New Zealand is famous for many things, the stunning landscapes, the chilled attitude of its people, the sheep and, of course, let’s not forget The Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit. When Peter Jackson and team set out to the humongous project of bringing these classic books to the screen, only one location would make the cut for bringing Middle-Earth™ to life. You guessed it, the beauty of Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Locations near the Northern Explorer route
We’ll start our fellowship, or journey, if you will, at the top of the North Island in the popular city of Auckland. A must-see place for anyone visiting New Zealand, Auckland, also known by its Maori name Tāmaki Makaurau, is a modern hub with fantastic food, arts, and culture to enjoy. Start your first leg of the Lord Of The Rings Tour with The Northern Explorer. This scenic train ride weaves its way down the North Island, starting in Auckland and ending in the capital, Wellington. Along the way, you’ll see incredible views from your carriage, as well as have the opportunity to hop off and visit Lord Of The Rings filming sites that may otherwise just be out of view.
It wouldn’t be a Lord Of The Rings Tour without stopping off in The Shire™, would it? Step right into Tolkien’s world at Hobbiton™ located in the rolling, green hills of Matamata. You can fully immerse yourself as you explore The Shire as seen in the films. Hop off the train in Hamilton and catch a shuttle or bus to Hobbiton. You can book a full tour for approximately $89 per adult, it lasts around two hours and will give you the guided experience, exploring all the Shire has to offer as well as the movie set itself.
Extra hobbit fun: Afterwards, why not finish the day at The Green Dragon™? A great place to replenish after an adventure.
Mt Doom (Tongariro)
Moving on to a world a little more ‘dark’ than The Shire, explore the iconic Mt Doom in New Zealand’s stunning Tongariro National Park. Doubling as Mordor in the films, the national park, located on what’s known as the Desert Road, is home to three active volcanoes, with Mt Ngāuruhoe being digitally altered to become Mt Doom. One of the most scenic parts of The Northern Explorer train route, you’ll be able to take in the beauty of this protected National Park and hop off at the National Park stop to explore.
Up for a challenge? If you have time to look around a bit longer and have a reasonable level of fitness, the Tongariro Crossing, also known as the Tongariro Northern Circuit is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, it’s well worth the effort.
Arguably one of the most beautiful and ethereal settings in the Lord Of The Rings, Rivendell is something to behold. While you won’t be able to walk around Elrond’s halls (a mixture of sets, miniatures and digital FX), the pristine native forest where it is set, you can definitely explore for free. Located just north of Wellington, you can experience Kaitoke Regional Park with a range of trails suitable for varying levels of fitness. All you have to do is hop off your Great Journeys train at Wellington Train Station and catch a ride about 45 minutes north.
Want to get immersed? Why not camp overnight? Spend a day exploring the area and even swim in a range of beautiful river pools.
The paths of the dead (Wellington)
Nestled two hours east of the capital is the paths of the dead, known by locals as The Putangirua Pinnacles. Not only is this filming location like walking into Middle-Earth, it’s also almost like walking into another world entirely. Millions of years of erosion have contributed to this unique landscape, which would you believe, at one point in time was an island. After exploring all the fantastic food and scenery that Wellington has to offer, take a short scenic drive east to reach this famous destination.
Pack your walking shoes: The walk to explore this iconic spot, is suitable for all fitness levels and takes about 3 hrs to complete.
Locations near the Coastal Pacific route
You can’t think about scenic train journeys without also thinking about the stunning Coastal Pacific route. Meandering along the pacific coast from Picton to Christchurch, this train journey exposes you to the rugged beauty of New Zealand's seaside.
Perfect for Lord Of The Rings fans, you can take the Interislander ferry over the Cook Strait between the North and South islands, and start your train journey from Picton. Or, if you are looking for the ultimate vacation by train, our selection of tours allow you to explore without having to worry about all the transport admin that goes with.
There are a number of filming locations for both The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit located in sunny Nelson/Marlborough. We’d recommend making the short journey over to Nelson before jumping aboard the Coastal Pacific and making your way south to Christchurch.
Dimrill Dale (Nelson/ Marlborough)
Possibly, one of the most iconic scenes in the trilogy is when the fellowship emerges from the Mine of Moria. The hillside in which this takes place is located on Mt Owen, inside the picturesque Kahurangi National Park. You can take a bus from Picton to Nelson, and then we’d recommend hiring a car to head towards Kahurangi National Park, south-west of Nelson.
Top Tip: Make sure you pack your camera, there are some amazing photo opportunities in this unspoiled landscape.
