The Ultimate Lord of the Rings North Island Road Trip
Have a 2-for-1 vacay and include Lord of the Rings movie and TV show filming locations on your epic New Zealand North Island road trip.
Whether you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings movies once or a trillion times, you’ll know it put New Zealand on the map for many travellers. Or more on the map. People around the world thought surely, a landscape that stunning have to be a CGI effect. And yet, they soon learnt, it (mostly) wasn’t. It was Aotearoa, a head-to-toe gorgeous land worthy of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's cult classics to life.
Maybe your foray into LOTR is via the new Amazon Prime Rings of Power series. In which case, welcome, and yes, Aotearoa is that gorgeous.
Follow this itinerary, and you’ll see all the key filming locations from the original movies and some treats from the new TV series, too. We’ve called it the ultimate guide to Lord of the Rings, but really, it’s the ultimate guide to how truly spectacular New Zealand is. Either way, you get an epic road trip across drop-dead-gorgeous landscapes and attractions, with Lord of the Rings explorations to boot!
Auckland to the Coromandel
“I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.” - Frodo
You may not know the way, but we do! Consider us the hero hobbit of New Zealand road trips. While most Lord of the Rings itineraries will whisk you out of Auckland immediately, the new Rings of Power series means die-hard LOTR fans will want to head to the West Coast to the gorgeous Piha Beach.
The volcanic-black sand, craggy cliffs, and famous Lion Rock, formed an idyllic backdrop when Galadriel and Halbrand are stranded after the tumultuous seas from the Sundering.
The Tasman Sea is rather choppy, here: it’s famous for it, in fact! If you’re a surfer, you’ll be kicking yourself for missing this epic surf. Non-surfers, body surfing here is a blast (swim between the flags, folks). Follow it with some fish and chips (number two on our best Kiwi food blog) at the Piha RSA, a local institution.
Check out nearby Anawhata Beach, too; it features in the new TV series. From here, make your way to the Coromandel across the Hauraki Gulf.
Thanks to the new Rings of Power series, LOTR fans can add the Coromandel to their road-tripping itinerary. The TV scouts loved the 400 kilometres of coastline and thick, verdant forest for its Middle Earth beauty. This is no great hardship to add to your travels as the Coromandel is as gorgeous as a Hobbit’s feet are hairy.
Thanks to the dramatic cliffs, windswept beaches, and craggy inlets, the Coromandel became the backdrop for several scenes. This includes - tight-lipped sources have confirmed - Galadriel riding across a Coromandel beach. Guess we'll need to all play ‘match the beach’ as we watch the Rings of Power, then. Bring it on!
While you’re here, you’ll want to check out Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove and perhaps take a remote coast kayak trip. Waikawau Bay Campsite features in our 12 best North Island Campgrounds.
The Coromandel to Matamata
“None knows what the new day shall bring him.” - Aragorn
From the Coromandel, drive 3 hours to the Hobbiton Movie Set, aiming to arrive mid-afternoon for the last tour of the day. A must for LOTR fans, this is a magical experience around the lush farmland where 44 Hobbit Holes appear as they did in the film. Squee!
Your 2-hour tour will also introduce you to Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End, Party Tree, and the Green Dragon Inn. There’s even an Evening Banquet Tour if you’d like to tuck into a Hobbit-themed feast!
Matamata to Tongariro
“Courage is found in unlikely places.” - Gildor
Start the day with a 2-hour drive to Mangaotaki Valley to the Denize Bluffs. In the Hobbit, these staggering rock formations were the setting for the Troll Forest and they’ve returned in The Rings of Power as part of Harfoot’s territory.
Under the knowledgeable guidance of Warrick and Suzie Denize, take their Hairy Feet Waitomo tour. Discover the secrets of having a movie and TV show (the world’s most expensive) on set on your land and learn about the local flora and fauna.
From there, drive two hours to reach Tongariro National Park and into the depths of Mordor! The 80,000-hectare Tongariro National Park is home to some of the North Island’s most impressive landscapes, with focus on its three volcanoes: Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe. It is the latter that you’ll be most familiar with as it was digitally enhanced to become iconic Mt Doom.
To feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of Frodo Baggins, take the Tama Lakes Walk (six hours) or the impressive 2-hour Taranaki Falls Walk: both give you fab views of Mt Doom. Of course, the legendary Tongariro Crossing awaits; if you’ve an extra day to hike New Zealand’s most famous one-day hike.
You’ll also want to visit Whakapapa’s Iwikau Village (Emyn Muil), Tawhai Falls (Gollum’s Pool), and the Rangipo Desert, backdrop for the Orc Army scenes.
Tongariro to Putangirua Pinnacles or Wellington
"It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life." - Bilbo Baggins
Start the day on a high, rafting the rapids past the spectacular Rangitikei River - used for the River Anduin film location in the first movie.
From here, drive two hours to Kaitoke Regional Park where the ethereal elven town of Rivendell, the Fords of Isen, and The Gardens of Isengard was filmed. As you can imagine from that list, this is the kind of destination to take your breath away! Be sure to snap a selfie at the replica Elven archway in the park and tag us at @Jucyworld with the hashtag #JUCYMoments; you could even win your vehicle hire costs back for your efforts!
The entire route to Wellington is chock-full of movie moments. Drive an hour to Waitārere Forest (Osgiliath Wood) where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum traipsed after leaving Faramir. From here, visit Queen Elizabeth Park, used to film the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. On to Harcourt Park, close to Wellington, visit Moonshine Bridge and Poet’s Park for
Gardens of Isengard flashbacks. Close by, check out (and maybe buy?) elven cloaks at Stansborough woollen mills. Continue to Wellington and walk Mt Victoria. Not only for epic city views and easy walkability from the city centre but because it was once Hobbiton Woods where the hobbits hid from the black riders!
Wellington is awash with LOTR opportunities, and you’ve got two exploring options. The easiest is to jump on a Lord of the Rings tour, taking in all the movie’s hot spots around the capital (though they’ll be some double up from the places you travelled yesterday). Alternatively, if you’d prefer to do it your way, navigate your way to the Dry Creek Quarry. While once home to the Battle of Helms Deep, the Fortress of Gondor, and Minas Tirith, it’s now a simple quarry until your imagination kicks in.
For a true understanding of how much legit magic goes into making a LOTR movie, a behind-the-scenes Wēta Caves tour at Wēta Workshop is a must. A selfie with Gollum, trying on the costumes, and getting a few LOTR gift shop trinkets are just some of the highlights.
Wellington to Pūtangirua Pinnacles
“The way is shut. It was made by those who are dead, and the dead keep it until the time comes.”
Today head to Dimholt Road, AKA the Pūtangirua Pinnacles, a 2-hour journey out of Wellington. If you’re in a JUCY campervan or packing a tent in your JUCY car, most definitely stay overnight at the Pūtangirua Pinnacles Campground as a night under the stars feels like a movie moment in itself.
The outlandish scenery of the Pūtangirua Pinnacles transformed into Dimholt Road (The Paths to the Dead) in Return of the King. It’s the type of scenery you imagine is most definitely a CGI effect, but it’s real! Experience the epic
stone pinnacles up close on the Pinnacles Track, imagining Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli walking alongside you.
From the Pūtangirua Pinnacles, either start your journey back to Auckland (why not drive part of this lesser-travelled itinerary). Alternatively, for the truest fans with the best vacation days, continue on to our mega South Island Lord of the Rings road trip itinerary! You know you want to!
"You shall not pass!" - Gandalf
Well, actually, Gandalf, anyone with a JUCY can pass – at every single movie location listed, if they choose! Everyone’s welcome in NZ!
If you’re ready to get your Lord of the Rings-inspired road trip booked, call our friendly Hobbits (erm, crew) on 0800 399 736 or click BOOK NOW above. You most definitely can pass.