New Zealand is one of my favorite countries to visit, hands down. Many of you know that this is the place adrenaline junkies head to for a rush, but the following itinerary suggestions focus more on surreal natural beauty than bungee jumping, skydiving, canyon swinging, abseiling, paragliding, white water rafting, etc.
New Zealanders are among the friendliest, easy-going culture on the planet and most will welcome you with open arms to any of the following sites:
Te Papa (Wellington)
This first suggestion isn’t actually part of the Hobbit Trail since no part of the film series was captured in or near her walls, but you’ll find plenty of artwork related to the series inside Te Papa. The museum’s claim is that you’ll find “everything New Zealand” inside. It’s a truly spectacular place to learn about Kiwi history!
Lake Pukaki (Canterbury)
The views around this glacier-fed lake will blow anyone’s mind! This was the site that made for the fictional backdrop of Laketown in “The Desolation of Smaug”. Braemer Station was also used for scenes in “An Unexpected Journey”. This place is an outdoorsperson’s paradise and I could spend my entire trip here. The fishing’s spectacular (seriously the biggest and most powerful browns I’ve ever fought — and their coloring is very light by contrast with North American trout), Mount Cook’s nearby for skiing/snowboarding in the winter, the hiking’s amazing, the air some of the freshest you’ll ever breathe, and there are canals adjoining Pukaki to two other large glacial lakes (Tekapu and Ohau) that you can fish, kayak or canoe in for even more amazing views of the land and water.
Wanaka (Otago Region)
Yet another glorious combo of mountain and lake coming together in perfect harmony. Mount Aspiring National Park and the gateway town of Wanaka was the backdrop for the eagles soaring through “Wild Country” in the first film; specifically the ski run area known as “Treble Cone”. Obviously, you can do everything here that you would at Pukaki, but the skiing is a much bigger tourist draw in the winter months. The slopes here are the longest on the South Island and not for beginners!
Nelson (on the shores of Tasman Bay)
If crisp blue waters and mountains aren’t your idea of beauty, then by this point you’re likely guessing the Hobbit Tour isn’t your bag, right? Just look at this shot of the town and surrounding mountain range taken from the Golden Bay Ferry. You can’t access the actual locations that were used to film scenes for “The Unexpected Journey”, as they’re on private land, however, you’ll not feel deprived as as the hilly mountainscapes and water views will become ingrained in your soul really quickly. This town is a major hotspot for cavers too. Travel into the cave systems at Mount’s Owen and Arthur; the deepest and most explored cave systems south of the equator.
This area on the North Island was used to film scenes from Trollshaw’s Forest and Straddle’s Farm in “An Unexpected Journey”. The popular limestone caves hidden in this prehistoric island forest were used heavily in the movie and a tour company called Hairy Feet Waitomo Scenic Film Location Tours will take you right to the places where Gandolf bestowed Sting on Bilbo if you’re a Tolkien buff. Otherwise, this hilly landscape is awesome for hikes and rides on horseback. Like the entire country, Piopio and the whole of the Waitomo District is sure to take your breath away!
Hobbiton will surely bring out the kid in anyone. This is a great place to kick off your trip up the Hobbit Trail, or to make a final end to your journey. The sets on this 1,250 acre sheep farm have been mostly kept in-tact. Strangely, residents of Matamata, tourists, dairy and sheep farmers and local wildlife coexist just fine in this fantasy town. Hobbiton Movie Set Tours offers daily visits throughout. I know there are other towns who’ve gained their claim to fame when movies were filmed there, but Hobbiton really takes the cake. You won’t believe it when you see the quality craftsmanship that went into building the homes and the Hobbiton Mill.
That’s about it for now. I know it isn’t all the sites from the movies. Maybe I’ll do another post with even more sites from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in the future. Those listed above should keep you plenty busy for a first trip anyhow.
Happy and safe travels!