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There’s no doubt that New Zealand is beautiful and one thing that opened the world’s eyes to its stunning natural beauty is the Lord of the Rings movie series. In fact, did you know that tourism to New Zealand increased by 40% in the years immediately following the release of the movies!
The famous trilogy was filmed across New Zealand in more than 150 locations on both the North and the South Island. Director of the franchise Peter Jackson (who’s a Kiwi) said there was no doubt in his mind that ‘middle earth’ had to be set in New Zealand.
Luckily for visitors to Queenstown, many of the movie’s scenes were filmed in a little town outside of Queenstown by the name of Glenorchy. It was here in this town with a population of less than 400 that set the scene for Isengard Lookout, Lothlorien Forest, Ithilien Camp, and more stunning locations from the Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, visiting the film locations is considered one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy.
It comes as no surprise then that one of the top activities in Queenstown is to go on a Lord of the Rings Tour to Glenorchy. It’s the best way to see the filming locations if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. Plus, would you believe that you’ll be given the opportunity to see costumes and props from the series up close (and even take photos with them!)
In this blog, I list 3 of the best Lord of the Rings Tours in Glenorchy so that both those who are curious, as well as diehard fans, can pick the right tour!
What to Expect from a Glenorchy Lord of the Rings Tour
All of the tours to Glenorchy from Queenstown that are listed here include complimentary pick-up and drop-off in Queenstown. Some tour operators will even pick you up from your accommodation. The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy takes approximately 45 minutes and is very picturesque in fact, it’s often been voted as one of the most scenic drives in the world. On all tours, you’ll stop along the way to admire the views and learn about the area. It’s a highlight on its own!
The town of Glenorchy is teeny-tiny – there are just a few cafes/restaurants, a little general store, and a pub but that all adds to its charm. It’s incredibly photogenic and I recommend taking a photo at the famed red boathouse in town. It’s so popular that all tours allow some time here to stretch your legs and take a short walk.
There are also lots of scenic walks and other awesome activities available from Glenorchy and I highly recommend spending time here on another day provided you have a rental car – there’s no public transport to Glenorchy unfortunately.
On these Lord of the Rings tours, you will visit famous movie locations such as 12 Mile Delta (where the battle between the Rangers of Gondor and the men of Harad was held), Paradise Valley (also known as Lothlorien Forest – home of the elves), Dart Valley (Wizards Vale), and many more. Seriously, it’s crazy how much of the movie was filmed in this small region!
Your guide will point out the film locations and even have photos from the movie for reference. Some are hard to spot but others are obvious even without the special effects!
A big benefit of all the tours I’ve listed here is they’re small and personalized – so, no big coach tours! In fact, the maximum number of people on any of these tours is 10. Worth noting too is that your guide for the day is knowledgeable and friendly and will give you all the insider details of the filming of the movies as well as the history of the area. These are some of the best tours in Queenstown, after all!
There are so many reasons to do a Lord of the Rings tour to Glenorchy, which tour you chose depends on what your budget is and how much time you have.
3 Different Glenorchy Lord of the Rings Tours to Choose from in Queenstown
There are a few different Glenorchy Lord of the Rings tours available with a Queenstown departure. Here, I detail 3 of the most popular from a full-day tour which includes the chance to see costumes and weapons used in the movies to a shorter half-day option which gives you the afternoon to try other activities in Queenstown. For the adventurous traveler, the 4WD tour is a must-do as it truly gets you off the beaten track in a cool off-road vehicle. Luckily, all of the tours I’ve listed here are great value for money.
1. Full-day Glenorchy Lord of the Rings Tour
This first Glenorchy Lord of the Rings tour from Queenstown is a full-day tour taking about 9 hours in total. It truly offers a comprehensive Lord of the Rings experience. A big benefit of this tour is that you will be traveling in a small group – a maximum of 6 participants (although it’s rare for the tour to be completely full) so it’s more of a personalized experience.
You’ll get to visit several filming locations including Mount Earnslaw from the opening scenes of The Two Towers movie, Lothlorien Forest, Pillar of Kings, and lots more. During the tour, you will also get the chance to see the weapons and costumes used in the movies. You even get to play dress-up so make sure you bring your camera to take lots of photos!
Halfway through the tour, you will be treated to a restaurant lunch (included in your ticket price) in Glenorchy. So, no need to pack a picnic. Be sure to let the tour operator know ahead of time if you have any dietaries or allergies.
Because this LOTR tour includes so many stops this is a great tour option for die-hard Lord of the Rings fans. Plus, the opportunity to see the costumes and weapons used in the movies is truly a unique one. Worth noting is that because it’s a full-day tour (9 hours) it may not be ideal for those already short on time in their Queenstown itinerary.
