During a visit to Wellington I had a few hours to spare and decided to take part in a LOTR tour of filming locations around Wellywood.
I booked the half-day tour with Wellington Rover Tours. Conveniently, the groups are kept small and the guide picks you up from your hostel in a minibus. My guide was extremely knowledgeable about anything Lord of the Rings, from characters, filming locations, behind the scenes information, to what it’s like as an extra on set and stories about the actors preparing for their roles. Wherever you stop, the scenes, locations and angles are explained to you and the guide makes use of laminated stills photographs to illustrate the scenes.
Where’s that big tree root?
The first stop on the tour was Mount Victoria, where the Hobbits jumped off the road at the beginning of their journey to hide from the Ringwraiths.
If you’re searching for the big tree root though, you’d be looking in vain – it was part prop, part digitally inserted. Nonetheless, you can sit in the spot where Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin huddled together and take pictures. If you’re in a group of full-on LOTR enthusiasts, you are encouraged to recreate the scene (minus the horse…). As my guide told me, he once happend to have a die-hard LOTR fan on the tour. The young woman was on a backpacking trip around the country and, despite being restricted to a minimal selection of clothes due to the size of her backpack, had brought her self-sewn elven robe to wear specifically for visiting LOTR locations! That’s dedication.
Elevensies or second breakfast
The next stop on our whirlwind tour of Middle Earth was just north of Wellington at the Hutt River, which stood in for the River Anduin. This is also where the minivan doubles as a mobile muffin stand and second breakfast or afternoon tea is served. As your host prepares the meal, you can walk a short loop track through the forest beyond the suspension bridge.
Next was Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt, where Gandalf and Saruman took a stroll in the Gardens of Isengard. Naturally there is not much to be seen as both the mountains and the tower are digitally inserted into the picture later on.
There is a lot of driving involved in a tour like that, but your guide keeps you entertained with stories about actors and how New Zealand created the post of Minister for Middle Earth to facilitate government – film studio relations and help run this giant project more smoothly. You’ll also be intrigued to learn about method actor Viggo Mortensen’s special relationship with his horse and how he had a rather interesting encounter with Wellington police as he carried his sword everywhere around town in an effort to completely immerse himself in the role of Aragorn!
Rivendell is also on the itinerary. Outside of Middle Earth, its location is more widely known as Kaitoke Regional Park. Once again it’s time for re-enacting some scenes as you are handed a little cape and a sword, an original prop from the LOTR set.
Minas Tirith and Helms Deep were filmed at nearby Dry Creek Quarry, which is the last stop on the LOTR half-day tour. The quarry is fully operational and hence closed to the public, so the minivan stops outside its gates. However, our guide had a few interesting stories to tell and stills to show about filming in the quarry.
In an nutshell, the 4-hour tour covered quite a few locations and was very informative, entertaining and combined sightseeing with nature walks, and, in true Hobbit fashion, also included hot drinks and muffins. If you’re a die-hard fan you might as well go on the full tour, which covers more locations (including where Dunharrow and Bree were filmed) and also includes a visit to the Weta Cave.
You can take a Lord of the Rings tour in many places in New Zealand as the trilogy was filmed all over the North and South Islands. Major tours are available in Matamata (for Hobbiton), Queenstown, Christchurch and Wellington. Another option is taking your AA road atlas and navigating to the locations yourself: conveniently, there are ring symbols placed all over AA maps so you can engage in your very own LOTR location hunt!
Have you taken part in a Lord of the Rings tour in New Zealand? What was your experience?