I've just seen the trailer for The Hobbit, the latest JRR Tolkien-based movie, and it's revived the vow to visit New Zealand I made after The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This probably makes me sound like a geek but is it possible to visit the film locations for The Hobbit and for the trilogy?
You're not alone. The first three Lord of the Rings movies have been called a nine-hour advertisement for New Zealand and the term "Tolkien tourism" was coined to explain why visits to the country went up 40 per cent between 2000 (the year before the first film was released) and 2006. The Hobbit is sure to reinforce that.
Start with The Lord Of The Rings Location Guidebook (www.aotearoa.co.nz/lotr.htm), a local bestseller that details where each outdoor scene was filmed. Because much of the filming was on conservation land, the Department of Conservation has also created a list that matches scenes in the trilogy to actual locations (www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/lord-of-the-rings-locations).
The film-makers are trying to keep The Hobbit's locations under wraps but thanks to the openness of New Zealand's planning permit system, we know that they are filming at the head of Lake Wakatipu, near Queenstown in the South Island. That is no surprise: the area was the setting for Isengard and the Forest of Lothlorien in the trilogy.
Nomad Safaris (www.nomadsafaris.co.nz/safari-of-the-scenes.html) runs two "Safari of the Scenes" tours out of Queenstown, which include seeing (from afar) some of the outdoor film sets of The Hobbit. The better one is to Glenorchy and Paradise at the head of Lake Wakatipu.
Heading north, the trilogy sites in Canterbury, such as Edoras in the beautiful Rangitata valley, can be visited with Hassle Free Tours (www.hasslefreetours.co.nz) out of Christchurch. They bring along movie props such as flags and swords to wave around, which is good because the film crew did such a good job rehabilitating the site that you'd never know the capital of Rohan had ever been there.
Because Sir Peter Jackson's production company is based in Wellington, it has many sites that can be visited within a few hours. The tree roots where the Hobbits hid from the ring wraith in the first movie is a popular site for photographs and can be visited with Flat Earth tours (www.flatearth.co.nz).
While you're in the capital, visit Weta Workshop (www.wetanz.com) to see how the special effects were created.
Mount Doom is based on the less pronouncable Mount Ngauruhoe in the central North Island. The Tongariro Crossing, a 20km route described as one of the best single-day hikes in the world, takes you onto the mountain's flanks.
In the sheep country of Matamata, a little farther north, you'll find Hobbiton. Hobbiton Movie Set And Farm Tours (www.hobbitontours.com) can take you there.
There's plenty to keep the geeks happy as they go there and back again.
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