4 December 2017

The Glenorchy Tour: Lord of the Rings filming locations around Queenstown, New Zealand

On the 31st of October 2017, Summer & I achieved one of our lifelong goals of visiting several of the Lord of the Rings filming locations around Queenstown, New Zealand.

We booked the 4.25 hour guided 4x4 Glenorchy Tour with Nomad Safaris which took us to several filming locations from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, locations also used in other big films such as the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Something to keep in mind if you are thinking of booking this tour: many filming locations are situated on private land which means you cannot access them by foot or stand in the actual spot. That being said you still see them from afar, and thanks to the stills provided by Nomad Safaris you know exactly which scenes were filmed at which location.

Our guide Ruth was very knowledgeable and it was so great to have a discussion about the films with someone who is just as passionate about them as I am. Ruth had plenty of behind-the-scenes stories to share which even I, the massive LOTR fan, hadn't heard about.

The Glenorchy Safari of the Scenes takes you from Queenstown to Glenorchy stopping at breath-taking viewpoints.
En route from Glenorchy follow the Dart River to the spectacular filming location for Isengard. This location offers stunning views of Mt Earnslaw. Heading to Paradise discover the location for the Forrest of Lothlorien. Leaving Glenorchy and heading towards Queenstown you will stop at 12 Mile Delta to explore the location of the Ithilien Camp.

For travellers who want to see as many Lord Of The Rings locations as possible, this is the best tour to do so. It is primarily a LOTR tour, although the amazing scenery is enough to please anyone. Our guide also gave us alot of information about the History, Culture, and New Zealand landscape during our tour, all interesting and varied topics which would satisfy all passengers and not just fans of the films.

The only comments I have about the Glenorchy Tour as a whole is that I wish we had an extra 5 minutes in each location. Blame it on my Film Graduate self, I could have spent hours taking pictures in these locations but because of the tight itinerary I couldn't linger too long. There was enough time to see all the locations and compare them to the stills but I personally would have like a little extra time to take it all in.
The Tour is also marketed towards non-LOTR fans so it could well be that you'll be sharing the 4x4 with people who have not seen the films or read Tolkien's work. Again the nature of the tour is to be very informative about both the locations and the History and Culture of the locations but it would have been great to talk about even more LOTR based topics.

I would highly recommend this tour: Ruth was kind, passionate and knowledgeable and was able to answer all of my Lord of the Rings related questions. It was amazing to see the locations with my own eyes and to have someone there to point out the exact spots was super beneficial. Many of the locations look very different to how they appear on screen whether that's because of the use of CGI, lighting, camera angles, changed scenery (filming started in 1999) - so to be able to compare the locations to the film stills was great. 

We documented as much as we could during this tour, all the while aware of the fact that we couldn't look at it all through our camera lens. We have to take it all in with our own eyes aswell.

We have included a couple of film stills below each location picture so you can compare and follow along the journey. Not all of them are the exact same spot, they may show the location from very far away, from a different angle, different side, etc.

On our first stop along the road towards Glenorchy, we saw from afar the location used to film the Refugees of Rohan scene and the Battle of the Wargs scene (when Aragorn falls of the cliff). This is one of the locations that is on private land which means it is no longer accessible to visitors which is such a shame as I would have gladly (partly) reenacted those sequences.
You could see it from afar and Ruth gave us alot of information about Director Sir Peter Jackson's filming techniques and other related information of the production of the films. Unfortunately I don't have any images of this location as it was quite far away but it is clearly visible from Queenstown Centre, you can get at even better view if you're driving to Mildford Sound or Te Anau.

The next stop along the scenic winding road out of Queenstown was an incredible view point of the mountain ranges used in Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

1. Misty Mountains

In the 2nd image above you can see the white snow capped mountain used in the Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo stumbles and drops the One Ring, which Boromir proceeds to pick up and marvel at. It is the area just beneath the cloud, in the middle of the picture. We were lucky to have such amazing weather on this day, the sky was exceptionally clear which gave us a perfect view of the jaw-dropping mountains. This scene is one of the most iconic of the entire trilogy so it was great to hear some behind-the-scenes gossip. Ruth told us some stories about the cast and production, including why Sean Bean (Boromir) refused to take a helicopter up to the mountain, deciding to hike there instead. Ruth also explained what filming techniques were used to achieve the iconic shot in the 4th image: something much appreciated by these 2 passionate film graduates.

2. Paradise: home to Isengard & Beorn's House

Next up is Paradise: a stunningly beautiful area located a small way away from Glenorchy. I don't have any comparative stills for the location above which is where Beorn's house was built for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Images of the construction of the set were captured and published in Newspapers, which ultimately lead to the exterior of the house not being shown in it's entirety in the film. Director Peter Jackson had fired all 25 men from the Security Team after the leak but as the location is near a public road little could be done to stop passers-by snapping a few pictures. This is one of the reasons Peter Jackson prefers to use private locations in his films.

This location was also used in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and the Chronicles of Narnia which was super exciting for me as both these franchises also inspired my childhood.

Paradise is more widely recognised as the home to Isengard. 

In the picture above you can see where the Ents unleashed the Dam in The Two Towers. 

The filth of Saruman is washing away
- Treebeard 

Seeing Isengard in person was just incredible. Not only was it such a spectacular place but the very fact that it is the actual iconic setting for Isengard is mind-blowing. Our guide pointed out where exactly is was filmed and again the film stills provided allowed us to compare the visuals. We were on the other side of Paradise so were unable to shoot a picture from the same angle but you can recognise the hills and mountains visible in the Isengard sequences.

3. Lothlórien Forest

It was Halloween. We were in cloaks holding replicas of the character's swords and standing in Lothlórien, the very same forest in which was filmed Boromir's death and other scenes from the trilogy. It was also used in the Chronicles of Narnia, which only emphasises the beauty of the location as it was used to portray such magical lands.

"Very bright was that sword when it was made whole again; the light of the sun shone redly in it, and the light of the moon shone cold, and its edge was hard and keen. And Aragorn gave it a new name and called it Andúril, Flame of the West."
- J.R.R Tolkien 

Glamdring (also called the Foe-Hammer) forged for Turgon, the King of Gondolin during the First Age, and later owned by the Wizard Gandalf.

Boromir's death was filmed in the woods we visited though further inland. Again, not in the exact spot but the very same woods. Cloaks and sword replicas (from Weta Workshop itself) are available to use for photos in this area which as you can see we very much loved playing around with.

4. The Ithilien Camp - Oliphaunts scene

I think this was my favourite location to visit on the Tour just because we were able to stand exactly where the character's stood. This area is located in a public park which means anyone can access it. It was one of the most awe-inspiring places I have had the pleasure to see in my life, with views of surrounding mountains, rivers and small waterfalls. We were running tight on our schedule at this point so there was no time to take more pictures of the area which is a shame. I'd definitely recommend going here by car and doing one of the walks to admire the sheer beauty of the landscape and revel in the fact that you are absolutely standing in Middle-Earth.

This location concludes the Glenorchy Tour. After this stop we zoomed back to Queenstown in the 4x4, choosing to be dropped off at the Gift Shop rather than our hostel.

All in all a great experience and a big item ticked off our Bucket List! These films inspired our childhood and sparked our passion for Cinema so it was kind of a big deal.
I would highly recommend to any Lord of the Rings fans out there who are thinking about visiting New Zealand!

Holly x


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