Touring Tolkien in New Zealand

When they did the forest scene, you can imagine the mayhem of trying to run through a forest path when you’re wearing six inches of rubber, carrying all this armor, whilst not being able to see what you were doing. It was quite a laugh.

When movie director Peter Jackson cast New Zealand as the magical land of  JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series in 2001, a wave of publicity and production swept across the South Pacific Islands. And while the film crews have come and gone and come again, movie locations continue to be a magnet for tourists. The December release of the first prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy has tour operators geared to show off and grow their piece of Middle Earth.

First time around for Lord of the Rings, when the filming was finished, the Hobbit holes were destroyed. This time around, for The Hobbit, the whole sets have been rebuilt back originally as they looked with all the gardens the flowers, and it’s now permanent  and stay forever.

By 2004, a year when 6% of tourists cited movie locations as their main reason for coming to New Zealand, this remote sheep farm in the north island welcomed an unexpected 50,000 visitors who made the pilgrimage to what was, at the time, the crumbling leftovers of a film set. Today, it is one of the country’s most spellbinding spots. 44 Hobbit holes carved into the rolling hills near a town called Matamata.

It’s quite a detailed set. And it just looks like this magical world in the middle of, well, middle earth.

The movies have touched all corners of the country. Shooting locations are spread across the two main islands, and with the Hobbit, New Zealand was fully aware of the potential. When union disputes threatened to move production off shore, Prime Minister John Key, who was also the minister of tourism, rewrote the country’s labor laws to keep the cameras rolling in New Zealand. During production, the army built roads to access shooting locations. Like this one that now takes tourists to Hobbiton, where the 75-minute circuit is peppered with juicy tidbits about how closely guarded the sets were.

Even our government put down a no-fly zone to 5,000 meters, so if you flew over here you were told that you would lose your license for the rest of your life. That’s how tough it was!

The country is dedicating at least $50 million to promote Hobbit tourism, much to the benefit of veteran companies like Nomad Safaris. For 10 years, they have guided the eager around Queenstown, starting with views of the misty mountains that lie just west of the Elvin forest.

They have got to go across these mountains again in The Hobbit and there are some shots of them on the mountain itself.

Guides regale visitors with tales of playing Orcs and Wildmen, even if their cameos as extras haven’t always made the final cut.

I was there, and there were 70 of us there for a whole week of filming, and not one second of it got it into the movie.

About 70 Lord of the Rings filming locations, with GPS coordinates, can be found in a guide that is being updated for the latest movies.

When you look at the pictures of the snapshots of the films and then look where you are, it looks almost exactly the same which is quite weird. We were Frodo and Sam for the day…we were Frodo and Sam. It is very geeky…

Locals have already been on the lookout for the new spots. They filmed right up at the top of the main rapids, and then right here as well, they senta few barrels down.

In the north island, just a few minutes from state highway 1, road trippers can find a dam on the Waikoto river that gets released three times a day, temporarily turning a stretch of the creek bed into rushing rapids that seem made for the silver screen. Visitors will find plenty of haunting scenery fit for a hobbit here, and in a country that considers itself an adventure tourism Mecca, searching for Middle Earth can mean finding the perfect adrenaline rush.




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