[Part 1] Visiting the real Middle-earth: New Zealand

The author of the blog post standing next to a signpost depicting the heights of characters from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
How I stack up next to characters from Middle-earth: in between Gandalf and Aragorn, I’ll take that.

Although we’ve only just started 2021 I’m already looking forward to A Very Special Anniversary that will be taking place at the end of the year.

As long-time readers of my blog know, I have loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy since I saw the first film at the cinema aged 13.  This year, in December, it will be 20 years since that film, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released.

I can guarantee that I will be posting a lot about the anniversary – perhaps revisiting this nearly 10-year-old post on ‘My 10 Year Relationship with… The Lord of the Rings‘ – so I wanted to bookend 2021 by starting the year with a Middle-earth flavour too.


Three years ago I touched down on hallowed ground: I arrived in Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island. This had been via a few days in Singapore and a further few days in Sydney, Australia, and I was on holiday with my mum.

It was November 2017, the sun was shining as the southern hemisphere enjoyed the start of the summer, and I was going to be in New Zealand for the next 12 days.

Mum, a fellow Ringer, and I had plotted our itinerary in advance making sure that we would experience such wonderful places as Milford Sound, an astronomy and stargazing tour at Lake Tekapo, and the geothermal wonders of the hot springs at Wai-O-Tapu.

New Zealand is a breathtakingly beautiful country with friendly people that prides itself on being ‘The Real Middle-earth’. I could write a very lengthy post on everything we did, but I’m going to focus on the elements directly relating to Middle-earth instead.


Locations filmed on South Island

  • Glenorchy and Paradise

Glenorchy, which sits at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu in the region of Otago, and the nearby locality of Paradise were used extensively in the filming of The Lord of the Rings and also The Hobbit.

Mt Earnslaw at the top of the photograph by Rees River was used (alongside Mt Aspiring) in the opening sequence of The Two Towers to represent the high peaks around Moria.

The Dart River and Paradise stood in for Isengard and Amon Hen.

Aerial shot of Glenorchy in New Zeland.
Glenorchy from above with the larger Dart River and smaller Rees River.
  • Lake Wakatipu

The 45-minute drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy along the banks of Lake Wakatipu is one of the most scenic roads I have driven along, akin to Canada’s Icefields Parkway, which I have also driven.

This photograph was taken looking across Lake Wakatipu. This area was also used as a backdrop for Ithilien.

Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand.
Lake Wakatipu.
  • Matukituki River, Wanaka

We joined Wanaka River Journeys to experience jet boating on Matukituki River and a wilderness walk. Matukituki River is located in Mt Aspiring National Park and is largely glacier-fed water.

Mt Aspiring – part of the Southern Alps –  is most notable for being the location of the Misty Mountains, and the cast and crew had to fly in by helicopter (unless you’re the helicopter-fearing Sean Bean) to reach the site.

Matukituki River.
Mountain peaks and the Matukituki River: spot the jet boat by the trees for scale.
  • Lake Wanaka and surrounds

Famous, among other things, for its Instagram-worthy tree that – legend has it grew – grew from a fence post, Wanaka is on the other side of Mt Aspiring and the Southern Alps. These mountains were also used as the backdrop for Gandalf’s ride to Rohan on Gwaihir.

Other landscapes around Wanaka were used as tracking shots of the Fellowship as they travelled to Rivendell.

Photograph of Lake Wanaka with the Southern Alps showing behind.
Lake Wanaka at the foot of the Southern Alps.

Special thanks to my mum for gifting me the extended edition of ‘The Lord of the Rings: Location Guidebook’ by Ian Brodie bought while we were in New Zealand from the gift shop at Wellington Cable Car end stop in Kelburn.

  • Part 2 coming soon on locations from New Zealand’s North Island
  • Stay tuned to read part 3 later in the year on visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set

9 thoughts on “[Part 1] Visiting the real Middle-earth: New Zealand

Add yours

  1. Ahhhhh!! THANK YOU for posting this… with gorgeous pictures too! I love that photo of you with the LOTR wooden pole w/ the characters’ pics. I have never been to Australia nor New Zealand, though I’m originally from Indonesia which isn’t too far from there. Now that I live in the US, it’d take more than 24 hours to fly there. I do love the LOTR trilogy so NZ is on my bucket list! Can’t wait to read part 2 + 3 about your journey!

    1. You’re very welcome, Ruth! Really pleased you’ve enjoyed it. I really had the most wonderful time there. Part 2 will be coming next week but you’ll have to wait a wee while for part 3 (spoiler: it’s all about visiting Hobbiton!).

      When we can all travel again I hope to make a return visit. Hopefully you and hubby will be able to get there too, as well as visiting your family in Indonesia. I really wish that teleportation was a real possibility! 🙂

  2. Stunning. New Zealand is one of the places I’d love to visit, perhaps catch an England v NZ cricket match while they’re on tour there (you know, when crowds are allowed at sports events again). However, I’d love to visit the LOTR set – that would be an incredible experience.

    1. What an atmosphere that would be! Hope you manage to get there one day.
      I visited Hobbiton and let me tell you, I nearly drowned myself in happy tears. Look out for that post later in the year!

  3. Gorgeous photos, really nice post! And LOTR and The Hobbit are the like the best movies ever! We love New Zealand. We have written posts on many of the great cities in both the North and South Island including, Queenstown, Mount Cook, Akaroa, Kaikoura, Rotorua (beautiful but STTTINKKKY LOL ) Abel Tasman (just posted today) and so much more! We prefer the wild and more untouched areas of NZ.=)

    1. Thank you! And thanks for stopping by my blog. I completely agree with you: the are the best films!
      I’ll take a look at the posts from your travels. I have so many highlights from my trip, including Queenstown, Wanaka and Tekapo. I didn’t make it to Abel Tasman, unfortunately. Hopefully I get to visit NZ again sometime!

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