Aotearoa New Zealand’s picturesque landscapes are sought after by cinematographers and location scouts from across the globe. Here are some of the locations chosen by the world’s top filmmakers.

1. The Hobbit

Hobbiton, Matamata

Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien are often so devoted they look for traces of Middle‑earth™ in real life. If you fall into this camp, Hobbiton Movie Set, a to-hobbit-scale version of The Shire, is the perfect place for you. This shire comprises forty-odd hobbit houses, a lake, and the Green Dragon Inn – all of which are surrounded by rolling hills the colour of radioactive shamrock and grazing sheep who are so content and peaceful, they only occasionally block the road.

2. Top of the Lake

Lake Moke, Glenorchy, and Queenstown

Cinematography usually takes a backseat for directors of television detective dramas, but Dame Jane Campion is no ordinary director. Her TV series ‘Top of the Lake,’ which is above average in grittiness by any standard, defies convention with its picturesque settings of Lake Moke, Glenorchy, and Queenstown. Fans of the show should have realistic expectations if they visit these locations because they will most likely find not suspense and drama but pure joy.

3. Lord of the Rings trilogy

Hobbiton, Kaitoke Regional Park & Tongariro National Park

Part of the appeal of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was the perfect rendering of a mythical universe. Had the film been shot in a less ideal location, it might not have touched a nerve with audiences in the way it did. What made the location so perfect was not just the beauty and drama of the landscapes but also the varied geography, which provided the rolling hills of The Shire (Hobbiton, Matakana), the forests of Rivendell (Kaitoke Regional Park), and the barren ground of Mt Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park) – and all the rest.

4. The Power of the Dog

Ida Valley, Otago

Anyone who watches ‘The Power of the Dog’, a film about two brothers living on a cattle ranch in Montana, will be struck by the cinematic shots of the Hawkdun Ranges(opens in new window). They are an ever-present backdrop, toffee coloured and strangely folded. The ranges are unconvincing as Montana, but then they haven’t been selected for their resemblance but for their cinematic qualities. They draw the eye, allowing Director Jane Campion to focus the viewer’s gaze on what she thinks is important: how the harsh natural environment of Montana has shaped her characters. Particularly striking are the lingering shots of the Hawkdun Ranges in extreme weather, drought and snow, and wide-angle shots of cattle flowing over hills or marching, silhouetted, against a skyline of immense black storm clouds – all of which show off the region’s incredible beauty.

5. The Luminaries

Hokitika, West Coast

It is impossible for anyone who visits Hokitika on the West Coast not to be impressed by the grandeur of the landscape. It is a part of the world that is relatively uninhabited and untouched, so it was the perfect location for this period drama set in mid 19th Century Aotearoa New Zealand. To see the exact locations where the TV series was filmed, visit Lake Kaniere(opens in new window) and Crooked River(opens in new window) at the foot of the Southern Alps.

6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Milford Sound, Fiordland

Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful locations in the world, so it was only a matter of time before it was used as the backdrop for a stunt in an action film. For ‘Mission Impossible – Fallout’, the location was perfect, providing steep cliffs and canyons for Tom Cruise’s helicopter to somersault over and weave in and out of during a high-speed chase.

7. Mulan

Ahuriri Valley, Canterbury

Disney’s ‘Mulan’, a film based on a Chinese legend about a young female warrior, received strong reviews, with critics lauding its thrilling battle sequences and stunning scenery. Part of the film was shot in New Zealand’s spectacular Ahuriri Valley(opens in new window), which provided the location for the training camp and the battle scene. The Ahuriri Valley might seem a long way from China, but the remote valley translated perfectly. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty, with views of the snow-capped Southern Alps and the Ahuriri River, which meanders through open grasslands and tussock-covered hills.

8. Sweet Tooth

Tasman Glacier and Central Otago region

‘Sweet Tooth’ Executive Producer Susan Downey has described New Zealand’s landscapes as “exaggerated” and “brighter and bigger than real life.” In other words, the perfect setting for her post-apocalyptic drama about the fragility of the natural world. The show follows the journey of Gus, a 10-year-old boy who is half human and half deer, who leaves his home in Yellowstone National Park to find his mother. To bring this story to life, the film required a range of locations, from crumbing urban cities to picturesque natural landscapes – all of which were found in New Zealand. Highlights included Tasman Glacier, Central Otago, and Warkworth Cement Works.

9. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Cathedral Cove, The Coromandel

When the Pevensie children walk through the magic wardrobe into the fantastical ruins of Cair Paravel (Cathedral Cove, New Zealand), the cinematic experience is genuinely magical. (Cathedral Cove that is, not the wardrobe.) It’s a beautifully shot scene, but the location does a lot of the work. Perhaps it’s the untouched golden sand or the appeal of finding your own hidden cove, unsullied by traffic or an internet connection. (Note - Cathedral Cove Walk is closed due to landslips and you can only view the arch by sea in summer 2023-2024).

10. Pete’s Dragon

Rotorua, central North Island

Despite being set in the Pacific Northwest of America, Disney's ‘Pete’s Dragon’ (a film about an orphaned boy who befriends a dragon) was filmed entirely in New Zealand. A key location was a forest of Californian Redwood near Rotorua, which provided the setting for the dragon’s home. Director David Lowery says New Zealand’s unique light was a major drawcard. The light in New Zealand is stronger than it is in Northern America, so it gave the redwoods a special-effect-like glow that wouldn’t have been possible in the northern hemisphere.

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