When turning fictional worlds and imagined lands into a cinematic feature-length film, it’s crucial to find filming locations that are almost as unbelievably vivid and marvelous as the story. For many film-makers, New Zealand captures their hearts, minds, and scripts and doesn’t let go until they call, “cut!”.
From the rolling hills of the Shire in “The Lord of the Rings” to the ominous shores of Skull Island in “King Kong”, various Kiwi sites have played a vital role in bringing these worlds to life.
Some of the most famous filming locations in New Zealand may not come as a surprise, but others appear so subtly that even movie buffs might miss it. If you’re wanting to tick off visits to all of the best blockbuster hotspots or just win your next quiz night, this is the oscar-winning list!
1. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Milford Sound, Fiordland: Much of the Hugh Jackman film was filmed in various South Island locations, but Milford Sound in Fiordland is one of the most recognisable filming locations. When Jackman escapes from the Weapon X facility, he makes a massive leap from the top of a waterfall before disappearing into the mist; that waterfall is the massive 151m Stirling Falls, one of the two permanent waterfalls that dominate the cliffs of Milford Sound.
How to visit: for a remote waterfall, Stirling Falls is remarkably easy to experience up close. Book a Coach + Nature Cruise tour leaving from Queenstown to explore the beauty of Fiordland by road and boat; the cruise inserts you right in the mist just like Wolverine!
2. Mission Impossible – Fallout
Queenstown and Milford Sound: The mountain peaks and ridges of the South Island were the perfect dose of drama for the helicopter sequences. The Rees Valley was also the filming location for what would be a large mobile medical camp and a section of a Kashmiri village in the action movie.
How to visit: You can put yourself in the driver’s seat of a Mission Impossible movie and recreate these epic Queensown scenes by booking a helicopter sightseeing tour to weave between the peaks or even land on a glacier.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia (2015-2010)
Throughout The Chronicles of Narnia movies there are so many epic scenes that take you on a journey through this fantasy land, and some of the best are filmed in New Zealand!
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel: The most well-known of the filming locations from Narnia, the recognisable rocks at Cathedral Cove are used to depict the Pevensie children discovering the ruins of Cair Paravel.
How to visit: With walking tracks closed due to damage, Cathedral Cove can now be reached only by water taxi, boat, or Kayak. To simplify the logistics, book a fun tour leaving from Whitianga or Hahei beach to make the most of the area.
Woodhill Forest, Auckland: During filming, the rugged and dense Woodhill Forest on the West Coast became the dark and dangerous camp of the White Witch of Narnia.
How to visit: If you’re keen to explore this filming location through and through, the forest is home to a huge network of popular mountain biking trails.
Flock Hill, Southern Alps: However they scoped out this gem, it sure paid off for the epic battle scene. With a landscape almost as dramatic as the clash of creatures and catapults, this scene was impactful and beautiful all at the same time.
How to visit: Experiencing the same drama is possible if you stay at the nearby Flockhill Lodge.
Elephant Rocks, Waitaki District: Huge rocks that used to scatter a seafloor millions of years ago, known as Elephant Rocks, also featured as key landmarks in Aslan’s Camp in The Chronicles of Narnia. This famous filming location can be found in the Canterbury and Otago Regions.
4. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit
It’s no secret that The Lord of the Rings is a pride of New Zealand, from the special-effects skills of Wētā Workshop to the naturally stunning scenery that served as a base for the fanciful lands, with some special effects of course.
Tawhai Falls, Tongariro National Park: Much of the National Park was used for its many mountainous backdrops, but perhaps the easiest to visit is Tawhai Falls, also known as ‘Gollum’s Pool’. With a rocky river and small fast-flowing waterfall, this secluded alpine beauty has something special compared to the rest of our river walks; the famous nature of its imaginary admirer, Gollum!
How to visit: Tawha Falls Track is an easy 20 minute return track that lets you get right down to the river and rock-hop around the ancient lava flow rock formations! Don’t be surprised if this waterfall looks more vivid in-person than in The Lord of the Rings.
