We have found ways to visit Middle Earth and keep the family happy-as-hobbits. Tolkien opened up a new and imaginative world by inventing bedtime stories for his kids, and now that world is available for us to see on our home turf. So open your door and let yourself be swept away…
While it’s a Kiwi cliché to mention Tongariro National Park, this world heritage site has another name which is far more impressive: Mordor. The Tongariro experience is full of desert-like plateaus, jagged cliffs, serene lakes, looming forests, and an active volcano. (Don’t stress, Mt Ngauruhoe last erupted in 1975.) Mt Ngauruhoe – also known as Mount Doom – is the very mountain Frodo and Sam trekked up. If reaching the summit of the crossing is too hard and too far (and too many “are we there yet”-s), the 20-minute round trip of the Tawhai Falls might be your family’s jam. Tawhai Falls begins at the Park Visitor Centre and journeys to the eerie waterfall filling Gollum’s Pool. Keep an eye out for Gollum’s good side Smeagol, and look out for the bad reflection of himself in the pool’s surface. Check out the famous Meads Wall walk: The rocky outcrop Sam and Frodo battled on their way to destroy the ring.
Nestled in the heart of Queenstown is the Kawarau River, used in the Lord of the Rings films as the Anduin River. Sadly, the Pillars of Kings aren’t actually on the river, but the site is just as breathtaking. Take a trek along the Kawarau Bridge and feel the royal river of the kings rumble beneath you or, if you’re in for a more adrenaline-pumped experience, take a plunge towards the water at New Zealand’s first commercial bungy jumping site. Other options include biking the track alongside the river, or jet boating! In historic Arrowtown, visit the Arrow River where the the Ford of Bruinen was filmed. There, Arwen calls the torrents to pummel the Black Riders, so Frodo can reach Rivendell. If Queenstown is just getting too cold, the Lord of the Rings store is located on Shotover Street.
Our favourite three musketeers – Aragon, Legolas, and Gimli – wandered through the Putangirua Pinnacles in the Wairarapa region to recruit the Army of the Dead. These foreboding cliffs are an untouched location in the film – what you see is what you get. While this site has an edge of spookiness, it is pretty rad. The easiest route to take is the loop track through the pinnacles to the lookout, but don’t forget some snacks for those hungry hikers.
Visiting Hobbiton would be a dream come true, but an expensive one at that. In Woodlyn Park, you and the kids can stay in the world’s first Hobbit Motel.
If visiting the real deal at Hobbiton is your true dream, we’ve figured out a sneaky solution. Elect one or two lucky adults to haul a horde of kids there for a day tour, as entry for kids under the age of nine is entirely free (so long as there is a paying adult). An adult (17+ years) is $79, and a child aged 9-16 is $39.50.
If you’re not the adventurous type, we’ve got some Tolkienesque solutions for you.
- Thanks to online shopping, you can get memorabilia sent straight to your door. Purchase costumes for your kids (and even yourself) online at fashionforfun or kidscostumes – we will think you’re extra epic if you travel to the film locations in costume (and flick us a picture).
- Check out the Weta Workshop website and order anything from key rings, banners, bookmarks, and magnets (on the cheaper end of the scale) to orc skull helmets (both creepy and pricy).
- There are lots of ways you can ease kids into the world of Tolkien. When they’re still a preschoolers, watch Bubble Guppies: The Puppy and the Ring, a cute spoof inspired by the original series.
- The pre-teen age is a good time to read The Hobbit out loud to your kids as you can read the tricky words for them and they’ll still grasp the outstanding concepts like loyalty, empathy, bravery, and resilience.