This is part of the valley where the Rohan filming was done. Photo by Jane Wilch, University of Iowa, who studied abroad in New Zealand.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say a small part of the reason I chose to study abroad in New Zealand was inspired by The Lord of the Rings. Just like in the films, roads in New Zealand go ever on and on through forests, along the ocean, and over mountains. Although you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate the amazing views, it certainly adds a little something when you can see where the magic comes from. It would be impossible to fit every location I visited into one blog post (there’s that many) so I broke it down into my top five favorite spots.

1. Isengard

To start off, we visited the filming location for Isengard on a horse trek about an hour outside of Queenstown. There were a few other locations included on the tour but I found the area used for Isengard (minus Orthanc) to be the most spectacular. In the distant background is the mountains leading to Milford Sound and the whole ride is through grassy plains between the mountains. Sad to report, no orcs were sighted.

Paradise/Glenorchy (South Island)

2. Mount Doom

Ok so confession time. For a lot of our trips we were incredibly lucky weather wise. Clear skies, lots of sun and perfect to see the sights… except when we drove past the volcanic range that includes Mount Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mount Doom. So somewhere in that foggy, rainy picture there is a spectacular conic volcano! Although we had to settle for buying a postcard and continuing our drive to Wellington, my friends that all hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing had better luck than we did. Let’s just say I was extremely jealous because the whole range is spectacular.

Mount Ngauruhoe/Tongariro Alpine Crossing (North Island)

3. Dimholt Road

Next up is a location that gave us a quite a bit of trouble. I’ll advise you now that if you venture out to this location: make sure you don’t let your gas get too low. We somehow missed the turn off for the parking lot and were running dismally low on gas. Thankfully a nice kiwi pulled over while we were looking at the map and gave us directions to the nearest gas station. Once actually at the lot, it’s about a 2-3 hour return hike to get to the actual Pinnacle rocks and there’s two routes to choose from: one that goes to a lookout above them and one going directly up the stream bed like the trio took in the film when they were going to meet the Army of the Dead. Pictures don’t do it justice!

Putangirua Pinnacles Track (North Island)
Putangirua Pinnacles Track (North Island)

4. Edoras of Rohan 

Almost at the end here, and bringing in second place for my travels was Edoras of Rohan located in the Canterbury region of the South Island. It’s quite a ways off main roads (gravel roads for probably… 30 minutes at least) but it is so worth it. This was a location that was actually more beautiful than the movies can show because of the enormity of it all. Mount Potts itself isn’t very large (my friend called it a hill… rude) but the mountains surrounding the valley are breathtaking. All it was lacking was some large bearded men on horseback.

Mount Potts / Sunday, Canterbury (South Island)

5. The Shire

The classic, the beautiful, and the best of the best was going to The Shire itself. To get to this location you need to take one of the tours that leaves from Matamata where they drive you out, lead you around all the adorable little hobbit holes, and end the tour with a drink at The Green Dragon (with Pickles the cat). It doesn’t need much more explanation than that, so hopefully you’ll be able to see a little bit of Middle Earth yourself. After all, there’s no knowing for sure where your adventures will lead you.

Matamata, NZ (North Island)
Matamata, NZ (North Island)

You’ll find there’s no shortage of tours, books, and links online to find out how to get to the locations. So I’ll let you investigate the various choices of tours available on your own and get to the good stuff.  Hopefully these tips help inspire your future Lord of the Rings travel around New Zealand.

Laura Nickerson is a TEAN Alum and Global Ambassador at Columbia College Chicago. She studied abroad with TEAN at University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. If you’re interested in learning more about the New Zealand film industry, check out the Silver Fern to the Silver Screen study abroad semester, especially designed for Film and Media Majors.