their own …
- Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves tour from Auckland
- Hobbiton Movie Set tour from Rotorua
- Half-day LOTR tour from Queenstown (check for discounts).
- Arriving via cruise ship, reserve your Hobbiton Movie Set shore excursion from Tauranga
Hobbiton Movie Set (the shire)
This otherworldly movie set built into a hillside in Matamata is a highlight for many Lord of the Rings fans. In fact, it is one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist attractions, attracting both locals and overseas visitors.
Surrounded by the lush green pastures and hobbit holes of the Shire, Lord of the Rings fan love this adventure into Middle-earth.
If I had to describe the Hobbiton Movie Set in only one word, that would be enchanting.
Entrance requires a guided tour, but the guide adds so much to the experience you will be glad they were there. Our guide captured our imagination with stories and behind-the-scenes secrets.
Plus, there is plenty of time to wander, take some cool selfies, and ask questions. And finally, before leaving, your tour will include a drink at the Green Dragon. Reserve your Hobbiton entrance and guided tour here.
Tongariro National Park (Mordor, Mount Doom, Ithilien)
Tongariro National Park, located in the central North Island, is home to three NZ volcanoes: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu. However, to LOTR’s fans, it will always be Mordor, Mt. Doom, and Ithilien.
Mordor (excluding Mt Doom)
Mordor is where the history of the ring both starts and ends.
Most notable filmed at these locations: Frodo and Sam catch Gollum, who leads the hobbits down the Emyn Muil (Whakapapa skifield), Isildur obtains the ring by cutting off Sauron’s finger (also Whakapapa skifield), and the scene where Frodo, Sam and Gollum gaze down on the Gates of Mordor (Tukino Skifield).
One look at the almost perfect cone of Mount Ngauruhoe and Jackson instantly knew it was the ideal New Zealand film location for Mount Doom, in Mordor. Ultimately, the Ring’s destruction took place on Mount Doom when Frodo Baggins threw it into the volcano.
While you can see Mt Ngauruhoe from several vantage points, the best and closest views reward those who complete the 20km day-long Tongariro Crossing. It’s one of the Great Walks in New Zealand.
Then there is that memorable scene where Gollum catches a fish in Ithilien (Mangawhero River). More specifically, the digitally enhanced scene was filmed at two locations: Tawhai Falls and Mangawhero Falls.
It’s been immortalised in sculpture at both the Wellington airport (now removed) and Weta Cave.
Wellington and Wairarapa regions
Dimholt Road (Paths of the Dead)
New Zealand’s naturally eerie Putangirua Pinnacles created the surreal atmosphere for Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli as they rode on Dimholt Road to enter the Paths of the Dead.
Located at Cape Palliser, east of Wellington along the southern coast of the North Island, the Putangirua Pinnacles are a series of rock formations that have been created over time by erosion.
The road leading there is unsealed and can be a bit rough in places, but it is still passable by most vehicles. The Putangirua Pinnacles are an amazing sight and well worth the effort to get there, whether or not you are a LOTR fan.
Kaitoke Regional Park became the elven city of Rivendell. Here, Frodo recovered from a Nazgûl sword attack. A signpost identifies the filming spot as the sets no longer stand. A few of Rivendell’s mountainous backdrops are actually Fiordland National Park.
The Hutt River was one of many New Zealand film locations representing the Anduin River, the largest river in Middle-earth. The other two key ones are Kawarau Gorge in Queenstown and the Waiau River in Fiordland National Park.
The easy hiking trail through the forested area of Mount Victoria created the ideal space for Hobbits to hide from the black riders in the Hobbiton Woods, immortalized by the famous moment when Frodo shouted, “Get off the road.”
Upper-half of the South Island
The South Island holds more film locations than the north, and many of them are one-off scenes as the characters move through Middle-earth.
Edoras, the capital of Rohan
The sheer-sided Mount Sunday became Edoras. Jackson felt it fit the description of the fictional land of Rohan in the books, at least it did after the crew spent nine months building the set.
Sometimes known as the Riddermark or Mark of the Riders, the fictional kingdom of Rohan lies north of Gondor, west of Mordor and east of Isengard.
Mount Sunday, a virtually unknown spot prior to the films, is now a popular tourist spot for Lord of the Rings fans from all over the world.
As a result, access is easier than it once was, with a well-worn trail and even some bridges. These days you will most likely meet other LOTR fans along the way.
However, one of the best ways to discover Edoras is on a full-day 4WD adventure to the capital Rohan from Christchurch. There is no replacement for the guide’s knowledge and their ability to lead your imagination in filling in the sets of Rohan. Reserve your Journey to Edoras tour here
Located in Kahurangi National Park, Mount Owen comprised much of the Dimrill Dale region of Middle-earth. Here the Fellowship escape Moria, leaving Gandalf behind.
Unfortunately for fans, it’s a six-hour hike to get to the set location. The cast and crew arrived via helicopter, which is the only practical way to see it today.
Fun Fact: Sean Bean (Boromir) hiked into all set locations as he was afraid of helicopters.
The Pelennor Fields played host to the great battle between Mordor and Gondor (with help from Rohan) for Minas Tirith.
Although the actual battle locations sit on private land, it is possible to get a tour from the nearby town of Twizel. While here, add some extra time to visit Mount Cook National Park and the Aoraki/Mount Cook village.
