An array of stunning and dramatic scenes awaited us when we arrived on New Zealand's North Island this past July. There is no other country with such diverse landscape as what we experienced on the North Island. For the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans out there, you will not be disappointed with a filming location tour of this beautiful country. I highly suggest ordering the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit Filming Locations book by Ian Brodie from Amazon prior to your trip, it costs way more to purchase it once you arrive there. We began our tour in Auckland (the destination of all Air New Zealand flights). The only thing worth mentioning for Ringer's fans is that there is a WETA workshop store below the Sky Tower. For the average traveller, Aukland is an trendy city surrounded by volcanic beauty.
From Auckland, we rented a car and drove to the best filming location a fan can visit: Hobbiton. Located in the small farming area called Matamata, Hobbiton is still an active family-owned sheep farm. The family also runs the Hobbiton movie set tours. When you arrive from the country road (rent a GPS, there is very little signage), you will come to The Shire's Rest; a parking lot, restaurant, gift store, and ticket office. The gift store sells WETA and other memorabilia, and the restaurant offers all the basics (save your appetite though, you can have a meal at the Green Dragon Inn inside of Hobbiton!). From there, a tour guide and bus picks you up and takes you into the heart of the sheep farm where Hobbiton is located. The guides and drivers are very knoweldgable and made the short 10 minute drive very enjoyable. Once you arrive in Hobbiton, you will be awestruck at how well maintained the set is. You will feel like stepping right into the movie (and don't worry if you are visiting during NZ's winter, the grass will still be green and the flowers in bloom). A guide shows you all of the Hobbit holes (over 30 of them, ranging in different sizes for different filming shots). The highlight of course is seeing Bag End, and taking a picture with the "No admittance" sign. Guests also enjoy seeing the Party Tree and finishing the tour at the Green Dragon Inn. It is a working pub where you can enjoy locally brewed Shire ale, beers, and ciders and have some stew or soup. The bus then picks you up and returns to The Shire's Rest. If you visit on a Tuesday, you also have the ability to book a dinner tour! The highlight is a meal big enough for a Hobbit's appetite, and getting to tour the lighted set holding lanterns. A must do for any big fan!
Continuing the drive southwards, do not miss out on the Waitomo glowworm caves (be sure to do the black water rafting tours... it's a must for any adventurer!) and Rotorua. Rotorua has an awesome geothermal park called Te Puia, where you can see the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere. Also, visit the Tamaki cultural centre, where you can partake in Maori culture and a traditional Hangi feast.
The final stop for Ringer's fans on the North Island would definitely be Wellington. Known as the Windy Capital, Wellington is a artsy city with lots to do and explore. The best part is touring all of the filming locations within this area. There are two sister companies that have a great tour: Flat Earth NZ and Rover Tours (if you can request a tour guide, be sure to get Jack... he was amazing!). The attached map is of Wellington and the filming locations visited. I suggest doing the full day Lord of the Rings tour, as it will take you to the WETA cave (more on that later). Our first stop was to the park in which Rivendell was filmed. What is awesome about this filming location is that the fan club of NZ raised money on kick starter to rebuild the gate into Rivendell. You can still see where the path turns left (the direction to Mordor!), which you can see in the picture I have attached. They are planning on raising more money to continue rebuilding some of the major set pieces of Rivendell. From there, we moved on to the private acreage where some of the Lothlorien scenes were filmed, particularly all of the ones near the water. It is also the same filming location for the Gladden Fields where Smeagol kills Deagol for the Ring. Other stops on this tour include the Anduin River, the park that was used for the courtyards of Isengard, as well as the path from the famous "Get off the road, quick!" scene in the Shire. However, the most amazing part of this tour was getting to visit the WETA workshop. We got to see the WETA cave (a little museum and gift store) and then were toured around the workshop by a current designer. We got to handle lots of props and see things up close, and watch current employees working on their projects. I absolutely could have spent hours in there, speaking to the employees about their work. A souvenir from the trip was the map of our tour, which was designed by the same artist who did the maps for the movies.
Over-all, I found the North Island to be my favourite site for filming locations from the Middle-earth movies. Many of the sets and props are still available to view, and even the Wellington airport was stuffed full of WETA creations (a life-size Smaug head, giant Gollum, and Eagles just to name a few). You can even purchase WETA souvenirs from Duty Free at the airport if you are taking an international flight (no other airport had this, so take advantage if you can!). The South Island, which I will discuss in my next post, had remarkable scenery... however you need to use your imagination as all the physical sets there have been dismantled. If you are a LOTR or Hobbit fan, make sure New Zealand's North Island makes it on to your bucket list, I promise you will not be disappointed!!
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