Set jetting around New Zealand locations
Set-jetting movie buffs will find plenty to do in the iconic New Zealand landscapes that have supported many Hollywood blockbusters and international hits.
Some of the world’s most beloved films have been shot in New Zealand, where the huge variety of untouched panoramas and award-winning local film crews are a major attraction.
Locations such as Queenstown, Wellington, Auckland, Taranaki and Gisborne, have made appearances in silver screen productions like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Samurai, Evil Dead and The Hobbit Trilogy.
It's these locations, and others all over New Zealand, that are now attracting fans on the trail of their favourite characters.
City of Sails and beyond
Perched on a narrow isthmus between the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours, Auckland "City of Sails" is a diverse, multi-cultural melting pot.
Set jetters will be interested in Woodhill Forest, which was transformed into "the white witch’s camp" for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Parts of Yogi Bear and the Disney movie Bridge to Terabithia were filmed there. As was the 2013 remake of the classic horror movie Evil Dead. The forest is north-west of Auckland, just off SH16 before Helensville.
The fantasy world in Bridge to Terabithia was set in the rainforests of the Waitakere Ranges. A short drive from central Auckland, the 16,000-hectare native forest and coastal park is a popular walking spot.
Karekare Beach - a beautiful, wild stretch of sand west of the Waitakeres - appeared in Jane Campion’s award-winning The Piano (1993). A plaque set in the cliffs at the beach’s northern end remembers 24 local surf lifesavers that went off to war in Europe, and an old tramway to the south leads to an abandoned steam engine boiler - a remnant of sawmilling days.
Much further down the North Island’s west coast, Mt Taranaki - an active volcano that towers above the surfing coast and peaceful pastures of the Taranaki region - transformed into Japan’s Mt Fujiyama for The Last Samurai.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy - North island locations
New Zealand’s most popular set-jetting trail is inspired by The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and more recently The Hobbit Trilogy. Both Trilogies have been filmed in many locations across New Zealand, with many of these locations becoming the well-known settings for Middle-earth.
Hobbiton Movie Set Tours is top of the itinerary for 'Rings' and 'Hobbit' fans. On private farmland near the Waikato town of Matamata lies Hobbiton. Here visitors can enjoy their own slice of Middle-earth as they explore Hobbit holes, gaze up at the Party Tree and enjoy for a swift pint at the Green Dragon Inn.
In the Central North Island, the eerie volcanic landscape of Tongariro National Park with its three active volcanoes became Mordor - home of the dark lord Sauron.
Rivendell, temporary home of the elves in Middle-earth, is located in Kaitoke Regional Park - north of New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Although film sets have been dismantled and the park returned to its natural state, the area where Rivendell was set is a beautiful picnic spot with river swimming and bush walks.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy - South Island locations
Queenstown, the Southern Alps and Southern Lakes district in the South Island were all featured extensively in action and backdrop location shoots for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy.
Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain peak, became Middle-earth’s Misty Mountains. The mountain provided the backdrop to the opening sequence of The Two Towers.
The pivotal battle scene at Pelennor Field in Return of the King was filmed on a high country sheep station near Twizel, in the Mackenzie Basin. Ben-Ohau - a name that blends Gaelic and Māori and means "hill of the long windy valley" - is a 5811-hectare merino wool farm with a guest cottage.
No Lord of the Rings tour would be complete without stopping by Lothlorien or Lake Wakatipu, which became the home of the Lady of the Forest.
Adventure-seekers can also raft on the spectacular Kawarau River, which flows from Lake Wakatipu to Cromwell in Central Otago. It was the location of Argonath or the Pillar of the Kings, although the pillars were computer-generated.
The Remarkables mountain range - a popular alpine ski area in winter and located across the valley from sister ski area Coronet Peak - became the slopes of Dimrill Dale, where Aragorn led the fellowship to safety from the underground Mines of Moria.
Rugged Ida Valley, deep in Central Otago, is the location for Rohan, with the nearby Poolburn Lake doubling as Rohirrim Village, which the Orcs ransacked in The Two Towers.
On the western side of the Southern Alps, Milford Sound is another famous Lord of the Rings tour location. Author Mark Twain described Milford Sound as "the eighth wonder of the world".
For an authentic souvenir, the "one ring" used in Lord of the Rings Trilogy was made by Kiwi jeweller Jens Hansen. Hansen's son Halfdan continues the legacy at his work studio and shop in Nelson - at the top of the South Island. Hansen sells faithful reproductions of the ring, made from gold or sterling silver that come with a certificate of origin.
Ring fans short on time can pack in a lot of sightseeing with one of the many tour operators specialising in the set-jetting trail.
Nomad Safaris in Queenstown is owned by David Gatward-Ferguson, who was an extra in both Lord of the Rings and The Water Horse. The company offers half-day film tours of the Lake Wakatipu and Glenorchy regions, taking in scenery from Lord of the Rings, Wolverine, Vertical Limit and Narnia.
Paradise Safaris, also in Queenstown, offers 4WD movie location tours with a difference. The tour stops at key spots for photo opportunities, complete with props to replicate famous scenes such as Boromir’s last moments in Amon Hen.
Heliworks Helicopters in Queenstown were involved in aerial filming and the transportation of cast in and around the Queenstown and Fiordland during the filming of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The pilots for Heliworks have intimate knowledge of the various locations and offer exclusive The Lord of the Rings scenic flight packages. These include The Best of Lord of the Rings, Fight to the Ford and The Great Forests.
Home of the stars
Actor Sam Neill, who starred in The Piano, lives near Queenstown where he owns the highly-regarded Two Paddocks winery. Two Paddocks specialises in pinot noir, the wine that has put the Central Otago region’s name on the map.
Award-winning Amercian director James Cameron has also brought his own piece of New Zealand paradise. The director - who has strong ties with the country due Weta's involvement in the visually stunning Avatar - purchased acres of lush New Zealand farmland around Lake Pounui, Wellington.
Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island, was made famous in The World’s Fastest Indian about legendary New Zealand motorcycle racer Burt Munro. The film starred Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Invercargill is now home to the Sir Anthony Hopkins School of Dramatic Arts.
Scenes of Munro testing his home-modified motorcycle were shot on Oreti Beach. The Southland Museum and Art Gallery in Invercargill has many genuine film props including some motorcycle parts that were used by the famous speedster.
Wellywood and Weta
Avatar, the world’s bestselling movie may be its most famous international hit, but Sir Peter Jackson’s Academy Award-winning Weta Workshop and Weta Digital have been churning out blockbuster movies for years - the latest being The Hobbit Trilogy.
Located in New Zealand’s capital Wellington, the Weta Cave in Miramar is special effects heaven with a mini museum, gift shop, behind-the-scenes interviews and interactive experiences.
One of the newest offerings in Wellington is the Window into Workshop at Weta Studios. Visitors are treated to a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of Weta Studios with a guided tour of the exhibition space.
Visitors can also catch an up-close look at various props and models created by Weta over the years and learn about some of the processes the ground-breaking staff used to create magic for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit Trilogy.
Wellington has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest movies in recent years. King Kong was produced in Wellywood, as it is informally dubbed. "Skull Island" was located in a large-scale set built above Shelly Bay, on the Miramar peninsula and the dinosaur run scene in the movie took place at surfing beach Lyall Bay.
The King Kong ship, the SS Venture, has been sunk in Cook Strait. Pier scenes were shot at Miramar Wharf, in Wellington, and ocean scenes took place around Kapiti Island, a protected bird sanctuary off the nearby Kapiti Coast.
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