I think one thing every one can generally agree on about New Zealand is that pretty much everywhere you look is stunning. You don’t have to visit a national park or the mountains to see scenic New Zealand, just look out your window. If the scenery you crave isn’t there, drive 20 minutes and I guarantee you’ll see something majestic.
For this reason and so many more, Peter Jackson chose New Zealand to be the setting for Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The Kiwi-born writer, producer and director spent years filming all around New Zealand, including Wellington.
After three weeks of living in Wellington spent mostly on Cuba Street working, Ric and I wanted explore the beauty that surrounds our new city a bit more. So we rented a car from Rent a Dent for a steep $62 a day (which turned out to be a lot more, but I’ll get to that later), planning to explore some natural wonders outside the city.
Two things happened, we realized we didn’t have to go far to see something spectacular and our natural wonders tour of the Wellington suburbs, quickly turned into a Lord of the Rings tour.
We picked up our car at the Interislander ferry terminal around 9 a.m. (This is why our rental turned out to be $92 instead of $62. Rent a Dent’s headquaters is only a short bus ride from the city center, so unless you actually arrive in the city by ferry, just pick it up there cause they charge a fortune to deliver it to you.)
After a quick breakfast at Fidel’s on Cuba Street, where we looked through brochures for ideas of things to do. Our first stop was Weta Cave, a mini-museum attached to Weta Digital studios, which is where the special-effects were done for Lord of the Rings (LOTR), District 9, The Lovely Bones and many more films. Ric had his eyes set on this place since we boarded a ferry to Wellington. He’s a huge film junky. I’ve actually never seen him smile that much on our travels.
The free museum is a sci-fi film buffs dream. It’s only small, but has real props and costumes used in the films its helped produced as well as memorabilia. My favorite part was taking a photo next to the real Gollum holding a fish which can be seen in my banner photo.
“The rock n’ pool is nice and cool, so juicy, sweeeeet.”
I think Ric most enjoyed the 20-minute behind the scenes video they show. It’s amazing how many films this small studio has been apart of. We visited Hollywood in the Spring and every studio was armed with electric fences and guards, yet this Academy Award winning studio in New Zealand looked like a simple business complex with no guards and gaps in its fencing.
I love New Zealand.
After seeing the video and taking note of all the amazing scenery in LOTR, Ric and I decided to see if any of those places were close to Wellington. We knew a few had to be near by since there’s been plenty of gossip about Stephen Fry and Orlando Bloom being in town to film The Hobbit.
Weta Cave sells a map of Middle Earth as well as a book that includes all the filming locations used in the LOTR. Being the cheap travelers we are, we jotted down a few places close by and hit the road.
We headed to Lyall Bay to try and find Red Rocks, which was used for “The Black Gate” in LOTR. I had been told to go by a work mate prior as a colony of seals lives there. Unfortunately, Ric and I didn’t find it on our LOTR day. But I found it a few days later and it’s really beautiful but you must walk about an hour to reach “The Black Gate” or the seal colony.
Instead of wasting too much time looking for Red Rocks, Ric and I just got lost in Lyall Bay. The scenic drive from there to the city center is decorated with blue seas, mountains and tiny cottages. From that drive people can reach a pathway for Mount Victoria, which probably offers the best view of the city and was also where Peter Jackson filmed the “Get off the road!” scene in LOTR.
Warning, if you do go on any sort of Lord of the Rings tour, you’ll probably spend the day warning people to “get off the road”.
While visiting places around the city was nice, our whole reason for getting a car was to get out of the city a bit. So we set out eyes on Rivendell, which was filmed in Kaitoke Regional Park in Upper Hutt Valley. About a 45-minute drive from the city center, the park is really easy to find. Just follow State Highway 1 towards Hutt Valley and continue onto State Highway 2, then look for signs for Kaitoke.
The park is massive and there are a few entrance points to it, but the further entrance is right at Rivendell . Once you park there are signs pointing to some of the areas that were featured in the film. Hutt River runs through the park and it was used as the Black River in LOTR.
Also around that area is a really fun chain bridge. It’s something that would probably be seen as a lawsuit waiting to happen or source of profit in other places of the world, but just a fun bridge here. Did I mention how much I love New Zealand. Walk across the bouncy bridge to learn about the park’s rainforest. Along a pathway that takes about ten minutes to walk, there are signs posted explaining certain trees and ferns in the area.
You could spend all day at Kaitoke. It’s a three hour walk one way on its hiking path. It’s also a great setting for a picnic.
After visiting the regional park, we attempted to find Dry Creek Quarry, also in the Hutt Valley, which was the film location for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith in LOTR. But we didn’t have a map and were already pretty spent, so we just went home and rented the Fellowship of the Ring.
Lord of the Rings tours I see advertised around Wellington are quite pricey, so it pays to do some research online and just do it yourself. It’s not hard to find fantastic scenery in New Zealand and film locations for The Lord of the Rings. We just scratched the surface on our one-day adventure, but for those looking to be more in depth, I recommend purchasing a LOTR location guidebook to New Zealand.