Travel in the Footsteps of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand

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“Welcome to Middle Earth!” A huge sign at the Auckland airport greeted us with these words the minute we stepped off the plane. It was a fitting start to our literary adventure through New Zealand, where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. Here is how to plan a Lord of the Rings New Zealand vacation.

Bilbo Baggins home and Hobbit Garden in Hobbiton movie set

Bilbo Baggins home and Hobbit Garden in Hobbiton movie set (Photo credit: aaron90311,


With our Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook in hand, our family of five set off in our rented camper van on the North Island at Matamata. This is the place where Hobbiton is situated in the Tolkien stories.

Here, we took an informative guided tour of the Lord of the Rings movie set village. Tour participants get to see the Hobbit houses (what’s left of them), Sam’s beautiful garden, the huge party tree as well as the green hills of “The Shire.” Sign up for a private guided tour of the Hobbiton movie set now!

Hobbit Holes at the Hobbiton movie set

Hobbit Holes at the Hobbiton movie set (Photo credit: aaron90311,


Our next stop was a bit darker — Mordor. The scenes for this horrific place were actually shot at a ski resort on Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park.

Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand

Mount Ruapehu (Photo credit: lucidwaters,

If you look away from the ski lifts and forget the parking lot (where they shot the battle scenes in the beginning of the first movie), then you can imagine this place as the home of darkness and evil. The mountain is made of hardened black lava, as it’s a volcano, and it was surrounded in eerie mist the day we visited.

Volcanic terrain in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Volcanic terrain in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand (Photo credit: Nyker,

Gollum’s River

Our family set forth on a quest to find the Gollum’s River. That’s where, in Lord of the Rings, Gollum caught a fish and ate it raw. Since we had our terrific guide book, containing both maps as well as pictures from the movie, we found the exact place on Mangawhero River outside the village of Ohakune. We even recognized the rocks from the movie! In the distance you can see Tawhai Falls, which have been nicknamed Gollum’s Falls.

We even filmed our own version of the scene from Lord of the Rings. Our youngest crawled in the ice cold water as Gollum, while the other teens stood on guard as Sam and Frodo. It was hilarious to make and every time we watch it, we roar with laughter.

Gollum's Falls at Mangawhero River

Gollum’s Falls at Mangawhero River (Photo credit: Aleutia, Wikimedia)

Hiding from the Nazguls

Our Lord of the Rings adventure then took us to the capital, Wellington. This is a pleasant city at the southern part of the North Island. Smack in the middle of town, at lovely Mount Victoria Park, film makers shot the scary scene where the Hobbits hid under a tree root while the Nazguls rode just beside them. It was interesting to see how the camera can twist reality! For more insight, book a full-day guided Lord of the Rings Wellington tour via Viator.

Forest path at Mount Victoria in Wellington

Forest path at Mount Victoria in Wellington (Photo credit: Dudlajzov,

The Embassy Theatre

In Wellington, you’ll also find The Embassy Theatre, where they had the world premiere for the third film in the trilogy. Of course, true fans must visit this movie theater during Lord of the Rings vacation in New Zealand.

The Embassy Theatre in Wellington, site of Lord of the Rings premiere

The Embassy Theatre in Wellington (Photo credit: Jexiqua, Wikimedia)

Lord of the Rings on South Island

The ferry ride between New Zealand’s North and South Islands is absolutely breathtaking. This alone could be worth a trip to New Zealand! There are many places on South Island to visit if you want to follow in the footsteps of Frodo, Sam, Gollum, and the others. Visit Edoras from Christchurch, on this full-day Lord of the Rings South Island tour.

Hobbiton movie set for Lord of the Rings

Hobbiton movie set for Lord of the Rings (Photo credit: jovannig,

Why search for Lord of the Rings in New Zealand with kids

It was entirely the kids’ idea to go to faraway New Zealand from our home in Sweden. Diehard J.R.R. Tolkien fans, all three of our teenagers knew the three-hour long dialogue from the first Lord of the Rings film by heart. They had read the books, both in English and in Swedish, as well as a couple of autobiographies by the actors. They had made their own cloaks (which they wore wherever we went in New Zealand), studied Elfish, and did lots of role playing with their friends. Now they wanted to visit “the real place.” Since my husband and I are firm believers that kids learn best when they can immerse themselves with their interests, we took up the idea immediately. Now, we just need to plan another Lord of the Rings vacation in New Zealand!

