A Cinematic Odyssey: Queenstown & Fiordland

17 July 2017

In 2015, New Zealand outranked every other country in the world as the world’s top film tourism destination. The wonderful Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy had much to do with the results of the study commissioned by HBO Entertainment.

In June 2017, Tom Cruise and the Mission Impossible 6 crew wrapped up filming in Otago. Scenes were shot in the Rees Valley (apparently as a stand in for Iraq) and some stunt helicopter shots were filmed around Glenorchy, highlighting the diversity in landscape that this part of New Zealand offers.

(View of Glenorchy from Lake Wakatipu)

Over the years, many films have been shot in the country. Fiordland and our beloved World Heritage Site Milford Sound are among the most well-loved locations of Hollywood filmmakers for their cinematic creations.

Here are some of the top Fiordland scenes you’ll find in popular movies:

  • Lord of the Rings – Of course we need to start with the trilogy that shot Fiordland to fame. The film called for the most magical backdrop, so the area was a natural pick. The area south of Rivendell as well as Fangorn Forest were actually filmed in Fiordland National Park. This is where Gandalf calls for his magical horse Shadowfax. It is the home of the Ents. Kepler Mire is where Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes. Then there’s also Anduin River – a must-see if you want to be transported right in the movies.
  • The Hobbit – The magical world of the Hobbit revisits Fiordland with key scenes such as the eagles saving Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves. Meanwhile, the grasslands of Te Anau Downs was the backdrop for some chase scenes in the movie while Thorin leads the dwarves through the “wildlands” of Mararoa Saddle.
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Several scenes for this movie where were supposedly set in “the Canadian Rockies” were actually shot in New Zealand. From the scene where Logan lives in the remote cabin, you are actually seeing different parts of the country. The cabin was built on Deer Park Heights, just south of Queenstown. Meanwhile, the Alkali Facility is set above Stirling Falls in Milford Sound. This is one of two falls that is open year-round. It offered the perfect setting (being 3 times the height of Niagara falls) for those dramatic shots.
  • Alien: Covenant – Two weeks of the 74-day shoot happened right in our beloved World Heritage Site. When a scene called for an remote, previously hidden planet, nothing fit the description of an uncharted paradise more than Milford Sound. Director Sir Ridley Scott says of Milford Sound’s beauty: “When it rains, hundreds of waterfalls appear”.

(Milford Sound)

(Milford Sound shot from Alien: Covenant. ©2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.)

The visual splendour of the South has much to offer Hollywood masters. Whether for sci-fi or fantasy films, the stunning scenery of the Fiordland provides the perfect background for film magic. But trust us, it’s best to see Fiordland and Milford Sound beyond the cinematic experience. Standing under the shadow of majestic Mitre Peak or witnessing the powerful cascade of Stirling and Bowen falls as the waters plummet down to earth is an experience worth seeing for yourself.

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