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Volume 7, August 2005

ISSN 1538-893X

Movie Tourism in New Zealand

By Melissa Heath, Wanaka Sightseeing

Many of us think of visiting a theme park or old town when we hear of the idea of movie tourism. That may not be so inspiring for some of us and we dismiss the idea quite quickly because we are after a real holiday. Instead, expand your mind and think of exotic overseas locations – like New Zealand.

With an increasing number of direct flights from the States to main centres of this interesting antipodean country, New Zealand is becoming a more valued tourist destination and there is an increasing number of travel agents who are becoming specialists in this destination. They have visited the country frequently and work directly with the operators of exquisite day tours and accommodations throughout this varied land.

A most welcoming nation of people with their roots from all over the globe, and with a population of only 4 million spread over a land area greater than that of the British Isles, New Zealanders will welcome you enthusiastically to their island home.

New Zealanders are proud of their relaxed and safe environment. There are no animals that bite, attack or poison unwary walkers. The climate is as genial as the locals and the streets are safe.

As New Zealand is situated in the south Pacific, their summer coincides with the miserable cold months of a US winter. The perfect place to visit for a unique Christmas Holiday.

New Zealand is known locally as God’s Own or God Zone and for very good reason. As the last land mass to be colonised on the planet barely 160 years ago, the pioneers of this country found a land overflowing with verdant lush forests, crystal clear waters and the loftiest and most awe inspiring mountain ranges in the South Pacific. With over 250 peaks soaring higher than 7500 feet and over 3000 glaciers, the land demands your attention and respect. Tucked in under these high peaks are rolling pastures grazed by cattle and about 45 million sheep. Yes, lamb is on the menu.

New Zealand, a quiet and unassuming country,  was flung onto the international stage with the overwhelming success of the movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings. At the same time, Whalerider was also twanging the heartstrings of viewers around the globe.

There have been many other movies filmed in New Zealand that you may know of. The Last Samurai for example, and going back a few years you may recall another art house movie – The Piano, or perhaps Once were Warriors.

Until 2002, New Zealand didn’t exploit the interest in visiting movie locations that have provided opportunities in other countries such as the States and Austria (The Sound of Music). However after the screening of the LOTR trilogy, there was a great rush of enthusiasts who had been so inspired by the huge untouched vistas shown in the movies that they had to visit the lands of New Zealand immediately to see if they were actually real. We are pleased to say they are.

A few small companies had already added LOTR tours to their selections “just in case” but in every respect were utterly overwhelmed by the response to the tours. It didn’t take long before other companies also set up offering tours to the 150 or so locations used in the trilogy.

Any one coming to New Zealand now for either a holiday or business expects to have some sort of LOTR experience and there are now companies through out New Zealand who can give you a taste of LOTR by taking you to locations and interpreting the scenery for you.

Although most of the locations and operators are in the South Island, the North Island can boast to being home to Hobbiton. Situated about two hours south of Auckland, you can tour the hobbit town, or what’s left of it, in two hours with enthusiastic guides pointing out where particular scenes took place.

Wellington, of course, is home not only to the Government of New Zealand but also to Peter Jackson, the eminent director of the trilogy. There are several LOTR full day tours in this region. Wellington is also the home of Weta Workshop, the company responsible for all the special effects in the LOTR trilogy.

Moving into the South Island and LOTR opportunities explode. Out of Christchurch you can take a full day tour to Edoras and Helm’s Deep. The Pelannor Fields await you in Twizel and once you make your way down to Queenstown or the quaint lakeside mountain resort of Wanaka, you will find yourself literally surrounded by dozens of LOTR locations. In Wanaka there is even hobbit accommodation affiliated with a comprehensive LOTR day tour which includes weapons from the movie, over 20 locations and a chance to become a real hobbit(!) for those who would like to have a total immersion experience

These locations are magnificent. Perched on mountain tops, squeezed into riversides or scattered across vast tracts of untouched lands, your guides will retell the story of the land and of the movie filmed there.

There are very few places in the world where you can stand on a mountain top or high spot and not see a single indicator that humans have ever been in the area. New Zealand boasts many of these sublime places and the tour companies specialising in these experiences will take you there to experience the vast silent landscapes for yourself

Disney Films are shortly to release their latest Blockbuster – The Chronicles of Narnia -The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This was also filmed in the high country of New Zealand. The movie is released in December 2005 and tours to the locations begin a month later in January 2006.

The locations for this latest movie to be filmed in New Zealand are beyond words. The unusual rock formations and surrounding mountainscapes look as unreal as the story that is filmed there. A spectacular and surreal landscape that is simply a tour away from Christchurch.

Planning to visit New Zealand to see the dramatic landscapes as seen in these fabulous movies can be a daunting experience. There is however a specialist company that deals with movie location touring.  Wanaka Sightseeing - based in Christchurch, New Zealand can assist you in planning your holiday experience to include the movie locations of your choice – particularly LOTR and Narnia.

You might be inspired for other reasons to go to New Zealand: the exchange rate, relatives, a safe destination for all the family, a first or second honeymoon perhaps but if you are travelling so far and to a country noted for the pureness of the air, the colours of the land and the generosity of the people, you might as well see the side of New Zealand made famous in the movies whist you are there. By combining one or more movie location tours into your itinerary you are making sure of seeing the best scenery the country has to offer and hearing some great stories from the making of the movies.

The New Zealand tour operators are proud of their country and their tours, so you can be guaranteed a quality educational day out full of fun and pleasure. And remember – tipping is not usual or expected.

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