Bilbo Baggins home and Hobbit Garden in Hobbiton movie set

Travel Mamas Guest Blogger, Maria Berkestam and family outside Bilbo Baggins’ home, Bag End in New Zealand

Plan your Lord of the Rings in New Zealand vacation

If you’d like to plan your own Lord of the Rings in New Zealand vacation, then I highly recommend the Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook. The maps, detailed information, and images were crucial for our trip.

For those who want to experience the magic of this J.R.R. Tolkien series, but who would like more guidance, take a look at this vast array of guided group and private Lord of the Rings tours offered by various operators in New Zealand. From half-day tours to 16-day in-depth adventures, you’re sure to find something that suits your family’s fascination level of Lord of the Rings.

Hobbiton Lord of the Rings movie set in Matamata, New Zealand

Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, New Zealand (Photo credit: yobro10,

Explore more literary and cinematic travel opportunities

If you liked these tips for a Lord of the Rings New Zealand vacation, then you will probably also enjoy these tips for planning a Harry Potter vacation in London.

Want to spend the night in a pineapple under the sea à la SpongeBob SquarePants or in a pinkety pink  room created in honor of Eloise character of childhood books? Take a look at these incredible themed hotel suites.

Inspire future family vacations with this list of the best travel movies for kids.

Lord of the Rings New Zealand Vacation Tips

Save these Lord of the Rings in New Zealand tips

For future reference, be sure to save these tips for planning a Lord of the Rings New Zealand vacation. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Would you like to plan a Lord of the Rings in New Zealand vacation? Let us know in the comments below!

Together with her husband, Maria Berkestam runs the Extended World Travel blog, for families considering traveling together for six months or longer. They also wrote the e-book Extended World Travel – How to take a break from the rat race and travel the world with your family for 6 months – or more!

  1. Our family has been here and we thoroughly enjoyed it! 🙂 We’re lucky to live in NZ! 🙂

  2. Though not a die-hard fan, I enjoyed the LOTR books and movies. It’s fun to see your photos of the locations where scenes were shot. What a fun adventure for your family!

  3. Laurel- Capturing la Vita says

    Oh my goodness, my kids would be in absolute heaven here! What an amazing experience!

  4. Mary-Celeste Lewis says

    I don’t have kids yet, but I hope to! And I definitely want to take a trip to New Zealand to see those breathtaking sites from the movies. New Zealand has always seemed to me a place that holds the beauties of many places in a very concentrated form, which is why they must have used it to represent Tolkien’s magical world!

  5. I have a friend in New Zealand who will enjoy reading this story. I look forward to hearing her reaction to it.

  6. Ankara Kervan Nakliyat says

    great post

  7. travelling says

    Wow!such a great idea to travel in the footsteps of an adventure book!
    I am not planning on travelling to New Zeland, but my daughter is a great fan of Harry Potter, anyone knows any itinerary in the footsteps of Harry Potter in England???

  8. Colleen,
    It was great to get an opportunity to be reminded of our fantastic trip to NZ by writing!
    We looked at all our photos and watched our movies from that trip and now we all want to go back. There’s no such thing as enough of traveling, is there 🙂

  9. Amy,
    Glad I could remind you of your old dream 🙂 Maybe it’s time to act on it!
    I read your dreaming post and it seems a lot similar to what we really did. NZ is a fantastic place with, not “only” the LOTR things, but also amazing nature and fantastic people.
    On of the (other) highlights for us was when we visited a family (with 10 kids!) who lives in the most amazing place where they also rent out cottages –
    I do recommend you to have plenty of time when you go to NZ, there’s so much to see.

  10. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Amy – I hope you’ll be able to take the family on your own LOTR New Zealand trip someday.(Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll make it happen!) I checked out your post…wow…there’s even a Hobbiton Motel. Who knew?!

  11. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Maria – Thanks so much for writing a guest post for Travel Mamas! I have to admit, I’ve never read the stories or even seen the Lord of the Rings movies. However, my husband was quite excited about the story!

  12. Amy @ The Q Family says

    Love love this post.. because I have been dreaming about doing the exact same trip in the future.

    I even talked about it on my dreaming post. 🙂

    I didn’t even know about Gollum’s River! Thanks for the post and now it will be filed in my New Zealand folder. 🙂

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