On top of all the Lord of the Rings stops, you’ll also explore Glenorchy and the region outside the town that’s literally called “Paradise”. This region borders Mt Aspiring National Park near the Routeburn Track. This is the perfect tour not only for Lord of the Rings fans but also for those who want to do a day trip to Glenorchy!
Prices for this tour start from $500 NZD per person. Keep in mind it also includes a restaurant lunch. The tour departs from 37 Shotover Street center of Queenstown or pick up from your local hotel. You can book this tour in advance here!
2. Half-day Glenorchy Lord of the Rings Tour
This is a fantastic tour option if you’re short on time. At 4 hours long, you can enjoy the afternoon in Queenstown at your leisure. Pick-up for this tour is offered from your hotel in Queenstown (select this option when booking) at 8 am.
As with the above tour, you’ll take the scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy stopping at some interesting viewpoints and attractions along the way – this is personally one of my favorite road trips on the South Island! During the drive is where your guide will begin to explain interesting facts about the films including the man-hours involved and how Peter Jackson, a rather inexperienced film director at the time, got to direct one of the largest (and most expensive) films trilogies in the world! Believe me, this is super interesting!
Many of the locations visited on this tour are the same as the above, however, you will need to skip a couple with much less time on your hands. With that said, you’ll get to see the most popular film locations. After, you’ll stop for a picnic lunch near Glenorchy and get the chance to dress up and get some photos in Lord of the Rings costumes.
This is a popular Lord of the Rings tour for families and couples because it’s short and sweet but packs in a lot. It also gives you the chance to spend your afternoon doing other relaxing activities in Queenstown.
Prices for this tour start from $180 NZD per person and you can book the tour in advance here!
3. 4WD Lord of the Rings Tours
For the thrill-seeking Lord of the Rings fans, this 4WD fast-paced tour is short and sweet at 4.5 hours meaning you’ll have time for other activities in Queenstown should you choose this option. This tour includes pick-up from your accommodation so, you don’t need to make your way into central Queenstown.
Of all the tours listed in this blog this one stops at the most filming locations – so it’s great value for money. It also includes an afternoon tea. En-route to Glenorchy, your driver will stop off at some stunning viewpoints to break up the 45-minute journey.
Once you reach Glenorchy your 4WD will follow along the pretty Dart River to Isengard which has gorgeous views of Mount Earnslaw. Other stops on this tour include the Lothlorien Forest (Paradise) and Ithilien Camp (12 Mile Delta). A big bonus should you choose this tour is that you will also get to visit filming locations from other famous movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
The 4WD vehicle allows you to get to filming locations other tours can’t reach. Your vehicle will either be a 6-seater Land Rover or Land Cruiser. This tour is especially popular with couples and families with older children.
Prices for this tour start from $252 NZD per person and you can book the tour in advance here!
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
Once you’re back in Queenstown after exploring Glenorchy, there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy. Honestly, there are so many things to do in Queenstown, that it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites:
- Take a cruise – Aboard the TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise you’re in for a scenic and relaxing cruise in Queenstown that’s great for any afternoon. This is one of the last coal-fired steamships in the world and you get to watch the crew add coal to the flames to power the vessel as you take in mountain ranges and lush green valleys. You can also upgrade this tour here to include dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm.
- Watch a sunset – As the day draws to a close in Queenstown, make sure to head to the shores of Lake Wakatipu to watch a sunset. It’s one of the best viewpoints to watch the sun sink behind the Southern Alps. I like watching from Queenstown Beach or Perky’s Floating Bar where you get a view of the lake and delicious food and drinks too!
- Go canyoning – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek as part of this Queenstown Canyoning Adventure with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
- See Milford Sound – This day trip to Milford South with a picnic lunch will give you the ultimate ability to explore the beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Not only will your guide stop at several impressive viewpoints on the way from Queenstown but there is also a cruise in Milford Sound included.
- Wine tasting – This Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money as for $239 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices, but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.
Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned! To help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!
The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room.
Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
A Lord of the Rings tour is easily one of the most popular tours in Queenstown. With this list of three epic tours, you really are spoiled for choice. Which one is the best? Well, that depends on your travel style and budget. For me, I loved the half-day tour for the price and inclusions but then again I’m not a huge LOTR fan! True fans will love the longer tour!
Thanks so much for reading! I really hope you loved this blog. If so, check out more of my articles about Queenstown and New Zealand and get planning for your upcoming adventure. Or click through some guides I’ve suggested here: