If you've seen the movie trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" or The Hobbit you will know that the filming was done exclusively in New Zealand. Many of the most spectacular scenes were shot around Queenstown in Central Otago in the South Island.
One great way to gain a greater appreciation of the scenery of the movies - and of the incredible landscapes of this special part of New Zealand - is to take part in a guided tour. One of the best is the "Safari of the Scenes" Tour by local company Nomad Safaris.
The tours are conducted in four-wheel-drive vehicles, with a maximum of six passengers. The driver is also your tour guide and provides an extensive commentary all along the way. There are frequent stops where you can get to explore and of course take photos!
Tours usually last for four hours and depart daily at 8.30am and 1.30pm.
There are actually two separate Safari of the Scenes tours, each with a different itinerary of movie locations. Tour A explores the area around Queenstown and includes some off roading along rough tracks and through river beds. Tour B follows a route from Queenstown to Glenorchy. The following description is of Tour A.
The first stop is a vantage point high above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu which gives a magnificent view of the lake and surrounding mountains. The it's over the one-way bridge which crosses the Kawarau River and a steep climb up the Remarkables mountain range. The Remarkables are instantly recognizable from the Lord of the Rings movies. From the stopping point here you will also see a number of other Lord of the Rings scene locations.
The Shotover River is best known for two things: It is the site of the world's first (and still operating) commercial bungy jumping operation, A J Hackett, and it was also, in the goldmining era, the richest gold-bearing river in the world. However just below where it flows into the Kawarau is a great LOTR location; it is fascinating to see and hear how this small and narrow section of river was transformed in the movie into the site of 'Argonath', the two huge statues of the kings of Gondor in Lord of the Rings.
Next on the trip is an exhilarating ride 'off road' through the Arrow River near Arrowtown. Crossing the river a number of times, you will stop for refreshments and a spot of goldpanning near the Ford of Bruinen where the flood washed away the wraiths. This was another rich gold-bearing river so there is a very good chance of picking out some specks of gold from the river bed here.
The road along the Skippers Canyon Gorge is surely one of the most hair raising public roads in New Zealand and a drive along part of its length is the next stage of the tour. This is one of the very few roads where rental vehicles are not insured so this tour is one of the few ways to experience the incredible sheer drops and unique rock formations through this valley.
There are many other memorable moments on this trip. Aside from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit connections, it's also a very good way to provide an overview of the Queenstown region, with its history and unsurpassed scenery.
About the Company
Nomad Safaris has been operating for more that twenty years, making it one of the longest established tour operators in Queenstown.
They also run a number of other tours of the area, and these include options for even more personalised tours using luxury 4WD vehicles.
Whichever way you choose to do it, if you're a Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fan (and even if you're not) a guided tour with Nomad Safaris is one of the best ways to experience Queenstown's incredible environment.