When Lord of the Rings fans think about visiting New Zealand they remember the films and imagine travelling through the breath-taking landscapes of Middle Earth. Many places, in both the North and South Island, were used when filming the Lord of the Rings and its prequel The Hobbit. New Zealand really does have all this, from the mind blowing grandeur of snow capped mountains to the charming beauty of rolling green hills – and all this is surprisingly accessible when you see the country by land.
We wanted to really immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of New Zealand – to have the freedom to visit distant corners of the country and to stay in these places for as long as we desired. It’s for these reasons we decided to travel by self-contained campervan so we could have the freedom to travel and camp as we liked.
This is our self-contained camper van ‘Jacangi’ at one of many glorious destinations in Middle Earth.
My brother Tom and his girlfriend Sue explored the North Island of New Zealand in their camper van, aptly named ‘Shadowfax’ after Gandalf’s horse and supposedly the fastest horse in Middle Earth. You can hardly tell the difference.
Our last blog post painted quite a negative picture of freedom camping in New Zealand and we had many messages from family and friends wanting to give advice and show their concern. For this we are extremely grateful. We want to reassure everyone that while this negative aspect is very real, it represents only a very small portion of our overall experience here and on the whole 99% of our road trip was absolutely amazing. Just like Middle Earth, New Zealand is stunningly beautiful and most of the people here are friendly and welcoming. Also like Middle Earth, there are dangers and difficulties. In our case we faced the Orcs of Mordor in the form of the ‘camper van haters’ and faced perilous dangers dealing with extreme weather conditions.
This is a dramatic representation of one of the camper van haters we experienced outside of Christchurch. I hope his face didn’t freeze like this.
This is a dramatic representation of Alex one morning after waking up in our camper van after a particularly cold night near Milford Sound.
Luckily the negative aspects of our journey were sparse and overall our experience was filled with immense enjoyment and adventure. Here are some of the highlights from our road trip through Middle Earth:
1. The Shire – Hobbiton, Waikato
The Hobbiton film set is a must-see for any Lord of the Rings fans. The drive through Waikato to get to Hobbiton puts you in the middle of rolling green hills and lush farmland. You feel like you’re in The Shire before you’ve even arrived. Once at the film set you can visit the 44 hobbit holes and their delightful gardens and veggie patches. You can also see Bag End, the mill, the Party Tree, have a drink at the Green Dragon Pub and use costumes/props to transform yourself into a character from the film.
Alex is enjoying some respite at the Green Dragon pub. He really reminds me of someone…
The wise wizard greets a young hobbit outside his home to offer some wizardly wisdom.
Young hobbits of The Shire resting by a horse cart.
2. Mordor – Tongariro National Park
Tongariro national park and Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) in all its splendour.
This 80,000 hectare national park is one of the most spectacular areas in New Zealand, perhaps even the world. The area encompasses meadows, lakes, alpine landscapes, rocky plateaus and jagged ravines. It is home to natural hot springs as well as three volcanoes Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (better known as the infamous Mount Doom). This is one of the most beautiful and majestic places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The film crew did a great job bringing out the menacing characteristics of the landscape and it’s very easy to imagine Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their perilous journey through the lands of Mordor with the almighty ring.
“We wants it. We needs it. We must have… the PRECIOUS!”
Mount Ngauruhoe during a fiery sunset. There’s no need to stretch your imagination for this one – the fires of Mordor are blazing.
3. Rivendell – Kaitoke Regional Park and Fiordland
We had our pointy-ears at the ready and immersed ourselves in the home of the elves – Rivendell – or Kaitoke Region Park as it’s better known to the locals. Although the film stage has been long since removed, it’s very easy to imagine yourself in Rivendell thanks to the helpful information boards and replica elvish archway installed here.
The replica elvish archway in Kaitoke Regional Park.
“Call me Legolas. Come, I will protect you.”
The magnificent backdrop to Rivendell with the immense waterfalls was filmed in Fiordland National Park and is one of the reasons why tourists flock to this area of New Zealand every year.
The magic of Rivendell can be felt at Milford Sound in Fiordland. Huge glaciers carved this fiord out of the mountains leaving behind this vast chasm, surrounded by snow covered peaks and glistening, thundering waterfalls.
4. The Anduin River – Kawarau Gorge
This is the location of a scene in the first film where the Fellowship of the Ring paddles down the Anduin River, which at one point is straddled by a pair of enormous stone statues representing the Kings of Old. The stone statues were added using CGI but the Kawarau Gorge is breathtaking nonetheless. You can see the gorge from its most striking angle by doing a bungee jump from the Kawarau Bridge, which Alex did on his birthday recently as mentioned in a previous post.
Kawarau Gorge is the location for the scene of The Argonath and Anduin River.
5. The Dead Marshes – Kepler Mire, Te Anau
Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes and past the haunted souls of the dead who lie under the surface of the water. It’s easy to imagine Kepler Mire as the eerie home of the dead, especially if you were to visit on a foggy evening under nothing but candle light for a truly haunting effect.
“There are dead faces in the water!”
6. Fangorn Forest – Snowdon Forest, Fiordlands
The Snowdon Forest near Te Anau is the location of Fangorn Forest – home of the Ents and where Aragon, Legolas and Gimli first meet Gandalf the White. You have to stretch your imagination here to really imagine yourself in the forbidden forest of the films but it’s a beautiful location nonetheless.
Snowdon (aka Fangorn) Forest. Is that Treebeard I see in the distance?
After two glorious months our road trip through Middle Earth has finally come to an end. We’re now back on the boat and spending most of our days doing various jobs in preparation for leaving in the coming weeks. We have some major rigging work to undertake and we’re hoping it won’t be too long before we’re able to set sail for Vanuatu. Autumn is now coming to an end in New Zealand, winter is coming and we’re both very keen to head to warmer climes. I’ve come to realise that my body is not built for the cold and Bob in particular is not the easiest place to heat up in a cold spell. At least we can move her to somewhere toastier.
Image credits from top to bottom
- Shadowfax the horse – image from YouTube uploaded by Screen Themes
- Orc of Mordor – image from lotr.wikia.com
- Gimli covered in snow – image from www.theargonath.cc
- Gandalf the Grey – image from zeldadungeon.net
- Gandalf with Bilbo – image by Kelly McMorris downloaded from kellybean86.deviantart.com
- Hobbits by horse cart – image from 8tracks.com from Concerning Hobbits playlist
- Tongariro National Park – photo by Tom Brooks
- Gollum with ring – image from maybeshesthatgirl.blogspot.co.nz
- Fires of Mordor – image from jrrtolkien.wikia.com
- Legolas – image from lots.wikia.com
- The Argonath/ Anduin River – image from www.queenstown.net.nz
- Gollum in Dead Marshes – image is screenshot from film
- Fantasy Forest – image by Daniel Pilla downloaded from danielpillaart.deviantart.com