The Ultimate Lord of the Rings South Island Road Trip
See the best of the South Island and all its incredible filming locations from the Lord of the Rings franchise on this epic roadie!
Heading to New Zealand and omitting a Lord of the Rings movie location stop is like going to the beach without your swimwear. Feels wrong. LOTR is as connected to New Zealand as jandals, pavlova, and waka boats. From North to South, Aotearoa hosted countless legendary scenes from the movie franchise, and now, it’s not just movies. With the new Amazon Prime Rings of Power series (with the biggest budget ever), we’ve got even more locales to tempt you on a road trip.
As Bilbo Baggins once said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Pretty much sums up any great adventurer, really. The kind of person who throws caution to the wind and just books the trip. Makes the leap. Takes the spontaneous right turn. Says yes to the ultimate Lord of the Rings road trip.
Someone just like us and you.
Wellington/Christchurch to Nelson Tasman
"You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
Whether you’re connecting to our North Island Lord of the Rings itinerary via the 8:45am Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton or driving up from our Christchurch branch, your first stop is the coastal town of Havelock. Here, you can hop into a kayak for the afternoon Hobbit Kayak tour. Paddle the Pelorus River, the Middle Earth location in the Desolation of Smaug. Take a break from paddling when you stand on the same rock as Bilbo Baggins!
From here, take a 75-minute drive to Nelson Tasman, the sunniest place in New Zealand! While there are other epic LOTR filming landscapes to explore around Nelson, there’s a more unusual attraction, too: Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmith Studio. Creator of the world’s most famous ring (actually 40 different rings), these rings were used during movie production of both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Get your own ring or choose an Elvish-inspired engagement ring for that special someone.
While Jen Hansen may not be worth the detour to Nelson in itself (unless you’re looking for ‘the ring’), the scenery at Chetwood Forest is! Aside from being your usual drop-dead-gorgeous NZ scenery, it was also the backdrop for the scene where Aragon guided the Hobbits to escape the Black Riders in the Fellowship of the Ring. Stop by Hawkes Lookout for an overview of this inspiring scenery, plus journey into Middle Earth at the Ngarua Caves, where you can climb through a cave-hatch to stand in the same spot Gandalf once rode on horseback.
For the ultimate LOTR fans, book a chopper ride to see Kahurangi National Park; there’s even a helicopter wedding tour (to use those rings?)! Soar over Dimrill Dale (Mt Olympus and Mt Owen), where the fellowship took shelter from Saruman’s black crows. The Kahurangi wildlands transformed into the heart of Rhovanion.
Nelson to Twizel
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — Gandalf
Head to the lower part of the South Island to reach some of the most epic LOTR locations. It’s a mission worthy of Bilbo Baggins, so plan for a day of driving. What a shame Bilbo didn’t have this handy Kiwi radio station guide to keep him company!
In the middle of the Canterbury region, you’ll find Mt Sunday, one of the more remote LOTR locations you can reach without a tour or chopper. To everyday travellers, Mt Sunday is a sheer-sided hill that makes for a great Instagram post; to you, it’s Edoras, the capital of the Rohan people. Take the 1-hour walking track, admiring the views that formed the backdrop of Helms Deep and Misty Mountains.
From here, it’s close to a 4-hour drive to Twizel, in Mackenzie Country, famous for its Dark Sky Zone and exceptional stargazing opportunities. Filmed on the grassy private land at Ben Ohau Station, the momentous battle of Pelennor Fields with a cast of 1,000!
Twizel to Queenstown
“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” –Bilbo Baggins
Up first: Wanaka! Two hours from Twizel, reach the picture-perfect, mellow-vibin', outdoor-lovin' Wanaka. This lakeside town is not only drop-dead gorgeous from every vantage point, but also the backdrop for Gandalf’s journey to Rohan with Gwaihir. Get close on the easy Diamond Lake Walk.
