When it comes to The Lord of The Rings, New Zealand is always famously mentioned for the enchanting beauty of its scenery. From deeply-gouged canyons and ominous volcanoes to lofty, snow-covered peaks, the physical beauty of Middle-earth was arguably the films’ greatest draw. What many moviegoers don’t realize, however, is that the filming locations for The Lord of The Rings were just a fraction of the overall production. Mythical creatures such as orcs and balrogs were needed to prowl those canyons, and professional makeup and creative design were needed to round out the set.
While there are numerous tours to Lord of the Rings filming locations in cities across New Zealand, there’s only one tour where you can visit the place where the magic was all tied together. At Weta Workshop in the suburbs of Wellington, this 65,000 sq. ft. facility is where much of the design, props, makeup, and weaponry were created in the making of the films.
New Zealand’s premier museum is Te Papa Tongarewa.
Known as Te Papa (‘our place’), the museum takes an inspiring and interactive excursion through New Zealand’s history, art and culture. The museum’s prized collections focus on the areas of art, history, the Pacific, Maori culture and the natural environment.
There’s a freshness and vibrancy to this museum’s curatorship, with a huge collection of Maori artifacts, hands-on activity centers for children, re-creations of Maori meeting houses and colonial settlements, contemporary art and high-tech displays.
Take a tour of the highlights or target your favorite area of interest. Touring exhibitions are also displayed here.
Just 10 minutes from central Wellington, the unique Zealandia wildlife sanctuary and conservation park is one of New Zealand’s premier eco attractions, restoring the flora and fauna that once surrounded the city.
The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary’s restored forest and wetlands provide a habitat for more than 30 native bird species, as well as frogs, lizards and cute green geckos.
View the exhibition tracing the development of New Zealand’s natural history, take a guided walking tour through the predator-proof, 225-hectare (550-acre) sanctuary, then refuel at the park’s cafe overlooking the lake.
Permanent and touring exhibitions of contemporary art are displayed at the City Gallery Wellington.
Works by New Zealand artists are highlighted, along with a lively program of contemporary visual arts, architecture and design. If a major international exhibition of contemporary art is touring, it’s likely to be staged here.
The gallery is a popular meeting spot thanks to its free entry and well-regarded Nikau cafe, serving organic produce and award-winning coffee.
When visiting Wellington, it’s possible to travel over the span of 30 minutes from the capital of New Zealand to the forests of Middle-earth. While the Hutt Valley is often considered as a distant suburb of Wellington, it’s also known as a filming location for the famous Lord of the Rings. Here, in this forested river valley to the north and east of Wellington, numerous scenes were shot for the movies which would capture the attention of the world.
Dry Creek Quarry, for example, was turned into Minas Tirith and the capital city of Gondor. The city makes a brief appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring, although most fans know it for its central role in the epic The Return of the King. This was also the site of Helm’s Deep, the massive fortress of the city of Gondor where armies famously clashed. Nearby, at Harcourt Park, the area was used as the filming location for the legendary fortress of Isengard.
The rural lifestyle and country charm of New Zealand’s heartland are revealed on a day trip to the Wairarapa region from Wellington. It’s an area of sheep-raising, vineyards, farms and outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking through forest parks.
A major feature of this lovely fertile region is Lake Wairarapa, the North Island’s third largest lake. It’s a popular spot for fishing and birdwatching.
The main town, Martinborough, is a firm fixture on the foodie gourmet trail. Wellington locals flock here at weekends to drop into the cellar doors of surrounding vineyards, known for their good-quality pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines.
Nearby there are farms to visit, horses and quad bikes to ride, outdoor rope courses, kayaking and bushwalks to get appetites firing.