Some Possible Itineraries
How to see it all, and in what order? Our Top Ten are scattered across both the big islands, and there are plenty more where those came from! Plus your time and treasure budgets may vary. So how about some options?
The “Just Flying Through” Plan (or “I’ve Only Got Three Days)
Honestly, it’s tempting to call this the “Why Bother?” Itinerary. But perhaps you’re heading to or from Australia, or Fiji, and thought you’d add a “quick” side trip. With this brief a window, you’re going to have to pick your island. There’s a strong case to head south, but we’ll keep Hobbiton and Weta in the mix. Here you go:
- Fly to Auckland
- Drive to Matamata (2-2.5 hours)
- See Hobbiton (ideally on an evening when the Green Dragon serves dinner)
- Drive to the Mount Ruapehu area (2.5-3 hours)
- See Mordor, Emyn Muil, Gollum’s stream, Mount Doom
- Maybe drive part way to Wellington
- Drive to Wellington (4.5 hours)
- Visit the Weta/Weta Cave, and as much of Wellington as you can fit
- Ideally get up to Mount Victoria to see the first Hobbit/Nazgûl encounter, the Rohan muster overlook, etc.
Depart from Wellington
But seriously – why bother? If you can stretch this to a full week, we’d still suggest sticking to one island rather than spreading yourself like butter over too much bread. Consider adding:
- The Piopio/Hairy Feet Tour, and throw in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
- A raft ride on the Rangitikei River/Anduin
- Some sites around Wellington, like Isengard at Harcourt Park, Rivendell at Kaitoke Regional Park, and/or the spot of that Sméagol/Déagol unpleasantness at Fernside Estate (if you can join a tour)
- More Wellington! (the Te Papa Museum, the Embassy Theater, Miramar, Seatoun and the Chocolate Fish, etc.)
The “I Want Both Islands!” Plan (or You’ve Talked Me Into Two Weeks)
So we’ve got you to Wellington. Keep all the glory of your one-week plan, and now head to the South Island! Of course, you can always reverse the two-week itinerary order and start your quest in the South Island and Christchurch.
- Take the ferry from Wellington to Picton
- Day Eight: Picton/Nelson area – rafting on the Pelorus River (barrel-riding escapes)
- Day Nine: Coastal Drive to Christchurch (5.5 hours); see the Botanic Gardens at least
- Day Ten: Mount Sunday/Edoras, then on to Twizel (Pelennor Fields)
- Day Eleven: Twizel to Poolburn (Rohan Village, “They’re taking the Hobbits to Isengard!”)
- Day Twelve: Poolburn to Queenstown (take a multi-site tour, enjoy one of the few spots in NZ with night life, consider a bungee jump)
- Day Thirteen: Queenstown/Malvora Lakes/Paradise/Deer Park Heights
(some combination of Nen Hithoel, Parth Galen, White Mountains (Remarkables), Fords of Bruinen, Fangorn,“Aragorn’s Cliff”, the Paths of the Dead exit, the flight to Helm’s Deep, and more)
- Day Fourteen: Return drive to Christchurch (6 hours) to fly out ; maybe check out the Antarctic Center if time
The “Filling Up the Corners” Plan (a Three Plus Week Extravaganza)
Look, New Zealand is going to take root in your soul. You’re going to leave wanting more. So why not linger longer? I’ve been there twice, accumulating six weeks across the Land of the Long White Cloud, and I’m nowhere close to running out of things to see, or places to revisit. If you’ve got the flexibility, why not:
- Take a day trip to the Pinnacles, ideally in Paths of the Dead cosplay (from Wellington)
- Drop by the Stansborough Mill and pick up an elven cloak or nine (Wellington)
- Take a helicopter tour to Mt. Olympus for some combat sparring, and Mt. Owen to exit Moria (Nelson)
- Visit the Jens Hansen Jewelers to get (a look at) a real One Ring (Nelson)
- Stay at Tasman Downs to see the Lake-town Refugee encampment (Lake Pukaki)
- Visit the Twelve Mile Delta (near Queenstown – and take some conies and taters)
- Drive the Lindis Pass, and find the spot sporting the Race to the Ford of Bruinen (near Tarras)
- Listen to your travel agent about the very cool things to see that don’t necessarily have a Middle-earth connection, like hiking the Tongariro Crossing, or seeing a Maori Hangi, or jet-boating to the Huka Falls, or enjoying New Zealand wine country in Marlborough and/or Central Otago, or fly fishing around Rotorua, or taking a boating tour of Milford Sound, or, or, or…
Some Resources to Help You
Without question, the must-buy books for any Middle-earth enthusiast heading to New Zealand are the location guides published by Ian Brodie. They come complete with descriptions, beautiful pictures, directions, and for the LotR book, some precise GPS coordinates to help guide your path when all other lights go out.
Both titles are available, amongst others, at Amazon.com.
For that matter, many of the available printed road maps (yes, they come in formats other than stone tablets) mark Middle-earth film sites directly, often using little gold rings.
You may also want to connect with tour agencies that can get you access to private lands, and help facilitate seeing areas with lots of filming spots with far greater efficiency. Many have done their homework, and know how to point you to the exact spot you need for that selfie to recreate your favorite scene. Some of the most experienced include Red Carpet Tours, Pure Glenorchy, Flat Earth New Zealand Experiences, Nomad Safaris and the Black Sheep Touring Company.
Some of us at TORn are still hoping we can partner with our friends at Red Carpet and form a group to celebrate FotR’s 20th next December!
A Word About COVID: May We Come Back In, Madam President?
New Zealand is still closed. While the country has done a fabulous job keeping their population virus-free, this has come at the expense of a tight shutdown for international travel. The big question, obviously, is how soon we can expect the borders to reopen, ideally without us having to budget a 14-day quarantine into our itineraries. While we may have points of view here at TORn on the Amazon series, we’re not exactly epidemiological experts. Many North American travel agents, like our own Garfeimao, are focusing their NZ bookings on dates after October 1, 2021. So keep those palantírs polished, and be of good hope! (Fine, it’s a subtle t-shirt plug: you can go here for a more overt opportunity https://teespring.com/be-of-good-hope.)
Here’s an official link you can use to stay current on New Zealand’s COVID posture, and also what kinds of visa requirements and fees you can expect.
Start planning your adventure now,
Editor Note: Throughout the month, and as part of our Tolkien Advent Calendar celebration, we are featuring news and resources for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, his worlds and works. Today’s official advent calendar is below!