‘Hobbiton’, Matamata: When the film crew were in the conception stages and scouting for locations to bring the film to life, they came across a large Kiwi sheep farm in the Waikato. The rolling hills and dips were the perfect set for the Hobbits to call home. After filming The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit home sets were demolished. However, after returning to the land to film The Hobbit, the set was perfectly preserved in the fields so everyone could enjoy the movie magic!
How to visit: Visiting Hobbiton is easy! Head to their website and select the experience you would like to have, from a short day tour to a huge dinner banquet in The Green Dragon™ Inn.
5. King Kong (2005)
With the original movie released in 1933, Peter Jackson, Wētā Workshop, and their team brought the story into the new millennium with the modern rendition released in 2005.
Shelly Bay and Lyall Bay, Wellington: Lyall Bay was used to depict the moody and ominous ‘Skull Island’, where much of the movie is set. Huge components of the set were built, including the wall that divides King Kong and civilization, on location above the Massey Memorial.
How to visit: There are a few different ways to hang out in Lyall Bay, home of King Kong. Take a walk on the beach or out to Te Raekaihau Point, sign up for a local surf lesson, or head to some of the area’s most popular coffee spots.
6. The Last Samurai (2003)
The stunning West Coast region, with its towering Mount Taranaki, stood in for various Japanese landscapes in The Last Samurai, especially with the maunga (mountain) resembling Mount Fuji in Japan.
Lake Mangamahoe: Various horse and battle scenes were filmed at this secluded lake sheltered by various forest and scrubland.
How to visit: A 6km loop walk will take you through the unique regenerating and mature bush of the area before arriving at the lake. The track has amazing views of Mount Taranaki on a clear day!
Port Taranaki: A Japanese fishing village was constructed in Port Taranaki specifically for the purpose of being set on fire as part of the movie production!
How to visit: The Port Taranaki welcomes visitors into the public areas that have some purpose-built destinations such as cafes and marine-related shopping. Ngāmotu Beach is also open to visitors in this area. However, don’t expect to be wandering through operational areas, those are for looking only!
Taranaki also has endless vantage points of the mountain, town, and surrounding oceans from the many walking tracks in Egmont National park. Hiking tracks can range from day walks to multi-hikes depending on how deep you’d like to be immersed in the scenery of the samurai.
7. The World’s Fastest Indian
The World’s Fastest Indian was largely shot in and around Invercargill, New Zealand, capturing the spirit of the motorcycle enthusitat’s adventures.
Oreti Beach, Invercargill: Oreti Beach was used for Burt Munro’s beach racing scenes. To this day the beach is known as a ‘coastal highway’ as cars are allowed to drive on it like a road. If you’re a local fan, you may know that the Post Office set (located on a very real street called The Crescent) needed 1960s phone booths and parking meters fitted especially for the shoot.
How to visit: Oreti beach is a public access beach and free to visit! You can have a swim, a sunbath, or drive along the sand to relive the same scenes as Burt and his motorcycle. You can also visit the local hardware store where many of Burt Munro’s tools and props from his toolshed are on display.
8. The Lovely Bones (2009)
This film is not usually associated with filming in New Zealand but the locations were chosen for its ethereal scenery that were only enhanced in post-production by Wētā Workshop. The Wairarapa area was used to depict the afterlife in this dramatic and emotional movie, matching the tranquil beauty of the area.
How to visit: This is one location that may need to remain in your imagination as the scenes were shot on a private family property near Masterton.
9. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A Kiwi movie through and through, Hunt for the Wilderpeople was mainly filmed in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges Regional Park as Sam and Ricky bumble their way through wild New Zealand bush. The movie also features a scene where the duo are in a car chase; when they break through the treeline and enter a desert plain, it’s actually the volcanic landscape of Tongariro National Park with the Central Plateu’s recognisable mountains in the shot.
How to visit: Both the Waitakere Ranges and Tongariro National Park are popular with hikers, so there’s plenty of places to hunt for the wilderpeople on foot. Many tracks in the Waitakere Ranges have unfortunately been closed to protect our native Kauri trees against Kauri Dieback, but the few that remain open are worth seeing. Also, Tongariro National Park is home to a full-day track that’s known as one of New Zealand’s best day hikes; the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.