Way back in 1999, the first day of filming on the LOTR trilogy was in Wellington amid the bush clad town belt on Mt Victoria. It’s close to the city, so if you head about halfway up Alexandra Road to a parking area on your left, in the middle of a right hand bend, you will find a walking track heading downhill. Take the first right down the track and you will be encased in a canopy of New Zealand bush. You will also be standing in the foot impressions of Frodo sensing the Nazgul. A little further down to the right, looking up to the right, is a ledge sitting between two trees. This is where a little tree root cave was built by the art department for the Hobbits to cower under while the horse mounted Nazgul sniffed menacingly above.
From this location it’s not too difficult to find tracks that take you to the Mt Victoria lookout which showcases a 360 degree view of Wellington. If at this time if you aren’t confident about finding a track that leads you back to your car, you can take the road. The alternative, is to do the whole thing on a mountain bike. Unfortunately Nazgul reenactments on horseback are not permitted.
Stone Street Studios are the filming home of Peter Jackson and a bunch of other cool directors. The converted paint factory now boasts four custom built stages and a range of office buildings and workshop spaces. You can’t go in but if you head from Wellington through ‘the cutting’ into Miramar (by the Wellington sign) and turn right onto Stone Street you will be able to park outside the studios and peer through the gates.
From here head to Park Road. After the roundabout you will pass Park Road Post on the left. This beautiful building was built by Peter Jackson back in the LOTR days and is where editing, music, mixing and other post production wonders take place. A bit further along where the road curves right you will see Weta Workshop. Pre LOTR this was Camperdown Studios the central hub for Jackson and Richard Taylor.
Just a bit further along on the corner is the Weta Cave. In the cave there are a lot of cool things to look at, some things you can touch, and you can buy swag and book workshop tours etc. Outside the cave are some giant Cave Trolls just gagging for a fan selfie.
If you feel like a bit of nature, Kaitoke Regional Park offers hectares of native forest within an hour of the city. Pack a picnic and some swimmers and spend the day by the river surrounded by lush bush listening to the song of a thousand cicadas. It’s an easy drive along SH2, you will pass Lower Hutt then Upper Hutt and then enter the Kaitoke Regional Park area where you need to look for the turn off from the main road. It isn’t hard to imagine why the filmmakers chose this beautiful riverside site to build the elaborate and extensive sets of Rivendell. Once you have attached your Elven ears follow the signs to the magical site. Here you can almost see Hobbits and Elves drinking from goblets and talking Middle-earth politics with frowny faces. If you just can’t get enough of the nature you can camp nearby while you cook up some bangers on the coin operated BBQs. Oh and people get married there, like a lot of them, so if you are looking for a place to remember and get hitched, Kaitoke might just be it.
A short trip in the car towards Wellington you can turn off to Harcourt Park. Set in the Akatarawa Valley this lovely green park is a well utilised recreational space for locals with lovely green stretches of grass and a children’s playground. There is also a Holiday Park next door which claims 32 hectares of parkland and native bush. Here you can rent a cabin or pitch a tent for the night. If you are lucky you may hear a Morepork (native NZ owl) hooting over the moonlit bush.
Harcourt Park is where the LOTR crew set up camp for several days and nights, much of the time in rather inclement weather. You will find The Gardens of Isengard marked on Google Maps. Isengard is of course the ancient Gondorian fortress at the southern end of the Misty Mountains, facing Rohan. For this scene the park provided a leafy background for Gandalf and Saruman as they go for a stroll and chat about the ring. Much darker scenes were filmed at night in the park where prosthetic clad Orcs marauded around in the rain cutting down fake trees holding flaming torches. At the time of filming patient and curious locals were entertained by hours of filming from behind roped areas.
The Hutt River starts in the southern Tararua Ranges and travels through Kaitoke, passes through Harcourt Park and makes its way into the Wellington Harbour at Petone. After leaving Harcourt Park jump back onto SH2 and take a right turn after Totara Park just before Moonshine. The Hutt River is a shallow braided river furnished with large river stones and overlooked by willow trees. It is in this setting the Hutt River played double to the mighty Middle-earthian Anduin River and where the intricate and beautiful Elven boats were launched for filming.
There are several places between and here and Wellington you can stop for a dip in the river, or grab some water shoes and a boogie board and float down. A little closer to Wellington there is an established walking and cycling track beside the river, ideal for anyone wanting to increase their heart rate and work off their BBQ sausages.
One of the least picturesque filming locations is the Dry Creek Quarry at the bottom of the Haywards Hill. There are traffic lights on SH2 and you can turn off to the right and head up the hill to the carpark/entrance of the quarry to take a peek.
Weeks of night shoots took place here turing the crew into vampires. The giant Deeping Wall was constructed and considerable parts of the mountain fortress of Helm’s Deep. Hundreds of Elves, Rohan, Orcs, Uruk Hai, principal cast and crew worked night after night in the dark drenched by rain towers to shoot the epic 40 minute long battle that dominated The Two Towers film. Nothing at all is left of the set.
If you are up for a bit of a drive and hike, the Putangirua Pinnacles are a couple of hours drive from Wellington. From Welly take SH2 over the Rimutaka Hill to Featherston. Carry on to Lake Ferry Road then turn onto Cape Palliser Road. About 13 km along you will find the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve. After the Department of Conservation Te Kopi Homestead you will find a turn-off to the campsite and walking tracks.
From here it gets a bit ‘Fellowship on the move’ and you will need to leave the car and proceed on foot. There are a few track options so consult the signs for you preferred experience. Tracks will lead you to the eroded rock phenomenon that is the pinnacles. Thousands of years of erosion have left freaky looking thin towers of rock known as ‘hoodoos’ behind. This spooky location forms a backdrop to Dimholt Road in ROTK where Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas go to meet the Army of the Dead. It’s stunning and weird and worth the walk just for the fresh air and freaky selfie.