South of Rivendell (Nelson/ Marlborough)
It’s no secret that the magic of film can mean one location is actually made up of multiple real-life places. When it comes to Rivendell, scenes that serve as the southern territories of this elven realm were filmed in the strange rock formations located on Mt Olympus (also conveniently located in Kahurangi National Park).
Explore Middle-Earth from above: If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime experience and not too concerned with cost, you can visit both Mt Owen and Mt Olympus by Helicopter.
Locations near the TranzAlpine route
The TranzAlpine train route that takes you into the heart of the South Island is world renowned for being one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. A journey like no other, you’ll travel from coast to coast, Christchurch to Greymouth and see breathtaking views of the Southern Alps as well as native New Zealand forest. It doesn't get more Middle-Earth than this, and a must-do journey for any true Lord Of The Rings aficionado.
Although there are many filming locations further south of this route, the train journey will reveal the beauty of New Zealand in all its glory. Some of the stunning locations you can visit upon completing one of the best train rides in the world are included below.
Ered Nimrais (Franz Josef)
Remember that stunning shot of Gondor calling for aid and the beacons being lit across the mountains? Well, head to Franz Josef Glacier and see the exact locations these breathtaking shots were filmed. Hop off the TranzAlpine at Christchurch Train Station and catch the bus straight to Franz Josef or if you’re on one of our scenic train tours, transport is provided to the area. Otherwise, renting a car is a great way to explore at your own pace. Views of Ered Nimrais are possible from the Franz Josef Glacier Valley access track.
Additional exploration: Located not far from Aoraki, also known as Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, it’s worth exploring this whole area after visiting Ered Nimrais.
South west of Christchurch where the TranzAlpine train journey starts and ends, nestled in the high country, is Mt Sunday, but you might know it as Edoras – home to the people of Rohan. Though nothing remains for the huge filming set which took nine months to build, the raised, rocky outcrop is instantly recognisable. One of the more remote locations, you can hire a car and head from Christchurch train station, south on State Highway 1. Upon arriving in Ashburton, another couple hours drive will take you up the valley west towards Mt Sunday with epic views of the Rangitata River.
Top Tip: You can park the car at Hakatere Potts Road and walk on the guided track to take a closer look. Remember to bring your camera.
Other places to visit
Spanning over six films and a television series, the list of locations that make up Middle-Earth as we know it is extensive. As well as the above, you can also experience places like the Misty Mountains in Glenorchy, The River Anduin (Waiau River) in Fiordland and even Isengard located just north of Glenorchy. Because the locations vary across New Zealand, what better way to experience them than from a scenic train tour, experiencing the landscape without the hassle of rushing to the airport.
Benefits of touring by train
Travelling by train is a fantastic way to experience the many popular Lord of the Rings filming locations. Although you won’t be able to reach every spot by train, a lot of them you can. Not only will you be able to take in New Zealand’s breathtaking scenery in comfort, you’ll also be able to see a number of iconic Lord Of The Rings landmarks with tour options available. Once you’ve finished your train journey, just head along and tick the rest of the locations off your list, easy.
Travelling by train in New Zealand is the best way to experience all this beautiful country has to offer. With a range of constantly changing landscapes, train tours and journeys will give you unobstructed views straight into the heart of the country. All this while enjoying the comfort of the Great Journey trains. We’d recommend having your camera ready at all times, there’s almost endless opportunities to take world class pictures.
Travelling by train is the ultimate luxury in an age when everyone is in a rush to get somewhere. Life’s about the journey, so why not enjoy it? The onboard experience for Great Journey trains is second to none. From open-air viewing carriages to delicious cafe food, you can explore New Zealand and Lord Of The Rings locations in true comfort.
Not only do you get superior views on all our train routes and tours, but it’s also super easy to build your itinerary with multiple options to choose from. For instance, you can book individual unguided train routes on The Northern Explorer, The Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine trains, or you can opt for grouped train tour packages or if you want the full experience, there are guided Signature tours that span the entire country.
Consider yourself a Lord Of The Rings fan?
Peter Jackson had a vision that New Zealand was the perfect location to represent the rich fantasy world of Tolkein’s imagination, and his vision definitely delivered. The unspoiled beauty of New Zealand’s landscapes is something every traveller should experience at least once in their lifetime, and for Lord Of The Rings fans, probably more than once. With all the amazing filming locations above, now’s the time to tick NZ off the bucket list. Book your Lord Of The Rings experience and be the star of your own LOTR adventure.