The Film Buff’s Guide to NZ

You’ve seen the movies – now see where they were shot. New Zealand’s jaw-slackening scenery has always been the backdrop to native Kiwi cinema, but this down under, all-locations-covered, wonder has also been attracting some serious, mega-Hollywood star power too!

Most famously, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies by New Zealand born-and-bred director Peter Jackson have showcased some of the country’s most awe-inspiring natural sights, but New Zealand has been scene-stealing in a bunch of other productions too. Wherever you are in New Zealand, it’s likely you’re not far away from a recognisable film location – so keep that camera at the ready …


Taranaki’s green lush green farmland became Japan at the end of the Imperial Era (while Mt Fuji found a fitting understudy in Mt Taranaki) in the 2003 Tom Cruise epic The Last Samurai. With a large chunk filmed around the region, you can head over to New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park and scope out where rifle training scenes were filmed, or check out Uruti Valley where the epic samurai battles were staged.


In a rare case of art imitating life, the real-life home of quirky New Zealand two-wheeled speed demon Bert Munro was also the filming location for the biopic of his life, The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Anthony Hopkins. Scenes were filmed in Invercargill as well as on the nearby Oreti Beach on the shores of Fouvuax Strait, where Bert nailed his motorcycle speed runs before smashing international records on Utah’s Bournville Salt Flats.


The iconic “New Zealandness” (really, there’s no other word for it – you’ll know what we mean when you get there) of Eastland’s small town Waihau Bay was the perfect stomping ground for Boy’s “egg”-loving, big-dreaming protagonist in New Zealand’s highest-grossing film of all time.


The broody black sands of Karekare and Piha Beaches in the Auckland region provided the perfectly bleak backdrop to the iconic (and sodden) beach scenes in Jane Campion’s period drama The Piano and, contrary to cinematic belief, the sun does shine here! The city and nearby surrounds (especially the hills of Waitakere Ranges Forest Park) have also stood in as an enchanted locale for children’s fantasy drama The Bridge to Terabithia, the dark and foreboding woods in the gore-tastic remake of cult classic The Evil Dead, and a bunch of TV productions from blood and sandals series Spartacus to everyone’s favourite leather-clad hellcat Xena: Warrior Princess.


Peter Jackson transformed the port town of Lyttelton into small-town America for early Hollywood effort The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox, and shot the inspired-by-true-events teen murderesses chiller Heavenly Creatures, starring a pre-Titanic Kate Winslet, in and around Christchurch. The tiny Banks Peninsula township of Port Levy was transformed into the tiny, sleepy Midwest American town at the heart of the post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick Z for Zachariah. Fancy ducking out the back of the closet into Narnia? Head to Flock Hill, between Darfield and Arthur’s Pass, where you’ll find the stunning limestone outcroppings that doubled as Narnia for the climactic battle of the first Chronicles of Narnia film.


‘Wellywood’, as it’s been dubbed by the Kiwis, has become the nerve centre of New Zealand’s film boom, with Peter Jackson’s premiere Stone Street studio facilities hosting such blockbusters as Avatar, The Legend of Zorro and District 9. Stroll the streets though and you may find many of the locations for the 2005 remake of King Kong, with ocean and island scenes filmed around the coast and in Cook Strait. Be sure to swing by Wellington’s impressive Opera House on Manners Street, which became the New York City theatre where Kong escapes.

Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit 

Where to start? These epic celluloid success stories were shot entirely in New Zealand and have featured locations the length and breadth of the nation. There are too many iconic locations to list, so here’s the highlight reel: Matamata, Waikato (Hobbiton) Twizel and Mt Potts Station in Canterbury (The Pelennor Fields and Edoras), Paradise near Glenorchy (Amon Hen and Lothlorien), Kaitoke Regional Park in Upper Hutt (Rivendell), Mt Ruapehu/Tongariro National Park (Mordor), Skippers Canyon and the Kawarau Suspension Bridge near Queenstown (the Ford of Bruinen and The Arganath), the Kepler Mire in Fiordland (the Dead Marshes), and many, many more …