The Road to Middle Earth

In 2012, director Peter Jackson returned to Middle Earth for a new trilogy based on the works of beloved author J.R.R. Tolkien. An Unexpected Journey, the first installment in The Hobbit series, received mixed reviews from fans and critics alike, with many quibbling over Jackson’s decision to release the film in a controversial high frame rate format. Nevertheless, it helped spark a renewed interest in the real-life locations used in the film.

The new trilogy, as well as Jackson’s earlier films based on The Lord of the Rings novels, were all shot in New Zealand, a country with a unique blend of natural beauty that’s more than worthy of Tolkien’s fantastical realms. Whether your tastes lie in wine, the outdoors or, well, movies concerning the adventures of pint-sized bon vivants with a passion for all the good things in life, now might be the best time to mull over a trek to the Land of the Long White Cloud.


Here’s just a few of the New Zealand locales that might your peak your interests:


In Search of Hobbits

If you’re a fan of the films or the books, you’ll probably want to check out Hobbiton, the still-preserved sets used for The Shire, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ hometown. They’re located on a private, 500 hectare farm near the small town of Matamata on New Zealand’s North Island. Along with the Hobbit homesteads featured in the films and real vegetable gardens and miniature fruit trees, there’s spectacular views of the Kaimai Mountain Range. Tours typically run two hours and refreshments can be found at the Green Dragon Inn, a loving recreation of the Shire’s most popular watering hole. Be sure to try the Oakbarton Brew, an English-style ale with malty tones as strong as Smaug the Dragon.


In this picture taken on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. British actor Martin Freeman and director Peter Jackson from New Zealand poses for photographs in promotion for the film 'The Hobbit, Battle of the Five Armies' in the Claridges suite in west London. After a long and eventful journey, "The Hobbit" trilogy has reached its bloody climax. Not a minute too soon for director Peter Jackson, who has been longing to unleash mayhem on Middle Earth. "It's the first time we've got to kill dwarves," said the director, his enthusiasm for death and destruction at odds with his laid-back manner and luxurious surroundings in a London hotel suite. "It's hard to get any emotional power in a film unless you are able to actually kill some of your main characters,” he said. “We've been hampered with that in the first two 'Hobbit' movies. But at least we have a good dwarf death toll in the third one." "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" wraps up the trilogy spun from J.R.R. Tolkien's slim book about home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins, coaxed away from his burrow to help a band of dwarves retake their mountain home from a destructive dragon.(Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)






Green Dragon Inn 

There’s also several companies that offer tours of additional locations used throughout the film series. Southern Lakes’ Lord of the Rings tours offers full and half-day treks, in addition to more immersive packages. For diehard fans, there’s the three day “Centre of Middle Earth” adventure based in Wanaka, a town on the South Island. In addition to lodging in a Hobbit-themed room called the “Barlimans,” the package includes jet boat tours of several locales that appear in the films.


But if You Prefer Wine Over Wizards 

If you’re interested in exploring New Zealand’s wine regions, you can always set out on your own. Despite its rather bromidic name, New Zealand Wine is a great place to look for directions and further details about the country’s vineyards. The site offers a treasure trove of information.

For the less bold, there’s the custom tours organized by NZWINEPRO. They offer a multitude of getaways that combine wine-tastings with the best of New Zealand’s scenic vistas. Their Matakana Coastal Scenic Getaway is a day-long journey through the area’s vineyards. You can sample cheeses at the Puhoi Cheese Factory and taste indigenous flora honeys alongside the exotic giant tree ferns of the Pohuehue Gorge. Oh, and of course, there’s the vino too. The tour also features stops at either Omaha Bay Wines or Mahurangi River Wines.




If you’re feeling a bit more daring, there’s NZWINEPRO’s Piha Waitakere Ranges Adventure. This tour will lead you across the Henderson Valley, the historic heartland of Auckland’s wine industry. The journey begins at the Soljans Estate for a wine-tasting and a meal at its picturesque vineyard restaurant. The tour continues through two additional vineyards before a trek to a lookout over the Waitakere Mountain Range and the coastline below, weather permitting.


Looking to Share in an Adventure?


But if vineyards and hobbits just aren’t crazy enough for you, don’t worry. New Zealand is still considered the extreme sports capital of the world. One reason for this: a third of the nation’s landscape is preserved as a conservation estate There’s plenty of “tramping,” (the regional term for hiking) opportunities throughout the backcountry and there’s an astounding plethora of outdoor activities for those so inclined. If you can name it, it’s down there. You can experience the best of New Zealand’s natural wonders while jet-boating, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, skydiving, rock climbing, ice climbing, blokarting, biking and/or skiing.

Got all that? If you’re feeling braver than Thorin and his gold-crazed dwarven colleagues, Virigin Australia’s website is a good place to go hunting for information on New Zealand’s extreme sports opportunities. But those who are especially stout of heart may want to consider zorbing.

This rather nutty sport, which is also called “hill rolling,” involves climbing inside a human-sized hamster ball made out of transparent plastic before blasting downhill. There’s generally two types of orbs to choose from: the harnessed and non-harnessed. The former can carry two riders, the latter up to three. Runs are typically half a mile in length.

The origins of zorbing lie in Rotorua, a city on the North Island, where two locals named Andrew Akers and Dwane van der Sluis designed an inflatable ball that people could jump inside and roll around in. They now operate zorbing locations around the world. Their New Zealand site can still be found in Rotorua.

You probably couldn’t convince Gandalf to give it a go but the dwarves would probably enjoy it.