Visions of Middle Earth

Matamata - Photo by Michael Goetterm Wikimedia CommonsMatamata - Photo by Michael Goetterm Wikimedia Commons

Kiwis, sheep and Rugby are what come to most people’s minds when New Zealand is mentioned. Recently, the Lord of the Rings movies were added to the list, and the beautiful countryside of this southern land became synonymous with Middle Earth! Take a road trip to see some of the landscapes which represented Tolkien's magical land, and see some of the beauty of New Zealand as an added bonus!


The below route takes 8-10 hours, so to have time to stop and explore, it is best to do it over 2 or even 3 days.

Start in Auckland which is the nation’s biggest city, sprawling over and around a narrow isthmus between two harbours. Whilst there is a lot to do and see here, there is nothing LOTR-related, so hit State Highway 1 heading south. Not long after clearing the city’s southern suburbs and the Bombay Hills, exit left onto State Highway 2, following signs for Tauranga and Coromandel.

State Highway 2 passes through both hilly and flat farmland, typical of much of the country. Turn off onto State Highway 27 towards Matamata, a special spot for any Lord of the Rings fan. This town with a funny name is home to the one and only Hobbiton!

The set on which the Hobbiton parts of the movies were filmed remains intact and is open for visitors. There are a number of hobbit holes including the famous Bag End, and also a cafe named the Shire’s Rest and the Green Dragon Inn, which featured in the movies and has been reconstructed in Matamata. This is a must-see on anyone’s list of Lord of the Rings sets to visit, and truly makes visitors feel as if they have stepped into the Shire! Should you wish to spend the night in Matamata, Opal Springs is a great holiday park just outside of town.


by Alex Indigo Flickr Creative Commons

Bag End

by gothic_sanctuary Flickr Creative Commons

Leave Matamata heading south on State Highway 27 to Tirau, where it rejoins State Highway 1. This small town contains two corrugated iron buildings, one a visitor’s centre and one a gallery in the shape of a sheep and a sheepdog. Surely this is the only town in which you can enter a giant dog in search of tourism information! Continue south through the farming town of Tokoroa and across the mighty Waikato River to the pretty lakeside city of Taupo.

Taupo is a great spot for all kinds of watersports, including the hole-in-one challenge whereby people aim to get a golf ball into a hole on a green floating in the lake. The successful hitter wins a prize, but judging by the amount of golf balls found in the lake by swimmers, it is not often that happens!

Lake Taupo

by Ian Armstrong Flickr Creative Commons

The really spectacular scenery comes not long after leaving Taupo, as the State Highway 1 becomes the ‘Desert Road.’ The road winds up through bush and scrub to a rugged plateau of bare land and grasses. To the right, you will see a trio of impressive mountains which are snow-covered in winter and snow-capped in summer. One of these is Mount Ngaruahoe, known in the Lord of the Rings movies as Mount Doom.

Mt Ngaruahoe

by Justin Fail Flickr Creative Commons

To get up close and personal with Mount Doom, there is a one-day hike which crosses Mount Tongariro and passes Ngaruahoe. As the middle part of the one-way hike is currently closed, to visit the mountains circle around to the other side via SH46 and 47 and drive to the end of the Mangatepopo Access Road. From here you can walk up to the base of the mountain and also climb to the top- an impressive tidbit to tell people at home, that you climbed Mount Doom! Be aware however that this is not an easy stroll- hiking boots, water, food and means of contact are necessary, and it is a hard road to the top which will take the better part of a day to get there and back for most people. There are plenty of places along the Desert Road to stop and enjoy the view should you be satisfied with viewing it from a distance. For overnight stops in the area, try Turangi, National Park or Ohakune.

Tongariro Crossing

by Floyd Wilde Flickr Creative Commons

Keep heading south to Waiouru- either on the Desert Road, or on State Highways 47, 4 and 49 should you have crossed to the other side of the mountains to climb Ngaruahoe. In this small town below the mountains there is an army museum, featuring displays of New Zealand’s military heritage. The town is also a base for military camps and training in the area.

The drive south continues through some beautiful hilly landscapes and the towns of Taihape and Mangaweka to Bulls. This otherwise unremarkable small town is well known for its “punny” signs dotted at various strategic buildings and places. The Police station is marked “Consta-Bull,” the Anglican Church “Forgive-A-Bull” and the the library “Read-A-Bull.” There are plenty more along the same cringeworthy lines!

Rubbish bin in Bulls

by Tatham Oddie Flickr Creative Commons

From Bulls, it is only 2 hours to Wellington. Beaches can be found just off the main highway at Otaki, Waikanae and Paraparaumu along the wild western coast before the city. Once in Wellington, there are a number of Lord of the Rings-related places to see.

One of the most popular spots to visit is Weta Cave, a museum dedicated to the Weta Workshop which was the company behind the props, costumes and effects in the movies. You can also see the studios where in-studio filming took place in the suburb of Miramar, although you can not enter as a casual visitor. Downtown is the Embassy Theatre where the world premieres of Return of the King and The Hobbit took place, and also within walking distance is Mount Victoria, where several Shire scenes were shot right in Wellington. The iconic scene of the hobbits hiding from the Black Rider took place here, although the big tree was manufactured and brought in.

Weta Cave

by Kristina D. C. Hoeppner Flickr Creative Commons

Out of the city center and around the coast are more fan trail hotspots- Seatoun is a lovely seaside suburb where many of the actors lived during filming. Further around the coast is Fort Dorset which played the part of the village of Bree and the Prancing Pony Inn.

A longer trip from Wellington, around 50 minutes, will take you to Kaitoke Regional Park, A.K.A Rivendell. Ancient trees and peaceful rivers make this park feel distinctly elven, and indeed it was the location for scenes in Rivendell and the Fords of Isen. Extensive sets were actually constructed in the park, but these have been taken down, leaving only the beautiful natural setting. On the way back towards the city, stop at the Dry Creek Quarry on Haywards Hill Road. This was the location for Helms Deep, and there is no longer much to see for anyone but the most faithful fans!

Kaitoke National Park

by Sally Flickr Creative Commons

There are several tour companies which run tours in and around Wellington for Lord of the Rings fans, which makes it easier to see everything! A quick google search will tell you all you need to know about available tours.

The best place to pick up your campervan hire for this road trip is Auckland, or Wellington if you want to do it in reverse! Have a look here for great deals on New Zealand campervan hire.






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