Have you ever wanted to step inside a movie and join the characters on their adventures, in whatever exotic place they happen to be in? Perhaps you’d like to join a shirtless Leonardo DiCaprio as he cavorts on some exceptionally photogenic Thai islands in The Beach? Perhaps you’d like to join Carrie Bradshaw and co as they explore exotic Abu Dhabi in Sex and the City 2? Of course, it was actually filmed in Morocco, as Abu Dhabi authorities refused filming permission (perhaps they read the script).
What you see is not necessarily what you get when it comes to the world of cinema, and often places pretend to be other places, for reasons of cost and ease of filming.
Some places don’t actually exist outside of the world of fiction, and yet in a way, it’s still possible to visit them – as the New Zealand Tourism Board were eager to point out after the massive success of The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy, and the anticipated success of The Hobbit film trilogy. New Zealand is Middle Earth for a lot of eager filmgoers, and provided they can make it to the other side of the world, then they can have their own Middle Earth adventure…
While a huge number of scenes were shot on sets in soundstages in the Miramar district of Wellington, the breathtaking location scenes were filmed all over New Zealand.
Making movies in New Zealand became so popular as a result of LOTR, that the Wellington City Council proposed building a huge “Wellywood” sign on the hills overlooking the city, similar to the Hollywood sign. Sensible minds prevailed, with the general consensus being that Wellington was unique, and didn’t need to compare itself to other centres of filmmaking.
To explore the best-known location from the film, you’ll need to visit Alexander Farm, just outside of the town of Matamata, in the central North Island. These gentle green hills were the perfect place to build Hobbiton, where our protagonists hail from. Most of the sets were left intact after filming concluded, and the farm offers private tours, although these might be disrupted as short reshoots for The Hobbit trilogy are expected to take place over the next couple of years.
The amazing central volcanic plateau of New Zealand’s North Island with its otherworldly feel was the setting for many of the sequences set in Mordor and Mount Doom. This area is a huge national park, and so it’s possible to explore freely. Mount Ruapehu (a still active volcano) is featured in the film, and is one of New Zealand’s most popular skiing spots.
In central Wellington, you’ll find Mount Victoria (which is more of a hill), and this leafy park is where the first scene of the trilogy was shot; where Frodo and his fellow Hobbits hide from the menacing Ringwraiths. This scene needed to be shot carefully, so that none of the surrounding city could be seen.
While we can never truly visit Middle Earth, New Zealand is the next best thing… Just don’t call short locals Hobbits. They’ve heard that one many times before…