Author: Samantha Scott
New Zealand sprang to the forefront of many travelers minds after the Lord of the Rings trilogy hit screens in the mid 2000s. In a world that had already entered CGI fatigue, the incredible scenery was initially assumed to be fake. But then news began to circulate that one of the main reasons Peter Jackson had elected to shoot in his home country, was purely because the landscapes needed little to no doctoring.
The country has embraced the surge in interest due to Lord of the Rings, operating numerous tours to filming destinations, and even installing the set for Hobbiton as a permanent “exhibit” where fans can visit. Even Air New Zealand has joined the fandom, producing several Middle Earth themed airline safety videos featuring the cast.
Every Lord of the Rings nerd should visit New Zealand to follow in the footsteps of their favorite scenes.
But during your journey, what quickly becomes apparent is the country is rich in so many ways.
Here are the Top 10 things every first timer to New Zealand should see and experience:
1. Queenstown, NZ South Island
Queenstown is a hub of activity. A beautiful town nestled next to Lake Wakatipu, it’s proximity to adventure and outdoorsy activities, as well as providing a fun bar and restaurant scene make it a classic New Zealand destination for first timers.
TIP: Do the Skyline Luge. It might feel a bit touristy, but the views are spectacular, and the activity is thrilling!
2. AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge
New Zealand is well known for adventure and adrenaline. Visit the AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge, which is one of the oldest bungee bridges in the world, located just outside of Queenstown. If you don’t have it in you to jump (though I highly recommend it), you can hang out on the viewing bridge to cheer people on!
3. Milford Sound
Take a full day to experience the incredible natural formations of Milford Sound. Your boat takes you through passing cliffside forests that seem to grow out of nowhere with waterfalls on all sides. Eventually you find yourself all the way to the mouth, about to enter the Tasman Sea.
Drifting there before turning back, gazing at the horizon, past rocks full with playful fur seals, the world seems both small and large at once.
TIP: Make Milford Sound a day trip from your stay in Queenstown. It’s close enough.
4. Walk on a Glacier
By far one of my favorite moments traveling through New Zealand was the profound experience of walking on Fox Glacier. First there was the exhilarating ride in a rickety small plane which then landed with a glide onto the snow. Then we got out and actually stood on the ground...of a glacier...something that was technically moving beneath our feet. It still gives me chills.
5. Marlborough Wine Country, NZ South Island
New Zealand has a softer side too. It’s one of the world’s premier producers of Sauvignon Blanc, and the Marlborough region is the Sonoma of New Zealand. Visit wineries, taste delicious wine, and enjoy the sunshine.
If you’re a fan of natural geothermal phenomena then you need to make Rotorua a stop on your visit to New Zealand. The geysers and hot mud pools are a main attraction here. Don’t pass up the chance to soak your feet in the warm mud! It’s like a spa, but completely natural.
7. Mount Cook Hike, NZ South Island
Set aside a whole day for this spectacular hike through one of the more dramatic landscapes in New Zealand. In view of spectacular Mount Cook, among mountainsides and streams, you will eventually end up at the mountain base.
TIP: Look for jade rocks under the water! But don’t steal them.
8. Watch a Haka Demonstration
Learning about Maori culture is one of the most enriching parts of a visit through New Zealand. Sometimes this can feel like a canned experience, but it really does help provide so much context to your trip. The Maori Haka dance is truly a privilege to watch, and so quintessential to the country’s native heritage.
9. Hobbiton, NZ North Island
Ok, so you have to allow me a few Lord of the Rings themed activities. Hobbiton is truly a treasure, even for those with only a vague understanding of the Lord of the Rings.
The soft rolling hills and pastoral farmland of Matamata was used for the Shire, where Frodo first begins his epic quest. After the first movies were completed the set was initially taken down, as is standard practice. However after demand became clear, and when it was confirmed that the series would once again enter our homes with The Hobbit, the decision was made to make the set a permanent installation; practically unheard of when it comes to Hollywood.
TIP: Go to the Green Dragon Inn. Embrace the tourist in you.
10. All day Lord of the Rings Tour, NZ South Island
Ok, here’s the big one. All first timers to New Zealand need to experience a day among the beautiful landscapes that first inspired Peter Jackson. You’ll get to handle props, see screenshots that bring the landscape to life, and reenact scenes.
TIP: Be a geek.
For even more great ways to experience New Zealand, check out over 300 New Zealand Trips on Stride Travel.