For the whole month of January this year I was fortunate enough to find myself exploring New Zealand, and while the whole country itself has many places that make you feel like you’re stepping right into Tolkien’s world, I specifically went looking for some of the exact locations that were used in the Lord of The Rings and Hobbit movies 🙂
So I’m going to take you through the places I went, and hopefully you’ll find something about some real world, and fictional locations at the same time!
The first location really has to be Hobbiton, as its the most obvious location for any LoTR fan to head straight for, and its exactly where I went first out of this list.
I’m sure everyone knows what Hobbiton is, but just to give some detail on where it fits into Middle-Earth; Hobbiton is a central village of The Shire, and is located on both sides of “The Water”, which is the main river running through The Shire. The village is overlooked by Hobbiton Hill, usually just called “The Hill”, in which lies Bag End, the ancestral home of the Baggins Family. The village consists of Hobbit holes, also called smials, as the dwellings, but there are also many other buildings of wood, brick, and stone, such as the mill and post office. The standard hobbit holes are most commonly lived in by the poorer Hobbits, aside from smials like Bag End, which are far more luxurious versions of the traditional Hobbit home. Most average hobbits would likely live in standard structures. Although it is located on the Hobbiton set, the Green Dragon Inn is actually located on the closest side of the nearby village of Bywater, just one mile away. Despite what you may think, Hobbiton isn’t actually the Shire’s capital. The title is held by the town of Michel Delving, which lies to the West, and is where the Shire’s Mayor resides.
The real locaton for Hobbiton is located just southwest of Matamata, in Waikato on the North Island of New Zealand. In 1978 The Alexander family moved to the 500-hectare property of rolling grassland where the set is located. Since then it has been a livestock ranch for sheep and cattle. When Peter Jackson began to look for suitable locations for The Lord of the Rings, he first saw the Alexander Farm during an aerial search in 1998 and concluded that the area was “like a slice of ancient England”. Set Decorator Alan Lee commented that the location’s hills “looked as though Hobbits had already begun excavations”. Part of the site has a lake with a long arm that could double as the river.
After suitable negotiations with the owners, work commenced in transforming part of the farm. This included building the facades for 37 hobbit holes and associated gardens and hedges, a mill and double arch bridge, and erecting a 29 ton oak above Bag End that had been growing near Matamata, which was cut down and recreated with artificial leaves. The original set was not built to last, being mostly made of untreated timber and polystyrene, but since 2002 tours of the location were available. Until the filming of The Hobbit trilogy, visitors could only see the basic remains of 17 of the original 37 hobbit holes, but after reconstruction of the set was done more permanently for the new films, tours now show you Hobbiton in all its glory as a living piece of Middle Earth!
The next part of Middle Earth I managed to see is the number one place I would want to see if it were real, and that is Rivendell!
Rivendell, called Imladris in Sindarin, is an Elven settlement and the domain of Lord Elrond. It is located on the Eastern edge of Eriador, in the foothills of the Misty Mountains. For this reason it is also known as “The Last Homely House East of the Sea”. It is situated in a large and hidden valley of the river Brunien. Rivendell was established in the Second Age during the War of the Elves and Sauron as a refuge for those fleeing Sauron’s onslaught, especially after the sack of Eregion, a major Elvish realm to the South of Rivendell. After Sauron was driven out of Eriador and the war was over, Elrond was made Vice-Regent by the High King of The Noldorin Elves, and Rivendell was made his seat of power. By the time of the Lord of The Rings, Rivendell is one of the last remaining Elven strongholds in the land.
As you can see, the set location for Rivendell doesn’t have much of anything left to it. It is located by the Hutt river in Kaitoke Regional Park, North Island. There are a few signs around that show the locations of the original set, as well as a recreation of the archway the fellowship leaves through in the first film. Although on a smaller scale, the arch is in the exact spot of the original. Despite there not being much here, and Rivendell originally being mostly CG in wide shots, it was great to see where they build a fairly extensive set for various areas of Rivendell, and it is a beautiful area.
Fords of Isen
This Next location is actually at the same place as Rivendell, on the Hutt river.
