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 and The Last Samurai.
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 also filmed there. 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.
LOTR - North Island locations
New Zealand’s most popular set-jetting trail is inspired by The Lord of the Rings. The trilogy was filmed in many locations throughout New Zealand, which became the fictional Middle-earth.
Hobbiton Movie Set Tours is top of the itinerary for Rings fans. On private farmland near the Waikato town of Matamata, the original hobbit holes and structures from the film set are open for tourists to visit.
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.
LOTR - 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.
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 LOTR 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 LOTR tour location. Author Mark Twain described Milford Sound as "the eighth wonder of the world".
For an authentic souvenir, the "one ring" used in LOTR 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 LOTR and The Water Horse. The company offers half-day film tours of the Lake Wakatipu and Glenorchy regions, taking in scenery from LOTR, 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.
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.
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 which is still in production.
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.
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.
Finding the real Middle-earth
Hobbiton, NZ - a slice of Middle-earth
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