After your Wanaka explorations, rent a campervan New Zealand or car to take the scenic drive over the Crown Ranges. At the summit, look left to see the River Anduin and the Pillar of Argonath. Straight ahead, see Dimrill Dale, with Amon Hen in the distance. The Remarkables set the alpine scenes for Misty Mountains and Gondor.
While we’ve not been privy to the exact filming locations, we do know that the Rings of Power has several filming locations across Otago (our crew spied their crew). We’d bet money on more of the Crown Ranges and Remarkables being featured!
“Who knows? Have patience. Go where you must go, and hope!” — Gandalf
Ah, Queenstown. Perhaps the most beautiful place in New Zealand, definitely the most adventurous, and absolutely a great spot for Lord of the Rings fans, young and old.
Walk Lake Wakatipu, the stunning backdrop for central Queenstown and the elven land of Lothlorien. Bobs Cove Track to Twelve Mile Delta and the short Sunshine Bay Walk are our picks. To hike to the place where Aragorn led the Fellowship after the Mines of Moria, take the Lake Alta Track. Twelve Mile Delta featured in the Two Towers, home of Ithilien Camp where Sam and Gollum had that argument over potatoes. It's also where the battle took place between Harad and Faramir’s rangers. The campsite here means you can effectively camp in Middle Earth. Woohoo!
Kawarau Gorge is another local movie star, used as the site of the mighty Argonath – Pillars of the Kings. The Kawarau River featured in the River Anduin boat scenes during The Fellowship of the Ring. Want to know the best way to see both, Queenstown-style? Bungee off the bridge and watch the scenery whizz, or river jet and raft it!
After your adrenaline rush, why not pop into Chard Farm? It’s not only a lush winery, but you can also see the views of Anduin and Argonath (minus the CGI pillars). From here, stop by the old gold mining community of Arrowtown. With a touch of CGI, Wilcox Green transformed into the Gladden Fields. Walk to the Ford of Bruinen on the Arrow River, too.
Further along Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy village and Mt Earnslaw took the coveted opening sequence spot of The Two Towers. Glenorchy became Isengard, and nearby beech forests of Paradise morphed into magical Lothlorien. If you’d like an effortless day of LOTR spotting, opt for the Magical Lord of the Rings tour. There’s even an opportunity to dress up on this half-day adventure.
Queenstown to Fiordland
“All’s well that ends better.” - JRR Tolkien
If you were to wake up suddenly in the middle of Fiordland National Park, you would not be surprised to see Eowyn riding into the distance. It’s so Lord of the Rings-esque that it feels like you are in the movie, not just visiting the movie locations. And this 12,500 km² national park (New Zealand’s largest) is only a breathtaking 2-hour drive from Queenstown.
In the new TV series, the dark-blue lake waters and craggy Mt Kidd becomes Misty Mountains. For die-hard LOTR fans, enjoy a helicopter ride with a high alpine landing on Mt Kidd. You can also only reach Sutherland Falls (home of The Hobbit end scene) by scenic flight. Treat yourself, we say!
Lake Te Anau also features in the new season, as well as the movie franchise. For the former, it’s the setting for the River Anduin; for the latter, Te Anau was in the Two Towers when Sam and Frodo crossed the Swamp of the Dead to reach Mordor. The Waiau River, between Te Anau and Manapouri, was also used for River Anduin shots; the Southern Alps peaks depicted Rivendell. You can jet boat down the Waiau River to get a double hit: LOTR and adventure thrills!
Camp in Middle Earth at the Mavora Lakes Conservation Park and DOC campground. It’s here that Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas follow Merry and Pippin out of the Fangorn Forest. Mavora Lakes also became Nen Hithoel, where the Fellowship made camp.
From Fiordland, opt to travel to Milford Sound, one of the best day trips out of Queenstown. While not a LOTR filming location, you’re soooo close, it would be rude not to. Alternatively, head back to our JUCY Queenstown or Christchurch branch and draw your epic Lord of the Rings adventure to a close, ring or no ring.
"You shall not pass!" — Gandalf
Well, actually, Gandalf, anyone with a JUCY can pass – and every movie location is listed here if they choose!
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.