Visiting Middle Earth: just a hop and a skip from Wellington

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.

Get off the road! Victoria Park, Wellington, New Zealand

Get off the road! Victoria Park, Wellington, New Zealand

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.

The Great River Anduin (Hutt River) near Wellington, New Zealand

The Great River Anduin (Hutt River) near Wellington, New Zealand

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!

Elvish territories
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.

Rivendell, near Wellington, New Zealand

Rivendell, near Wellington, New Zealand

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.

Alternative options
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?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  9 comments for “Visiting Middle Earth: just a hop and a skip from Wellington

  1. 14 April, 2011 at 15:48

    I had no idea a Lord of the Rings Tour existed, but it sounds like fun to see where parts of the movie were filmed and a great way to promote New Zealand as well.

    • 14 April, 2011 at 17:30

      It was great fun! I’m sure even more tours will spring up after the Hobbit movie has finished filming!

  2. 14 April, 2011 at 18:20

    I love to follow films and am always on the kook out for props or locations. See my latest post and the boat used by Polanski in ‘Pirates’.

    • Christina
      9 May, 2011 at 09:26

      Me too. I was so glad to have my own car in NZ. My partner and I scouted quite a few LOTR locations on the South Island.

  3. 16 April, 2011 at 22:46

    I would soooo do this tour. Sounds like so much fun. Definitely would keep this in mind if we ever find ourselves in New Zealand.

    • Christina
      16 April, 2011 at 22:53

      I hope you two make it to New Zealand. The tour is great fun, especially all the stories your guide can tell you about filming and the actors!

  4. Nick Thornton
    4 June, 2013 at 04:26

    Hey great blog, very interesting!
    As an avid LOTR fan i was wondering if you could tell me about the scenes in Mount Victoria, particularly ‘get off the road’. I want to independently visit that scene before I book the tour as I will have some time to do so. Can you tell me exactly where it was?
    Also what scenes did you manage to see in South Island? We will have a car to use.

    Thanks!

    Nick

    • Christina
      9 June, 2013 at 22:12

      Thanks for stopping by, Nick! You can definitely go to Mount Victoria and explore the get off the road scene yourself. It’s signposted actually. Just go to the Mount Victoria lookout or viewing platform at the top and wander around a bit, you’ll see signposts pointing towards a lord of the rings scene. As far as I remember (I was there 3 years ago) the actual spot is not marked witha sign however that might have changed now. Just look for a relatively wide mould on the side of the path. Chances are there will be other people hovering around it 🙂

      On the South Island we went to the Mavora Lakes (where Frodo takes the boat and decides to go off on his own but Sam goes after him). Near Paradise there’s where Saruman’s tower was, and the entrance to Fangorn Forest. I’d recommend buying an AA atlas with the Ring symbols on it – it’s a great way of exploring the countryside!

      I’ve also written an article on Hobbiton which I highly recommend visiting:
      http://sandalroad.com/destinations/new-zealand/shire-matamata-hobbiton-movie-set/

      Have fun on your LOTR tours / discovery!

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