Travel

10 Hobbit Trilogy Filming Locations in New Zealand You Can Actually Visit

The unique and diverse geography of New Zealand’s North and South Island’s is naturally the nearest thing on earth to Tolkien’s imaginary world.

Hobbit Filming Locations

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, with a population of just over 5 million, New Zealand provides visually stunning movie backdrops that are authentic and real. It also boasts world-class production facilities and top creative minds.

Even without the technical wizardry employed by Jackson and his Weta team to add features and structures to existing landscapes, the unique and diverse geography of New Zealand’s North and South Island’s is naturally the nearest thing on earth to Tolkien’s imaginary world. Home to rare wildlife, ice-age glaciers, rugged mountains, deep lakes, meandering rivers and native forests—much of it unchanged since ancient times, yet all within a short distance of civilisation.

Dubbed Middle-earth, Hobbit fans have continued to travel to New Zealand since the films were launched to experience the mountains, lakes, rivers and plains that were the backdrop to the movies’ famous scenes. More than 150 different locations throughout New Zealand were used to film after Jackson and his team scoured the country for the most beautiful and diverse areas.

Each region has a story to tell about when The Hobbit Trilogy filmmakers, cast and crew journeyed to their particular neck of the woods or, in some cases, moved in for the duration of filming.  Here are a few favourites.

Hobbit Filming Locations
Photo: Shaun Jeffers

Hobbiton Movie Set, Hamilton

Waikato Region
The rolling hills of the Shire were once again brought to life near Matamata, where Hobbiton Movie Set was re-built for The Hobbit Trilogy. Also used in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Hobbiton has remained open as an attraction for Middle‑earth fans. “I’ll never forget that feeling of coming to Hobbiton the first time… there’s so many feelings of nostalgia and history.” Elijah Wood (Frodo)

Hobbit Filming Locations

Piopio, Hamilton

Waikato Region
The looming cliffs, unusual limestone rock formations and prehistoric forest at Mangaotaki Rocks in Piopio look as if they have been created especially to form the backdrop for Middle‑earth.

This area provided the location for Trollshaws Forest and Staddle Farm where several scenes from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey were shot; including The Company arriving at a destroyed farmhouse, the exit from the Troll Hoard Cave, Gandalf bestowing Sting upon Bilbo, Radagast’s arrival and the Gundabad Wargs and Orcs attack.

Hobbit Filming Locations
Photo: Visit Ruapehu

Tongariro National Park

Ruapehu Region
The dramatic landscapes of the North Island’s Central Plateau—where volcanic mountains pierce barren desert and native forests, crystal lakes and deep flowing rivers beckon outdoor enthusiasts—is one of New Zealand’s favourite holiday destinations.

The rocky slopes of Tūroa Ski Field were the setting for Hidden Bay, the entrance to the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The crew filmed here for one day, in which giant scaffolding was built down to the site in order to protect native flora and fauna on the mountain. Nearby Mount Ngauruhoe was digitally enhanced to create the fiery Mount Doom.

“So this is my favourite location [Central Plateau], it is beautiful. There’s a mountain, there’s a waterfall, there’s a beautiful view across the valley there, it’s one of those sorts of archetypal Kiwi places that you think god New Zealand has such amazing landscapes.” Martin Freeman (Bilbo)

Hobbit Filming Locations

Mount Victoria

Wellington
The most famous filming location in Wellington is Mount Victoria, which is within walking distance of the central city. The forested areas of the mountain were used to depict Hobbiton Woods, where the hobbits hid from the black riders. Other Wellington locations include the Hutt River between Moonshine and Tōtara Park, which played the part of the River Anduin; and Harcourt Park, which was transformed into the Gardens of Isengard. Wellington’s Kaitoke Regional Park became Rivendell, where Frodo recovered from a knife attack. Wellington is also home to Weta Workshop, Weta Digital and the Miramar film empire which were central to The Hobbit Trilogy production.

Pelorus River

Marlborough
Peter Jackson chose the Pelorus River as a filming location for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Here, the dwarves were filmed floating in barrels down the river – an experience that Stephen Hunter, who played dwarf Bombur, called ‘his favourite day on set’. A similar experience is also available for visitors, where barrels are swapped for kayaks. Guided kayak tours include stops at waterfalls, streams and the filming location itself.

Hobbit Filming Locations

Mount Olympus and Mount Owen

Nelson—Tasman
A harsh alpine environment with a stunning landscape of glaciated marble karst, Mount Owen is the place where the fellowship escaped the Mines of Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring. Mount Owen and Olympus (further South in Canterbury) are nestled in the remote back-country and can be visited during a helicopter tour.  Driving west from Nelson over Takaka Hill you will find Canaan Downs – the filming site for Chetwood Forest. Here the Ranger ‘Strider’ led the hobbits into the rough country east of Bree in an attempt to escape the Black Riders.

Hobbit Filming Locations
Photo: Rob Suisted

Mackenzie Region and Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

The Mackenzie region is home to many high-country farms, dry tussock plains, stunning blue alpine lakes and jagged mountain ranges. Lake-town – one of the most extensive outdoor sets built for The Hobbit Trilogy – was created at Tasman Downs Station on the shores of Lake Pukaki. The whimsical lakeside village set sits over water incorporating clusters of two-storey wooden dwellings arranged around connecting walkways, waterways and wharves—all featuring the highly detailed style that Peter Jackson is recognised for. Filming at this location was one of the largest operational periods in the shooting schedule with around 700 people on set.
At the same time, Jackson was also filming earlier scenes of the ‘Misty Mountains’ for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on a hilltop plateau overlooking the lake at nearby Braemar Station—an operation that required 10 helicopters to transport cast and crew. Further south in Twizel, part of the Wargs chase was filmed here and the largest battle scene ever—the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Treble Cone

Wanaka
The world-class ski area of Treble Cone was another filming location famous for its off-piste terrain and unrivalled views across Wanaka and the Central Otago region. The skifield is abuzz during the winter months and has the longest vertical run in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Alpine Peaks in the Wanaka region was also described as ‘Wild Country’ for the first film and provided the backdrop for soaring eagles.

Hobbit Filming Locations

Earnslaw Burn and Passburn Track

Queenstown
One of the most magical locations in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Earnslaw Burn is a glacier that has created a number of cascading waterfalls that tumble down a huge rock face. Here, Bilbo and The Company are filmed continuing on their quest after departing Rivendell. The Earnslaw Burn Track, beginning in Glenorchy, is a challenging four-hour hike that rewards with spectacular views at the head of the valley over the glacier and beyond.

Passburn was used for the approach to Misty Mountains and Passburn Track on the Mavora Walkway—one section of New Zealand’s national walkway Te Araroa—is open to the public.

The Queenstown region became a favourite of Sir Ian McKellen: “I feel I know Queenstown quite well. I’ve been to places that have the same sort of spirit elsewhere in the world but nowhere in quite such a magnificent setting.”

Sutherland Falls

Fiordland
Sutherland Falls is in the Fiordland National Park and are one of the highest waterfalls in New Zealand, standing at 580 metres. In the first Hobbit film, after a desperate confrontation with mounted Orcs, Dwarves are rescued by giant eagles who soar over the breath-taking Sutherland Falls. The huge birds bear the Company to ‘The Carrock’—which is the summit peak just to the south of Lake Dale in the Light River Valley southeast of the falls.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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