Yesterday I joined some of the best LOTR tour guides in Wellington, and we took a road trip to Aorangi Forest Park in the Wairarapa region of the North Island. Perhaps the best known site in the park is the Putangirua Pinnacles. Of all the Lord of the Rings filming locations around New Zealand, this is one of the least visited due to its isolation and a relatively difficult walk to the site.

Getting There

[click for driving map]

The Pinnacles car park is about a 2 hour drive from Wellington, via the village of Martinborough. We stopped at a few of the lesser known Lord of the Rings filming locations in the Hutt Valley before crossing the Rimutaka Ranges into the Wairarapa region. After a leisurely lunch at the White Swan in Greytown, we drove to Martinborough (also a great place to stop for lunch), before making the 45 minute (approx) drive to the Pinnacles car park. Another option would be to arrive early at the Pinnacles and do the walk before driving back to Martinborough or Greytown for a rewarding lunch.

The car park is also a Department of Conservation campsite, so if you are tenting or have a campervan, you can stay the night here for the modest fee of $6 each per night. It is a lovely spot and I can’t imagine it ever gets too busy.

The walk itself has a few options. You either walk straight up the river bed for about 45 minutes to get to the pinnacles, or you can veer left near the start of the track and take a hill walk to the Pinnacles lookout (where I took the photograph above). The final option is the 3-4 loop walk that links both the riverbed track and the lookout track via a bulldozer track. Which ever path you choose, you will need good sturdy footwear and be ready for some hill work! Also, there are signs everywhere warning about falling rocks and water hazards. Exercise extreme caution in high winds and rain.

Putangirua Pinnacles

Putangirua Pinnacles

Film Location

The Pinnacles were most famously used as the filming location for the Dimholt Road in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In Tolkien lore, the Dimholt lies at the base of the Dwimorberg mountain, beyond Dunharrow. Click the links for more information on the Dimholt, and the Paths of the Dead.

Peter Jackson was already familiar with the Pinnacles, as he used them for the opening scenes of his zombie masterpiece, Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive). If you don’t know about Jackson’s dark and hilarious early films, you should check them out. Be warned, they are very disturbing and NOTHING like the Lord of the Rings. In the opening of Braindead, the pinnacles portray a remote island where scientists have captured a rare “Sumatran Rat Monkey”, which ends up wreaking havoc on the city of Wellington. Incidentally, the Rat Monkey is currently on display at the Weta Cave in Wellington.

Once you are in the Pinnacles, you can’t help but feel like you are in one of the darker corners of Middle-earth. We were there on a beautiful warm day, and it still felt quite spooky as the path narrowed around us.

The Dimholt Road. Putangirua Pinnacles - Wairarapa, New Zaeland

The Dimholt Road. Putangirua Pinnacles – Wairarapa, New Zaeland