Author J.R.R. Tolkien has a few fervent fans out there. Loyal legions of them, in fact. His Middle Earth legends of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion have sold copious copies throughout the years, and Peter Jackson’s multiple movies have added exponentially to their popularity. As another offshoot of this global phenomenon, a niche tourism market has emerged where one can see real life places that inspired the writer or locations where the films were shot. Whether you’re an ardent devotee who speaks Elvish or a casual enthusiast who admired the onscreen scenery, here are 11 must-visit destinations for Tolkien tourists to go on their own epic journey (costumes optional). Not all those who wander are lost.
1. Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford, UK
Bucolic Oxfordshire was the inspirational “Shire” landscape where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and LORT legendarium. This cozy pub on St. Giles Street in Oxford was a regular meeting spot for the Inklings writers’ group. A private room at the back of the pub, known as the “Rabbit Room,” was where Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others gathered for weekly get-togethers where they would review each others’ writing, and share a few pints, natch. Many believe this place was a model for The Prancing Pony Inn, where Frodo meets Aragorn for the first time. The Rabbit Room is long gone, but there is a plaque commemorating the literary group inside the pub today.
2. Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford, UK
While you’re in Oxford, take a trip to pay your respects at Tolkien’s final resting place. The Wolvercote Cemetery is a few miles outside the Oxford city center. There you’ll find a modest headstone for Tolkien and his wife, Edith. Their forbidden love story is said to be the inspiration for Beren and Lúthien in The Silmarillion and, to some extent, Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings.
3. Twizel, Canterbury, New Zealand
Not surprisingly, many of the destinations for Tolkien tourists are in New Zealand, where the six Peter Jackson films were made. Who can forget the pivotal scene where kick-ass Eowyn declares “I am no man” before she slays the Lord of the Nazgûl? The Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed around Twizel in Mackenzie Country, not too far from Christchurch in the South Island. The grassy field in the foothills where orcs raged it out is on private land, but you can take a tour that lets you re-enact the battle in full costume, should your inner geek desire.
4. Matamata, New Zealand
The best place for visitors to feel like they’ve gone to The Shire is in Hobbiton, a village near Matamata on the North Island. The lush and whimsical set from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies has been left intact and is one of the major tourist attractions in the country. Minor fans and uber-fanatics alike will enjoy a tour of Hobbiton. See the Hobbit Holes, The Mill, The Green Dragon Inn and the double arched bridge, and feel like you’ve stepped into the rolling green hills of the Middle Earth Shire.
5. Mount Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
This active volcano on New Zealand’s North Island starred in the films as Mount Doom. This was a picture-perfect setting (with a little CGI help) for the Black Land of Mordor, where Sauron forged the One Ring and where Frodo ultimately destroyed it. Many adventurous types like to hike and climb in this scenic area, but, as Boromir says, one does not simply walk into Mordor. Arrange a trip from Taupo where you can walk one way and get transport back from the other side.
6. Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa, New Zealand
This is one of the most scenic hikes in the southern part of the North Island. Even without the LOTR connection, the rock formations in this area a well worth the trek (or tramp, as the Kiwis say it). You may recognize these surreal pinnacles from The Return of the King. It forms the otherworldly backdrop as Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas ride the eerie Dimholt Road to meet the Army of the Dead. There are a few two to four hour hiking routes around the haunting Putangirua Pinnacles, and a longer track that offers stunning views of Lake Onoke and Palliser Bay. Watch out for falling rocks around this erosion-prone area.
7. Kaitoke Regional Park, near Wellington, New Zealand
Don’t miss a trip to Rivendell while you’re in New Zealand. Chances are you’re going to be passing through the capital city of Wellington anyways, so you might as well check out where the Elven outpost was filmed about an hour north. It’s a pristine area of rainforests and river pools, quite fitting for Elrond’s homestead (albeit digitally-enhanced). A signpost in the car park leads to a grassy area surrounded by forest, where many movie scenes were shot. There aren’t many traces left of the LOTR and Hobbit filmings, as nature has taken back the land quite aptly. As Tolkien himself never visited New Zealand, it is said that his true inspiration for Rivendell was Lauterbrunnental in Switzerland, where he had hiked before. It’s full of valleys, waterfalls and majesty worthy of an Elven refuge.
8. Fernside Gardens, near Wellington, New Zealand
Another one of the must-see destinations for Tolkien tourists around Wellington is the bucolic Fernside Gardens. Scenes of the other Elven oasis of Lothlórien were filmed around this historic pocket of pristine nature. The idyllic grounds, secret gardens and lake here is where Sméagol fought Deagol. You’ll also find the picturesque white bridge where the Fellowship said farewell to Galadriel. Although it’s not generally open to public access, you can join a Flat Earth Lord of the Rings Tour, or you can hope to be there on one of their rare open days during the Greytown Arts Festival.
9. Weta Cave Workshop Tour, Wellington, New Zealand
Film fans might be interested in taking of guided behind-the-scenes tour of the award-winning design and special effects studio that made the movies so magical. Check out the props, costumes, 3D models, makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, weaponry and other creative elements that the Weta artists and craftsmen have produced. Weta has worked on more than just the LOTR franchise, and are renowned as one of the best in the biz, worldwide. These tours are popular, so book your time slot well in advance.
10. Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New Zealand
Legolas describes the Silven Elf kingdom of Lothlórien as “…the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold.” Yep, it describes Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu to a tee, it’s no wonder Peter Jackson chose it as a filming location. It was used in some Lothlorien scenes involving the Lady of the Forest, Galadriel, among others. Some CGI enhancements were added, of course, but it’s a lovely area full of pleasant walks, active hikes, water sports and more.
11. Kawarau Gorge, near Queenstown, New Zealand
You might remember a striking scene when the Fellowship of the Ring paddled down the Anduin River where two giant statues of the Gates of Argonath stood on either side. Sorry, the statues were CGI creations, but the river gorge, rugged hillsides and towering cliffs are there to be gawked at in the Central Otago region of the South Island. It’s located between Queenstown and Cromwell, and is a popular magnet for the bungee jumping, riverboarding and white-water kayaking set. All sorts of scenic and adventurous tours can be arranged in Queenstown.