Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trail

The Great Lake Taupo region is home to many of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit filming locations. Winter is a great time to tackle the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trail as the mountains look spectacular covered in snow at this time of year.

Mount Doom and the Land of Mordor

In autumn 2000, Tongariro National Park was home to the most sinister of the Lord of the Rings locations, Mordor, which is the strong hold of the Dark Lord Sauron. Mordor is the great volcanic plateau filled with geological wonders known as Gorgoroth. Much of Frodo and Sam's journey into the land of Sauron was filmed in and around the Tongariro National Park.

The area has jagged volcanic rock formations and eerie barren landscapes, ideally suited to Mordor's hissing wasteland. The most famous feature of all is the fiery volcano of Mt Doom, a digitally altered Mt Ngauruhoe. Many visitors travel far and wide just to get close to the source of the Ring, and during winter it looks spectacular blanketed in snow. Three other locations on the nearby slopes of Mt Ruapehu were chosen to depict a number of other scenes from Mordor.

Although the rocky landscape of the Tongariro National Park appears extensively in the movie, the summits of the volcanoes were not filmed out of respect for the people of Ngati Tuwharetoa, the local iwi (tribe) of the Central North Island, to whom the peaks are sacred.

To really immerse yourself in Mordor and feel the eerie barren landscape, trek the first part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to the base of the Devils Staircase. From here you’ll have incredible views of Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe). This lower part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is accessible in winter if there is not too much snow on the ground, but don’t go up any further without a local guide and the right alpine equipment (crampons, ice axe etc).

The following are features of Tongariro National Park that were captured in the filming of scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Mt Ngauruhoe aka Mt Doom

Mt Ngauruhoe was digitally altered to appear as the sinister fiery volcano of Mt Doom, the centre of Frodo’s quest to save Middle-Earth. This was the place the ring was forged by the Dark Lord Sauron and the only place it can be destroyed. There aren’t actually any orcs here in real life, nor do fires burn in Mt Ngauruhoe today! The volcano is still very much alive though, with its last eruption in 1975. For the time being however, the mountain is sleeping.

Iwikau Village, Whakapapa Ski Area

The maze of razor-sharp rocks, cliffs and ravines of Emyn Muil is located behind Aorangi Lodge. Whakapapa Ski Area is also where Isildur cuts off Sauron's finger and with it the ring. With jagged volcanic rock and steep bluffs, little imagination is required to visualise Mordor, even in winter when the mountain is covered in snow.

Mangawhero Falls

Ithilien Camp was filmed near Mangawhero Falls off the Ohakune Mountain Road.

Tukino Ski Field

Locations filmed at Tukino Ski Field include the Door of Sammath Naur on the slopes of Mt Doom, the Barren Waste Lands and the Sea of Boulders.

The Hobbit

In the summer of 2011-2012, scenes were filmed for The Hobbit trilogy alongside the Mangawhero River, below Turoa Ski Area and on farmland with scattered beech forest around Ohakune. 

The three films are subtitled An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies and are productions of New Line Cinema and MGM, with New Line managing production.

Some of the most memorable scenes from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, are the dwarves escaping from the captivity of the Elves by hiding in barrels which were thrown down stream at the Aratiatia Rapids on the Waikato River.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released on 14 December 2012. The second film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again was released the following year on 13 December 2013 and the third film The Hobbit:The Battle of the Five Armies was released in December 2014.