Otago region including Queenstown
Filled with amazing scenery, the Queenstown area was a well-used New Zealand Lord of the Rings filming location. The best way to see it all is with a 45-minute helicopter tour focusing on both the natural beauty of Queenstown and Skippers Canyon and highlighting the filming locations of Middle-earth. Reserve your Queenstown & Skippers Canyon: Middle Earth Helicopter Tour here
- Dimrill Dale (Lake Alta)
Some Dimrill Dale scenes were filmed at Lake Alta. Located in the often snow-covered Remarkables, it’s only visible in the summertime. Here, Aragorn led the Fellowship downhill and away from the Mines of Moria.
- Ithilien Camp (Twelve Mile Delta)
The battle between Faramir and the Oliphaunts is witnessed by Frodo, Sam and Gollum.
- Anduin River (Kawarau Gorge)
Here, the Pillars of the Kings row their boats from Lothlorian to Amon Hen. You might remember the two enormous stone statues of Argonath that they passed between. Rather than props, they were digital enhancements added by Weta Digital in post-production. It’s near the world’s first commercial bungy jump location.
- Ford of Bruinen (Skippers Canyon)
Skippers Canyon provided the perfect backdrop to the enchanted river where Arwen creates a flood to wash away the pursuing Ringwraiths.
- Lothlorien (Paradise)
Perfectly named Paradise, it made an ideal backdrop for the mystical elven forest of Lothlorien. Paradise is located near Glenorchy.
Fiordland National Park in the Southland region
Fiordland National Park, located on the South Island of New Zealand, is an absolute masterpiece of nature. It provides the perfect backdrop for several portions of Middle-earth.
- Fangorn Forest
It was at Snowdon Forest in Te Anau Downs that we first meet Treebeard the Ent.
- Anduin River (Waiau River between Te Anau and Manapouri)
The Waiau River between Te Anau and Manapouri provided another section of the Anduin River, and more specifically, the opening aerial shot from The Fellowship of the Ring.
While the land of Rivendell was filmed in Kaitoke Regional Park (see above), many of the mountainous backdrops are found in Fiordland National Park.
A few more New Zealand Lord of the Rings locations
There are plenty of scenes that don’t take place in any named region of Middle-earth. Here are some of the more memorable filming New Zealand Lord of the Rings locations:
- Mount Olympus in Kahurangi National Park
The Fellowship hid from Saruman’s black crows during their stay in the area.
- Mount Gunn near Franz Josef glacier
Where the White Mountian beacons are lit.
- Dan’s Paddock and Dart River in Mount Aspiring National Park
Both used among the often digitally altered Isengard landscape, the park also became the Misty Mountains.
- Mavora Lakes Park in Fiordland National Park
The fellowship dragged their boats to shore after paddling down the Anduin River.
Don’t miss Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop, a 5-times Oscar winner, created the vast majority of the costumes, props, and special effects for the New Zealand Lord of the Rings trilogy. Located in Wellington, it’s a must-see for LOTR’s fans.
The company designs and produces sets, costumes (including armour and weapons), creatures, and miniatures. Weta Workshop offers (paid) guided tours that give you an insight into the creative process. You will see some artists at work as well as props, costumes, and vehicles of various movies. Reserve your Weta Workshop tour here.
Weta Cave is Weta’s free-to-enter mini museum and shop filled with film paraphernalia, costumes, souvenirs, and gifts. It’s a fun place to visit, even if you are not taking the tour.
Tours to Lord of the Rings Filming Locations in New Zealand
One of the most popular ways to see these locations is with a tour. The big advantages of a tour come from the knowledge of your guide. They not only know the exact spots that were used for filming, but they can quickly help you recreate the scenes in your mind.
The other key advantage is not having to drive yourself, which is hugely beneficial if you have a rental vehicle that doesn’t permit you to drive over non-paved roads.
Some of the most popular tours include:
- From Auckland: Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves Day Trip with Lunch: This all-day adventure from Auckland will not only take you to Hobbiton, but you will also visit the Waitomo Glowworm Caves (while the caves are not used n LOTR, they are pretty cool. ) Reserve your Hobbiton and Caves tour here.
- From Rotorua:
A Hobbiton Movie Set tour complete with Festive lunch that includes transport from Rotorua. Reserve your Hobbiton Movie Set tour from Rotorua here
- Shore excursion from Tauranga Cruise Port
If you are arriving via cruise ship, here’s your chance to book an independent tour that will take you through Hobbiton and make a few cool stops on the way back to your ship (Mt. Maunganui and McLaren Falls Park. Reserve your Hobbiton Movie Set Shore Excursion from Tauranga here
- From Queenstown: Behind the Scenes LOTR Film Location Tour – Half day in Middle Earth & Glenorchy:
This small group personalized tour will take you past Glenorchy and into the high country. You will see the locations that became Isengard, The Wizards Vale, Lothlorien Fores, The Dead Marshes, Misty Mountains, Ithilien and more. Check for discounts and reserve your half-day tour here.
The One Ring
While Weta developed most of the props, Nelson-based goldsmith Jens Hansen created all 40 of the ‘One Rings’ used throughout filming. One of these is on display at the Nelson-based shop, as well as available replica rings.
However, if you are looking for a less expensive One Ring, check out this collection at Amazon.
When was the Lord of the Rings trilogy filmed?
The three Lord of the Rings trilogy movies were filmed concurrently during 1999 and 2000, with occasional pickup shots added over the next several years.
The releases were sequential, between 2001 and 2003. Each became an instant blockbuster, catapulting New Zealand onto the bucket list of tourists around the world.
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