With the release of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy in 2001, moviegoers across the globe were finally introduced to the magical world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. An ornately detailed and masterfully created fantasy-land, what arguably captured the attention of millions was not only the power behind the characters and the script, but simply the awesome landscape of a world which seemed too beautiful to possibly exist. Now, audiences are returning to the Shire and other beloved places in Middle Earth with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
While Middle Earth may be a fictional combo of legend and lore, the actual setting for the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies couldn’t be more real. Shot on location in some of the most scenic corners of New Zealand, a series of Lord of the Rings tours and Hobbit tours now allow fans to stand in the same location as the characters who once roamed these mythical peaks and pastures.
At the peaceful Shire from which this saga all began, anyone taking part in a Hobbiton Movie Set tour can crouch inside an actual hobbit house or frolick among the green pastures where Bilbo once housed the infamous ring. Set in a working sheep pasture outside the North Island town of Matamata, the site where Frodo set out from his journey is the perfect place to begin your own journey of touring filming locations across the country. In Hobbiton, you can explore the hobbit holes where characters lived, see the mill and the double-arch bridge, and check out other locations from the movies like the party tree and the Green Dragon Inn. You can even stand in the doorway of the house of Bilbo Baggins.
Want to add a little adventure to your day spent in the Shire? Some Hobbiton tours from Auckland combine a trip to the Shire with a descent into the subterranean, glow-worm filled Waitomo Caves for an eerie addition to the legend-filled day.
Gardens of Isengard
Rare is there a moment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy where we see the two great wizards, Gandalf and Saruman, walking and talking peacefully before what would ultimately become their epic battle. Two great forces who eventually become enemies, one of these cordial moments takes place as the two wizards are strolling through the Gardens of Isengard.
Shot in the North Island’s Harcourt Park, the Gardens of Isengard are one of the many stops included in Middle Earth tours departing from the capital city of Wellington. Also accessible on Wellington day trip tours are outings to the Elven outpost of Rivendell and the spot where the hobbits raced frantically to make it on to the ferry.
When the voyaging party and Gandalf need to meet with King Theoden, they travel to the windswept outpost of Edoras, capital city of Rohan. The only populated city in all of Rohan, Edoras is a hilltop city set in the middle of a dry plain which seemingly receives very few wanderers or visitors.
As any travelers who take part in a Lord of the Rings tour from Christchurch will notice, the real-life filming location for Edoras is actually much of the same. Set in the high country stations of the South Island’s Rangitata Valley, the hilltop city of Edoras was actually constructed on top of the South Island’s Mt. Sunday and is surrounded by a backdrop of the snow-capped Southern Alps.
Edoras is not very accessible to the casual New Zealand traveler, and those who take part in the tour from Christchurch can actually take four wheel drive vehicles up on top of Mt. Sunday and pose with a number of different movie characters in a setting regarded as one of the trilogy’s most dramatic.
These locations, of course, comprise only a slight handful of the hundreds of filming locations undertaken by the film crews while creating what has become one of the most beloved fantasy series to ever be written. Other favorite spots to visit include trekking to Mt. Doom (Mt. Ngauruhoe) in Tongariro National Park, or visiting the beech forest outside of Queenstown which doubles as the woods of Lothlorien, another home of Middle Earth elves.
While many sites such as Mt. Doom are accessible to anyone who does the research and puts in some walking, partaking in a Lord of the Rings tour is the undisputed best way to fortify your experience. Not only can entertaining and knowledgeable guides inform you as to what exactly happened on the same place upon which you’re standing, but they are able to weave together the lore and mystery which has now intertwined the nation of New Zealand with the incomparably creative mind of J.R.R. Tolkien.
– Kyle Ellison