Top Lord of the Rings filming locations to visit on your own

One of the many reason I and many other choose to visit New Zealand is due to the incredibly epic franchise “The Lord of the Rings” which was filmed there. Not that New Zealand doesn’t have a million other reasons to visit it (and if you look through many of my love note posts about NZ you’ll see I found many of them) that doesn’t diminish any of the insane filming locations they used around both islands to shoot the movies. By filming all 3 movies (and all the Hobbit movies) in New Zealand, the director Peter Jackson really put New Zealand on a lot of travelers’ maps.

These sites are MUST SEES if you’re a big fan and really amazing sites to visit for hiking/ views even if you aren’t. They are all easy to visit on your own (if you have a car) so no tour needed!

1. The forbidden Pools – Tawhai Falls, Tongariro National Park

Up first is a short easy hike to the pools Gollum is seen swimming/ fishing in in the “The Two Towers”- the forbidden pools.

Directions:

TH adress: Manawatu-Wanganui 4691 in Tongariro National Park

The trail is located in Tongariro National Park however there are no fees for entering or hiking on this trail. The parking area will be on the left as you are heading down and can accomodate several cars. The trail starts opposite the driveway and is a flat leisurely trail until you get to the falls.

You can visit the top of the falls where there is an obvious right split off the trail to a viewing platform. This is also where you can jump from the falls into the pools below. (We saw some doing this but I’m not entirely clear on the logistics of rocks/ depth of water below)

The trail continues on to the bottom of the falls with great views of the pool used for filming. All in all the hike will take you less than an hour and is a fantastic foray into secret filming locations on the North Island. It also introduces you into our next major film star: Mount Doom.

2. Mount Doom – Mount Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park

Our next stop is right down the road from Tawhai Falls however it’s best scene from one of the many hiking tracks in the area, including the world famous- Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Mount Ngauruhoe served as the main inspiration for Mount Doom and appears in many of the background Mordor shots that were filmed all over the area. You yourself can even CLIMB Mt. Doom by accessing it from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but be warned- it is a tough slippery slope and you’ll want good shoes and gloves to help you with the climb. We chose to simply view it in all it’s glory from the TAC track which you can read more about in my detailed post here.

3. Hobbiton – Matamata New Zealand

This one goes without saying- it’s a MUST DO for any Lord of the Rings fan. Like pilgrims flocking to a MECCA, there’s really nothing that equates a visit to Hobbiton for a lifelong fan. Unfortunately to visit the Hobbit holes you’ll have to book a tour in Matamata, online, or at the site itself, but you don’t have to book one to get yourself there! (Save some money and book yourself!) Our tour lasted 3 hours and included a fantastic Hobbit themed lunch on the site! There are many options for booking and I highly recommend a visit to see the holes with their incredibly detailed doors and learn so much more about the filming of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand. You can read more details about visiting and my experience here.

4. Edoras- Mount Sunday

Hands down the COOLEST place on this entire list to visit (apart from Hobbiton of course) is Mount Sunday (aka Edoras in the Kingdom of Rohan). Holy smokes guys, this place is as epic and insanely gorgeous as the film portrays. No CGI, no tricks here. The valley and hill that Edoras is built on is exactly like in the films and it will TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY. They even built the set on top of Mount Sunday so they could film everything exactly as it was in the area. At only 2.5 hours from Christchurch, it isn’t a bad drive. It’s even easier to hit if you’re already driving south to connect to Queenstown.

This spot was so majestic, and so familiar. It was probably my favorite spot in New Zealand and is absolutely worth the bumpy gravel road to get to it. Bonus: It’s FREE, another easy walk/ hike, and you don’t need anyone to tell you what part in the movies it played, you’ll know. For more information on hiking Mt. Sunday and the general area, visit my post here.

5. The River Anduin- The Kawaru River, Queenstown

The scene at the end of the Fellowship where everything is breaking apart but Sam insists on continuing on with Frodo is iconic- between the filming of the boats floating down the Anduin river between the giant Argonath statues to the semi-traumatic death of Sean Bean, the ending scene on the Anduin river is a memorable one. Which makes visiting the filming location for it that much more special.

While the best way to see this film spot is unarguably by boat, you can opt for the free version by doing a gentle walk along the river’s canyon rim. To see it by boat as the fellowship would’ve done, you’ll want to book a rafting trip on the Kawaru River- I recommend this company. Be warned however that it will have sections of white water so make sure you are comfortable with a little extreme sport thrown in there.

If you’re wanting to save money or not up to white rafting though, check out my detailed post here on walking the trail for some of the ultra-special views of the magical river Anduin.

6. Isengard- Paradise, Glenorchy

Like Mount Sunday, the surrounding valley of Isengard is incredible. Tall snowcapped peaks almost completely surround the area and braided turquoise rivers float right down the middle of it. The best way to experience this area is by horseback on a tour specifically designed to get you close to the movie film location give you the inside scoop of filming in that area. (Not to mention does anything feel more “Lord of the Rings” than riding horses?)

Unfortunately our tour was cancelled due to flooding of the riding tracks so instead we drove out to Glenorchy and Paradise to view from afar. The views are so beautiful along the drive that it’s a worthy half day adventure for sure. Just fill up with gas in Queenstown (it’s MUCH cheaper) and head down to Glenorchy.

Bonus: Weta Workshop- Wellington

While we didn’t have time on our trip to make it to Wellington, for the complete picture of filming of the trilogy in New Zealand, head to Wellington for a tour of the movie workshop where you’ll learn all about the special effects and see some of the crazy make up/ molds they made for the movies. See more details for visiting the Weta Worshop here.

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