A Self-Drive Guide to New Zealand’s Middle Earth
When it comes to natural wonders and wide-open spaces, there’s plenty worth seeking out in Australia. With over 500 national parks, the problem isn’t finding them – it’s choosing just one or two to visit. Here’s where we think you should head once you’ve picked up your rental car at the nearest Enterprise Rent-A-Car branch.
Hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, do we have the ultimate self drive New Zealand road trip for you - one that takes in the sights and scenery of the true Middle Earth, from the hillocks of Hobbiton to the peaks of Mordor. So whether you’re a diehard Lord of the Rings fan or you just want to escape to another world, start your trip at our car rental branch in Auckland and follow our itinerary of the film sites, settings and experiences across NZ for a road trip that’s truly magical.
Stop 1: Hobbiton
Just like Frodo, you’ll want to start your epic journey in Hobbiton, with a stop at the film set used in both The Hobbit movies and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Step through the iconic round doorway at the entrance to Bilbo’s Hobbit hole, grab a pint in The Green Dragon Inn and take in the views over The Shire. Once you’ve finished exploring on a guided tour, it’s time to throw your belongings in a rucksack, grab your walking stick and head off into the unknown - or just jump back into that rental car you picked up in Auckland.
Stop 2: Waitomo
Hopefully you’ve seen all The Hobbit movies as well as the original trilogy, because the next stop is all about Mr Baggins and his band of dwarves. The site where many of the scenes from An Unexpected Journey were filmed, the Hairy Feet Waitomo farm and tour will take you through towering limestone cliffs, a primeval native forest and massive rock formations. Walk in the footsteps of Gandalf himself and keep an eye out for the spot where Bilbo received his sword, Sting.
Stop 3: Tongariro
You’ve well and truly left The Shire now - the snowy peaks of Mt Whakapapa and Mt Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park were the setting for multiple scenes in Mordor, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll find the gates of Mordor (Tukino skifield, Mt Ruapehu) and the treacherous labyrinth of Emyn Muil (near the Whakapapa Ski Fields) where Gollum let Sam and Frodo down the rock cliffs here, and if you want to truly feel like you’re in Mordor, set aside a day for the Tongariro Crossing, where you’ll feel like you’ve left the ordinary world behind.
Stop 4: Wellington
Before arriving in Wellington and heading for the South Island to continue your quest, be sure to stop in at the Putangirua Pinnacles. An eerie landscape of fascinating rock formations, the track through the pinnacles will look familiar if you cast your memory back to The Return of the King when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli rode out to meet the Army of the Dead. Once you’ve captured the geological wonder from every angle with your camera, head for Kaitoke Regional Park, the filming location for Rivendell and the Fords of Isen, keeping an eye out for elves while you’re there. From Wellington, you can fly directly to Christchurch, picking up a new rental car from our airport branch when you arrive.
Stop 5: Mt Sunday
It’s a long drive out to Edoras, city of the Rohan horse lords (aka Mt Sunday), but even if it weren’t for the sites appearance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the epic views you’ll take in from the plains at the bottom of the mountain are well worth the trip. The sets and buildings of the city may be long gone, but with golden, grassy plains giving way to snow capped peaks in the distance, your imagination will easily fill in the gaps.
Stop 6: Pelorus River
One of the most memorable scenes in all the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies is the tumultuous ‘escape by barrel scene’ in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. The Pelorus River is where that scene came to life, with dwarves and hobbits alike tumbling down the gorges upstream before tumbling out of their barrels on a sandy shore. If you’re happy to get a bit wet, numerous tour operators in the area offer kayaking tours, but if not, a number of easy walks follow the river.
Stop 7: Wanaka
The dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps which rise up behind Lake Wanaka doubled as the Misty Mountains that surrounded Rivendell. From Wanaka's waterfront, you can look across the lake and see the backdrop that was used when the great eagle, Gwaihir, rescued Gandalf from the tower of Orthanc. Nearby, you’ll also find the Golden Plains, where the Black Riders searched for Frodo and the Orcs attacked the Fellowship.
Stop 8: Queenstown
While Queenstown might be the last stop on our itinerary, there are plenty more filming locations in the South Island that you can add to your trip, from the 12 Mile Delta, site of the Ithilien Camp, to Te Anau, where you’ll find the mystical Fanghorn Forest. Join one of the many tours in Queenstown if you’ve had enough of driving your New Zealand rental car - or just continue on your quest in search of hobbits, orcs and elves and we’ll see you at our branch at Queenstown Airport when you return.