Lord of the Rings movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Lord of the Rings filmed?

About Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings began as a novel series written by the talented J.R.R. Tolkien, who had already written a prequel to the story called The Hobbit. The tale was split into three volumes and published in 1954 and 1955, soon becoming one of the most popular written works of the twentieth century. It became such a well-known title that it ended up being translated into 38 or more different languages. Some of the main roles were played by Elijah Wood as Frodo, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, and Sean Astin as Samwise.

Throughout the novels, we encounter all sorts of peoples living in Middle-earth such as orcs, humans, elves, hobbits, dwarves, and wizards. The main conflict throughout the story revolves around the Ring of Power which was created by an evil man named Dark Lord Sauron who ruled the realm of Mordor. He created the ring in order to control all of Middle-earth, and a dramatic war breaks out involving all of the races of the land.

There is an extensive history of lore before the first Lord of the Rings film, but eventually, Sauron was defeated and the One Ring was claimed by a man named Isildur. He knew that the only way to defeat the ring was to toss it into the volcano called Mount Doom where it was forged, but his own weakness to the power of the ring possessed him to keep it. He accidentally loses it and the ring remains unseen to most people for some time, eventually falling into the hands of Smeagol, who was once a hobbit but was turned into the creature Gollum under the influence of the ring.

Our movie begins with the ring ending up in the possession of a hobbit named Frodo Baggins who inherits it from his cousin, Bilbo. Alongside his great wizard friend Gandalf and other companions that he meets along the way, he sets out to destroy the ring once and for all. But first, he must make the treacherous journey to Mount Doom all while avoiding everyone else who wants the power of the One Ring to themselves.

Such a huge franchise would require talented and dedicated actors to pull off their roles. For example, Christopher Lee, who played Saruman, spent over 40 years reading the books extensively before getting the role. As well, the actor Sean Bean who played Boromir would climb the mountains in New Zealand every single day to reach the filming set, as he had a phobia of helicopters. Spoiler alert: some of the scenes that we discuss below might contain spoilers if you haven’t seen the entire trilogy yet.

City Locations

Kaitoke, Waikato, Manapouri

Location Types

Castles, NatureScapes

Location Styles

Castle/Chateau, Dilapidated/Neglected, Foreign

Lord of the Rings Locations

This famous series has been nominated for many awards since the time of its filming and has won every single one. In total, the movies have been awarded 11 Oscars, one of which is the Best Picture award. This is of no surprise when you realize that the entirety of the trilogy was filmed in beautiful New Zealand.

In total, the cast and crew used over 150 different Lord of the Rings filming locations from both the North Islands and South Islands, and if you ever visit New Zealand you can make your way to these places yourself.

Gandalf visits the Shire scene in Lord of the Rings

Waikato in Matamata

The first scene of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring trilogy begins with our beloved wizard Gandalf entering the shire to the delight of all the hobbits. As he travels into the land on a cart being pulled by a horse, he is met by Frodo who jumps into his wagon. As they speak, Gandalf sets off fireworks from the back of his cart which announces his arrival at the Shire. Frodo jests that Gandalf is late, to which he responds with this iconic line; “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

Frodo begins telling him about the things happening in the Shire; new happenings and his concern for Bilbo. The hobbit explains that he believes his cousin is acting strangely and that Gandalf should visit him. Fans who have read the novels know that this is because he is actually in possession of the One Ring and is being tempted by its power.

This scene takes place in the town of Waikato in Matamata. The lush landscape and peaceful setting was the perfect representation of the beautiful Shire and is well suited to be the location of the village of Hobbiton. When The Hobbit trilogy was released several years later, the area was reconstructed into the Shire and remains today as an attraction. Now you can visit and walk among the hobbit houses yourself! You will need a car to get there.

Frodo recovers in Rivendell scene in Lord of the Rings

Kaitoke Regional Park

Once the One Ring leaves the Shire, in possession of Frodo, it paints him as a target to anyone who wants the ring for themselves and he encounters lots of terrifying monsters and people along the way. At one point when the hobbits, accompanied by Strider, stop to camp at a hill named Weathertop, they make the fatal mistake of lighting a fire. This allows them to be spotted by ringwraiths who attack them, stabbing Frodo in the process.

He is saved by Strider who fends them off, but he is badly wounded. The group is met by an elf princess named Arwen who rushes to Rivendell with Frodo. He wakes up days later in a bed at Rivendell where Gandalf is sitting with him. Gandalf tells him; “But you have some strength in you, my dear Hobbit.” Frodo manages to recover from his wound and eventually leaves again to continue on with his journey.

You can visit the Lord of the Rings filming location for Rivendell if you make your way to the Kaitoke Regional Park. Of course, most of the castle and city of Rivendell were created by CGI, but the grassy area in the forest that was used for filming can easily be spotted by a signpost explaining that Lord of the Rings filming took place there. You might also be able to spot the archway that served as the entrance to Rivendell. It is a great location for hiking, camping and seeing beautiful views of the mountains.

