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Exploring Middle-Earth: Tour Guides and Tips

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Planning your next holidays and considering to go to New Zealand? The chances are that you will visit at least one The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit movie location, whether you are a fan of the Middle-earth movie trilogies or not.

Both movie trilogies changed the face of tourism in New Zealand in the past several years. These days, many associate New Zealand with Middle-earth. For some, New Zealand is Middle-earth. In order to answer tourists’s expectations, New Zealand’s tourism campaign was adjusted accordingly. As a consequence of the never ending rush on LOTR and The Hobbit movie sets, many places in New Zealand, such as Matamata and their local businesses, continue to profit from it. Nowadays, there are several companies throughout New Zealand that specialize in LOTR and The Hobbit:

“It’s very much one of the bigger industries in Matamata now. A lot of industry has fallen away whereas this tourism one is continuing to grow, which is real good.” Owen Henderson, owner of The Meat Company,  Hobbiton’s meat supplier when talking to stuff.co.nz

Five years ago, in early 2009, I went to New Zealand by myself and visited, among many other things, some LOTR movie locations. So I know from first-hand experience how overwhelming it can be to pick the right tourism company. In other words, I’ll try to share my experiences with the companies I chose. As I already mentioned, there are many different companies and people offering movie tours, so my recommendations are only but a few among many other great LOTR and Hobbit related tourism companies. For example, based on her travels in New Zealand, Middle-earth News’s director Arwen Kester highly recommends Mike the Guide to anyone who wants to tour movie locations. I, however, did not have the pleasure of having him as my tour guide. During my time in New Zealand, there were four LOTR related activities I chose to book. Three on the North Island and one on the South Island.

 

Hobbiton Movie Set Tours, Matamata
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Sadly, neither Bilbo nor Frodo were at home

Sadly, neither Bilbo nor Frodo were at home

After spending a month in Auckland attending a language school, my first travel destination was Rotorua. From there I booked a tour to the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata with Hobbiton Tours. On their homepage, Hobbiton tours offers a variety of tours and pick-up points. I was piked up with a few others in Rotorua by a friendly tour guide. On our way to Hobbiton, our tour guide and driver (whose name I can’t remember anymore) gave us some information about Rotorua, Sir Peter Jackson’s early movie career, and about Hobbiton itself. So the time passed quickly, and soon after, we arrived in Hobbiton. On arrival, another tour guide took over and explored Hobbiton with us. Back in 2009, the hobbit holes were still nothing but empty movie remains. The only inhabitants, at that time, were sheep. I have to be honest with you, it was somehow creepy. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched the New Zealand comedy horror Black Sheep where ordinary sheep turn into blood lusting were-sheep. Looking back, it really wasn’t such a good idea to watch such a movie before entering a sheep farm a few days later. But still, we all had a blast (and survived unharmed!) and were very excited to be there. At the end of our stay, we enjoyed our lunch at the Shire’s Rest Café and enjoyed a small sheep sharing show. Then, we all returned to our drivers and headed back to where we were picked up earlier that day.

 

Mordor, Tongariro National Park

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Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

My next exploration in Middle-earth was Mordor. This, however, was not a LOTR related tourism company. Instead, I chose attempt to simply walk across Mordor. The Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and was home to Mordor in the LOTR movies. During my research preparations for New Zealand, I came across the possibility to hike across the national park and couldn’t resist. What I didn’t realise at that time was that this wouldn’t be a simply stroll somewhere in the fields. The Tongariro alpine crossing is physically very demanding and, depending on the weather, shouldn’t be taken lightheartedly. I should have known it when booking my trip (very obvious isn’t it?), but I didn’t. After a short while of hiking, I reached my physical boundaries and headed back to the pick-up points. I knew that I wasn’t fit enough to finish the hike. Instead, I enjoyed the beautiful nature and took as many photos as possible while waiting for the driver to arrive. If you’re physically fit, and enjoy hiking, then this certainly might be something for you. However, it is still highly recommended to be accompanied by an experienced guide. It is Mordor after all, even Frodo had an experienced guide! There is a great list on the homepage of the national park with everything you need to know for your safety.

 

Wellington Movie Tour, Various Movie Locations
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Upon arrival in Wellington, I decided to book the LOTR tour with Adventure Safari Ltd. While my other three activities required extensive travel (sometimes taking several hours to reach the destination), this tour was surprisingly close to where my hostel was. Not only were many movie locations shot in the Stone Street Studios in Wellington, but a great number of locations were either somewhere in Wellington’s public places or near Wellington. Some of the most well-known movie scenes were shot in one of Wellington’s parks in the middle of the city. There were so many different scenes shot at the Mount Victoria summit in Wellington, I’m barely able to recollect them all. Ted, our tour guide, was prepared and brought some props in order to reconstruct several scenes. It would have been even better if I were wearing my LOTR cosplay! At that time, we were a small group; only two other people and I booked that tour, so it was very relaxed and we had plenty of time to recreate as many scenes as possible. Of course, we visited the place where the magic happens–Stone Street. After I left what felt like a fortune at the Weta Cave, we moved on and continued to explore the movie sets. All in all, we visited the places where Helms Deep, Rivendell, parts of the Shire, and many other scenes were shot. Depending on how independent you want to be during your holidays, most of these activities can be explored without any tour guide very easily. You could start with this map filled with movie locations .

Original Scene from LOTR

Original Scene from LOTR

And here I am, trying to recreate the scene

And here I am, trying to recreate the scene

 

Rohan, Mt Sunday, South Island

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My last LOTR related activity was on the South Island when I reached Christchurch. There, I booked a tour with Hassle Free Tours. As before, all of the other participants and I were picked up at our hotels and hostels. In contrast to the Wellington movie tour, Rohan wasn’t that easy to reach. It took several hours (around three hours, I think) to reach Mt. Sunday, the place where Edoras was built and shot. Because our tour guide and driver was so entertaining and informative, the hours just passed in no time. The beauty of Canterbury itself mesmerized us. On our way, we crossed several rivers with salmon swimming in them, and the closer we came to Edoras, the more I felt as if we were in Middle-earth and not New Zealand. Mt. Sunday is on the property of a farmer and cannot be climbed by the public. You can drive on your own near it, but only certain tourism companies have the permission to drive right on top of the mountain (unless that has changed in the last few years). So, yes, we stood where the Golden Hall used to be. As if this wouldn’t have been awesome enough, the night before was the first time of that year to snow. In other words, the mountains around us were covered in snow, just like in the movies. As I’ve already mentioned, you can drive there by yourself, but I truly enjoyed being with other like-minded people while exploring the beautiful landscape!

Hassle-free Tours

Hassle-free Tours

There are, of course, many other great LOTR and Hobbit related activities and movie tours. Maybe you can share some of your experiences with us? Or do you know a movie tour company that others need to know? Just leave a comment down below!

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