The most well known of Middle-earth film locations is Hobbiton. Humble farm animals living a dreamy rural life once ruled the farm, but back in 1998 the farm was spotted by film location scouts and the one ring has ruled ever since The farm is located near Matamata at 501 Buckland Road, just over a two hour drive from Auckland (45 mins from Hamilton). It’s now a full scale tourist operation offering a snoop around Hobbit holes, the mill and a beer and a cold pork pie in the Green Dragon. Excitable tour guides purge stories and fun facts as you glide by blades of grass once crushed by Elijah Wood. You will feel like a tourist the minute you step on the farm but if you are a hard core fan there is no saying no to this most Hobbity of locations.
From Buckland Road you can make your way to Denize Bluffs at Piopio or as it’s more Ringsily known Trollshaw forest. The 90 minute drive will take you through Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Waitomo and Te Kuiti to Piopio where the tour office is located (15 mins from the farm).
Back in 2011 the Denize family farm was invaded by a 500 strong Hobbit film crew and the massive limestone cliffs, set amid the farm, played backdrop to all sorts of Middle-earth antics. Swordy stuff like Bilbo being given Sting by Gandalf, and Glamdring and Orcrist being discovered, happened here. Radagast, with his oversized rabbit gang breezed in to warn of impending danger, and there was some Orc and Warg attacking action.
The only way to check it all out is to take a tour. They run two a day, and only take small groups, so if you are keen it is best to book online. The Denize family run the tours and offer a mix of filming trivia and local knowledge that will charm any fan. The tour office is at 1411 Mangaotaki Road, Piopio and the company is known as Hairy Feet.
Make your way to National Park from Piopio by taking SH4, it’s about a 90 min drive. Turn onto SH48 and as you drive towards the mountain you can’t possibly miss the Chateau Tongariro Hotel. Seated below Mt Tongariro this neo-Georgian hotel was opened in 1929 to boost tourism numbers in the region. During the filming of LOTR it became home to cast and crew, accommodated the bustling production office and provided a screening room for dailies (the film shot on that day). It’s worth dropping in for a peek at the extensive use of velvet soft furnishings or for a snack at one of their various eateries. For those keen to channel their inner Sir Ian McKellen I would highly recommend taking a room for the night and dining in their high end ‘please wear a collar’ kind of dinner.
From the Chateau make your way up the winding, rocky (sometimes snowy) road to Iwikau Village and you will find yourself amid a series of car parks that during ski season are packed with the vehicles of skiers and boarders. Filming did take place without snow so it won’t look familiar at all if it is winter. The location crew had to build scaffolding walkways and lay carpet over the highly vulnerable vegetation, in order to protect it from the crew’s waterproof boots, so if you are venturing off road please be careful of the flora underfoot.
The battle featured in the prologue of LOTR that took place at the end of the Second Age was shot here. Scenes with Elrond a bunch of Elves, Men and Orcs were filmed in one of the car parks and on a nearby slope (use your imagination here they all look quite similar) they filmed a scene near end of The Return of the King where a bedraggled Frodo and Sam fleetingly mention strawberries. If you have GPS you can find exactly where Isildur cuts Sauron’s finger off (View of location: 39° 14.116'S 175° 33.529'E Location: 39° 14.114'S 175° 33.522'E) and also where Frodo and Sam gander over at the Gate of Mordor before trying to climb around. (View of location: 39° 14.116'S 175° 33.529'E Location: 39° 14.114'S 175° 33.522'E).
At the Southern end of Tongariro Park is the township of Ohakune. It’s about an hour drive to Ohakune from the Chateau. Head to SH4 and take SH49 at Tohunga Junction. Ohakune is well known as the home of the humble carrot but is also a good place to gather with friends after a day of mountain adventures for some good food and refreshing drinks.
Nearby is the location that featured in The Hobbits as Hidden Bay, the entrance to the Lonely Mountain. Take a drive up Ohakune Mountain Road towards the ski field. In the winter you will be in full ski/boarding territory but in the summer (when there is no snow) you will be able to recognise the location. Stop at car park 3 and jump out of the car and voila. The crew were welcomed to the area by the local Iwi in a moving powhiri and worked closely with the Department of Conservation building extensive scaffolding and a 200 metre boardwalk to minimize the impact of the crew on the sensitive vegetation.
A half hour from Ohakune towards Taupo are the Tawhai Falls or Gollum’s Pool. Take SH4 out of town and after a few kms turn onto SH47, then turn right onto SH48. Along this road you will find a sign that points to the falls and you can park here. From the sign it is an easy 5 min walk to the falls. Don’t be surprised to find you have the whole place to yourself and if you are feeling a little sweaty you can take a plunge into the cool water. If you have packed a whole fish you can simulate Gollum snatching a fish from the pool below the waterfall in a selfie, if not the natural environment is worth a snap anyway..
Taupo is just over an hour drive from the falls. Go back to SH47 and head north. You will eventually turn onto SH1 and end up in Taupo a bustling tourist town where you can fuel up with food and fun. Around 10 minutes north of Taupo are the Aratiatia Rapids. Take the Thermal Explorer Highway and turn right into Aratiatia Road and find a park in the huge carpark beside a beautiful picnic area.
Here you will notice a massive dam and a dry riverbed. Prior to the dam opening in 1964 there were full time rapids here but now the riverbed is dry except for when the dam gates release the mighty Waikato river at 12pm, 2pm, 4pm (and 6pm in summer) daily. It’s a power producing alliance between nature and man that is fun to watch.
Turning the rapids on and off proved the perfect arrangement for filming scenes the in The Hobbit where the barrels, filled with Dwarves, go hurtling down the river towards Lake-town. For two days the film crew dropped 20 to 25 barrels with gay abandon on each dam release and filmed the outcome. The cycle allowed for the crew to retrieve the barrels from the water once the gushing had subsided. It should be made clear that there were no Dwarves in the barrels at anytime.
Banner Photo Credit: Hobbiton FB