Frodo, Sam and Gollum traverse the Dead Marshes scene in Lord of the Rings

Kepler Mire

As Frodo and Sam are making their way to Mordor they come across Gollum who has been following them. Sam is automatically wary of the creature but Frodo feels pity for him and decides to keep him around, and in exchange for not killing him, Gollum agrees to be their guide on the way to Mordor.

On their journey, Gollum brings them through different landscapes in the area, one of them being the Dead Marshes. As they enter the area they are met by a dark and gloomy swampland and Frodo sees bodies floating in the water and small lights that seem to attract him to the water's edge. Frodo almost falls in when they pass the Mere of Dead Faces but is saved by Sam who breaks him out of the trance.

Gollum gives a brief history lesson on the marshes, saying; “All dead. All rotten. Elves, and men, and orcses. A great battle long ago… The Dead Marshes. Yes, yes, that is the name! This way. Don’t follow the lights.” He also explains that if the lights succeed in luring you in then you will be claimed by the marshes, creating a light of your own.

This spooky place is sure to remain in the memories of most people who watch the movies. Thankfully, the real filming location for Lord of the Rings is not quite as scary, although it can look almost as dreary if you visit on a rainy day. Make your way to the Kepler Mire near Manapouri, New Zealand. You can drive part of the way but will need to walk if you want to see them up close.

Rohan prepares for war scene in Lord of the Rings

Poolburn Reservoir

In Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, the second installment in the trilogy, the fellowship continue on their mission to destroy the One Ring. As Frodo and Sam make their way into Mordor there is war and havoc that breaks loose around the rest of Middle-earth. Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn have to save Merry and Pippin who were captured by a raiding party but manage to allow them to escape. The three meet up with Gandalf who warns of war coming to Rohan.

We later see an intense scene where an army of 10,000 soldiers from Helm’s Deep march on their way to Rohan, and the people of the land do their best to create their own army. At the last minute, they are accompanied by Gandalf, an elf army of bowmen, and eventually by the large talking trees called Ents. After an intense battle they end up winning, and Gandalf says, “The battle of Helm’s Deep is over; the battle for Middle-earth is about to begin.”

Many of the scenes leading up to this fight take place in Rohan. It is a gorgeous area with a beautiful landscape and several small villages. These parts of the movie took place in the planes and meadows of the Poolburn Reservoir in New Zealand, and even though the sets have been taken down, the area is still stunning. You will need a car to reach the reservoir but once you arrive it can be a fantastic place to explore on foot.

Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas enter the Paths of the Dead scene in Lord of the Rings

Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King follows the different members of the fellowship as they all do their part in the war for Middle-earth. Now Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas have decided to enter the Paths of the Dead which was an underground passage through the White Mountains that everyone knows to be haunted.

Lore says that Isildur once placed a black stone on top of the hill of Erech and asked the King of the Mountains for his allegiance, to which he agreed. However, when Sauron attacked Gondor the King of the Mountains did not honor their allegiance and they were cursed to never rest until the oath is fulfilled, even in death.

In this scene, we see Aragorn, who is aware of the new threat heading towards Gondor, and he convinces his companions to join him through the Paths of the Dead. He reveals himself to the spirits as the heir of Isildur and tells them that if they aid him then the curse will be lifted. “I am Isildur’s heir. Fight for me and I will hold your oaths fulfilled! What say you!”

The entrance to the Paths of the Dead is easily recognizable, with towering rock formations and a very unique landscape. You will be able to recognize this Lord of the Rings film scene location if you make your way to the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve. Get there by car and then take a hike to find the exact area where filming took place.

Frodo destroys the One Ring scene in Lord of the Rings

Tongariro National Park

In Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King we finally get the satisfying conclusion to the story and the end of Frodo and his companions’ adventure. Frodo had been captured and chained up in Mordor, only escaping thanks to Sam who rescues him. The final climax happens in Mordor at Mount Doom as the two friends make the last stretch up the volcano to destroy the One Ring.

Frodo is getting increasingly weak and struggles to make the dangerous journey to the top of Mount Doom. Sam is the only thing that keeps him going, and he knows that without Frodo the entire journey would be lost since he is the only one strong enough to carry the ring.

In a touching scene, Sam says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”, and he brings Frodo up most of the volcano on his back. The pair finally makes it to the top of the volcano and as Frodo tries to destroy the ring he is finally swayed by its temptation and puts it on, claiming it as his own. This is when the creature Gollum jumps out and bites off his finger ultimately falling into the fires of Mount Doom with the ring, destroying it once and for all.

Do you fancy a trip to Mordor? You can hike the very volcano that was used as Mount Doom if you go to Tongariro National Park. The mountain is called Mt Ngauruhoe and if you compare it to an image from the film you can see that it is the very same mountain that starred in the movies.

Conclusion

Since these films were released they have gained a huge fan base, and lots of people want to visit the filming locations of Lord of the Rings. If you are really interested in seeing where some of the best Lord of the Rings action scenes took place then you should take a trip to New Zealand and pass by as many of these places as possible. Make sure you bring a camera because New Zealand is stunning and you will want to remember visiting these unforgettable places.