Touchdown: Middle Earth
Flying into the South Island was surreal, rolling hills as far as the eye can see, lush forests, grand mountains – it felt like you really, truly are in Middle Earth. It doesn’t take a stretch of imagination to believe that that vast patch of perfectly manicured hills was The Shire; the majestic snow-capped mountain over to the left, Isengard; the barren, volcano plains on the horizon, Mount Doom. Everything was just incredible! It was as if New Zealand was photoshopped or art-directed to serve as a stunning highlight to the movies. Not backdrop, as it was way too beautiful to be called that.
We usually veer away from group tours and prefer to be exploring by ourselves, but as big fans of the Lord of the Rings movies, we thought it’s more efficient to join a guided tour. Not only will you get to see the actual shooting locations, you also learn a few trivia and insider tidbits about the filming. We booked 3 Lord of the Rings related tours with Klook.
Queenstown Lord of the Rings Tour
There are 2 tours to choose from in Queenstown: tours of the Wakatipu Basin or Glenorchy, both feature variety of landscapes from the movies. Wakatipu Basin covers the section from Arrowtown to Queenstown, while Glenorchy tour is from Queenstown to Paradise. Since we drove from Dunedin to Queenstown, thereby passed through the Wakatipu Basin attractions, we opted to do the half day tour of Glenorchy-Paradise.
Our camp site in Queenstown, Mrs. Woolly’s Campground is near Glenorchy, so we had driven through the 44-km Queenstown-Glenorchy road several times even before we did the tour. We had explored a bit of Paradise too, so it was There and Back Again (Ha!) But we didn’t mind going through one of the best, if not the most scenic drive in south island a couple more times.
Like I said, we were already in Arrowtown. It was the site of filming for Arwen’s confrontation with the Black Riders at the Ford of Bruinen where her epic line “If you want him, come and claim him” was delivered.
Kawarau Gorge Bridge
The Kawarau Gorge Bridge was the location of the The Argonath (Pillars of the King) where the Fellowship paddled through while cruising the river Anduin. By the way, the two enormous rock pillars, carved in the likenesses of Isildur and Elendi, were digitally added.
The Official Tour | Glenorchy
The tour starts in Queenstown with a 4WD vehicle will do pick up from your hotel. They offered to pick us up at our camp site. But doing so would mean we’d miss some of the attractions, so we met them at their Queenstown office.
The first stop on the official tour was a lookout just on the outskirts of Queenstown along the lovely Lake Wakatipu (Gilly’s Point on Google Maps).
From this viewpoint you can see the lovely Queenstown and the aptly-called Remarkables, an impressive mountain range whose jagged, spectacular snow-capped peaks was the ominous Misty Mountains in the Lord of the Rings films. It also doubled as the slopes of Dimrill Dale, down which Aragorn leads the fellowship to Lothlorien after their ordeal in the Mines of Moria. (The Remarkables also substituted as K2 in the movie Vertical Limit)
Just right below is a small hill with the Remarkables as its backdrop is Deer Park Heights, which was used a location in several of the Two Towers scenes – Gandalf riding towards Gondor, refugees escaping from Rohan, the attack of the Wargs, and the scene where Eowyn served Aragorn ‘tasty’ stew.
It was a bit of a drive to the next stop, but the dazzling views were mesmerizing and begged for a photo-op around every bend. Good thing this was our 6th drive along this road and we had our fair share of stops and pictures, so we were content to just drive through. Our tour guide, James also kept us entertained with his LOTR filming trivia, tour guide stories and insights on living in NZ.
Glenorchy town is dwarfed by the most extraordinary alpine scenery and its picturesque landscapes have become a prime location for film scouts. Aside from The Lord of the Rings trilogy it was also used as location for scenes in Xmen Origins: Wolverine, and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
James, driving his trusty 4×4 took us down to one of the isolated beaches of Lake Wakatipu where a lovely view of glacially-draped Mount Earnslaw awaited us. Its mighty peak portrayed Caradhas of the Misty Mountains. This view along with digitally enhanced waterfalls and ice falls were also in the Hobbit movies.
Twenty kilometers from Glenorchy is a tiny hamlet at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. With mountains of epic proportions in every direction, impressive river gorges and golden forests, this was Paradise indeed. It not hard to imagine Gandalf approaching Saruman’s tower Isengard, the surrounding Fangorn Forest and the Forrest of Lothlorien up ahead.
Before heading back to Queenstown we made a detour and went into the forest for tea break. We also got to play around with some of the costumes and props and pretend we were hobbits.
Final stop of the tour, on the way back into Queenstown was Twelve Mile Delta. A campsite called Bobs Cove Track located on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, it was where Frodo, Sam & Gollum first saw the Oliphaunts battle Faramir’s rangers, as well as the “PO-TAY-TOES: boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” scene of Sam and Gollum.
We could have probably self-drove and hunted for these filming locations ourselves. I think anyone reading this can do it now. But for this time, it was nice to not stress about driving time, road conditions and what not – just sit back, relax and imagine the Hobbits having second-breakfast, Gandalf and Shadowfax flying through the majestic mountains, Aragorn valiantly battling the Orcs, and dreamy Legolas floating through the lush forests.
Overall, the Queenstown Lord of the Rings tour was entertaining, especially for LOTR & The Hobbit fans. We like it that it was in small group. We were only 4 in this tour. James our guide was lively and a good story teller. He was super nice that he even drove us to where we pick up our rental car. Up until then, we were with Dino the Great. More on our adventure & misadventures with Dino on my next post. But it was in Queenstown that marks the beginning of our New Zealand road trip.