The Fords of Isen are the only crossing point of the River Isen, a river on the Western border of the realm of Rohan. Situated in the Gap of Rohan between the White Mountains and the Misty Mountains, this crossing is also the only path between the East and West in the entire region due to impassable mountains on all sides. This incredibly important strategic position was constantly guarded by the Rohirrim, and were also the site of the first battles in the War of The Ring. Saruman’s forces from Isengard needed to cross here to invade Rohan, and they were resisted on the first attempt, although at the cost of the death of Théodred, the King’s son and heir. A second battle at this site resulted in a victory for Saruman’s forces, and the invasion of Rohan.
The location from the film is hard to be exact, as it appears a central island was added to the river to form the ford and match the description from the books. In the film we only see a short scene of the aftermath of a battle at the fords where there is a search for Théodred. This scene was an extra one added to the extended edition only.
The Ford of Brunien
The next location is another ford, but this is a more prominent one, as it’s from the scene where Arwen faces off against the Ringwraiths!
The Ford of Brunien is the crossing of the Bruinen, or Loudwater River on the path to Rivendell. Also known as the Ford of Rivendell, its waters were under the power of Elrond. In the films, Arwen, the daughter of Elrond is the one who carries Frodo to Rivendell with the Ringwraiths in pursuit, whereas in the book originally, it is another Elf named Glorfindel who carries Frodo. Glorfindel manages to barely outrun the nine riders, and is aided by a sudden flash flood on the Brunien that was said to have been caused by Elrond himself, with horse shapes added to the water by Gandalf, presumably just for a little flare 🙂
As with the other rivers, it was hard to see if I could find the exact location on this river, especially as the river looks different due to a drier season. The scene in the film was actually made using two separate locations. The location I visited was on the Arrow River, right by Arrowtown. This river was apparently used for most of the shot, whereas the part of the scene with the flash flood was made using the Shotover River in Skippers Canyon. Both of these locations are not far from each other, being nearby Queenstown in the South Island.
Yet another river! This one represents an important point on the Anduin, the largest river in Middle Earth.
The Argonath, also known as the Gate of Kings or the Pillars of the Kings, is a landmark on the northern edge of the realm of Gondor. The Argonath consists of two gigantic rock pillars, carved in the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, the two brothers and joint kings of Gondor at the time. Each of the two figures holds an axe in its right hand and its left hand is in a gesture of defiance to the enemies of Gondor. The two statues stand on either side of the River Anduin at the northern approach to Nen Hithoel, the largest lake on the river. As the Third Age wore on the power and size of Gondor diminished, leaving the Argonath in deserted lands, not marking its boundaries any more. The Fellowship of the Ring passed between the pillars on their journey south along the river.
The location for the Argonath is on the Kawarau River to the East of Queenstown, South Island. The actual location itself is a fair bit smaller than depicted in the film, but is certainly an impressive sight and a very deep gorge down to the river. The site can be difficult to relate to the shot in the film, as it was created with CG statues of course, as well as different sense of scale and a change in background.
The Long Lake
This one I only realised was the lake used for the Long Lake in The Hobbit after my visit!
The Long Lake was the lake that lay to the south of the Lonely Mountain and Dale. On its western shore near the mouth of the Forest River was the site of Lake-town. It was wide enough that the opposite shores looked small and far, while the northern and southern ends could not be seen at all.
So that is is for my tour around Middle Earth. There were plenty of other locations that I was nearby and managed to see from a distance, most of which are just fields, forests, and hills and don’t look like much now, but were cool to see nonetheless! Some of these others are places such as parts used for Mordor, Amon Hen, The Ithilien Camp, Pelennor Fields, and areas of Rohan. There were also plenty of mountains that may have been used in shots for the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains, among others.
As an extra mention, I should also say I visited Weta Workshop, as no visit to Lord of The Rings country would be complete without stopping there. On their tour, and even just in their shop I got to see various original props of weapons armour, and plenty of other cool things from the films, and it almost felt like looking at real artifacts in a museum!
In the end, I only really saw a small amount of the huge number of locations used in The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and it would take far longer than the month I spent in New Zealand to see them all!