Safari of the Scenes – Wakatipu Basin Tour (departs 8.30am & 1.30pm, NZ$169 pp)
This tour offers a comprehensive look around the Queenstown end of the Wakatipu Basin, and includes some good film locations, local history, and a section of off-road driving. It is great for LOTR fans and non-fans alike.
What I really love about this tour is the variety you get in just 4 hours. The Safari of the Scenes – Wakatipu Basin tour is the most popular tour offered by Nomad Safaris, and I think this variety is the reason. Many people book Lord of the Rings related tours just because they have heard about the beautiful scenery used as a backdrop for the films. They may not have even seen the films themselves, but this is enough of a draw to make them curious.
The tour starts in Queenstown (most accommodation or downtown) and immediately takes you via Frankton to the Remarkables ski access road. From half way up the Remarkables range, you get an incredible view over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. This would be enough for most people, but it also gives the guide an opportunity to share stories about the scenes shot on Deer Park Heights. (Visitors used to be able to drive up Deer Park Heights and see the locations first hand, but the farm has been closed to the public and to commercial operators for a few years now. The view from the Remarkables is as close as most people will ever get these days). There were many scenes shot on Deer Park Heights, with the most iconic being the Rohan Refugees making their way to Helm’s Deep.
Next up is a drive into the Kawarau Gorge for a look at the River Anduin – namely the site used for The Pillars of the Kings (aka the Argonath). The statues were never here in real life (they were really 3 metres tall in a studio in Wellington), but I would be asked weekly by people in “holiday mode” why the statues were taken down after filming. Sigh. While at this location, you also get a great view from above of the historic Kawarau Bridge which is the site of the world’s first commercial bungy jump operation. If you cheer loudly enough, you may help encourage the jumpers.
From here, you will drive to the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown (another favourite place of mine). Locations in Arrowtown include part of the Ford of Bruinen scene where Arwen and Frodo escaped the Ringwraiths, and the Gladden Fields where King Isildur was betrayed by The One Ring to his death. (Ironically I lost my own One Ring here one day. Apparently I had taken Gollum on tour in disguise, and he helped himself to it while I wasn’t looking.) If you visit in Summer, the place is so green and lush you will need to squint to make it look as desolate as it appeared in the film. Visit in Winter and the location is immediately recognisable. It is here on the Arrow River where you also get to experience some river crossings and good 4WD action (provided the river is not in flood), and you may stop here to try gold panning first hand (this is why the town is here in the first place), and enjoy a cup of tea and cookies. We still hold to our British roots and everything stops for a cup of tea or coffee!
Finally after leaving Arrowtown, you climb the road to Coronet Peak. Crossing Skippers Saddle you will have a breathtaking view into Long Gully, the entrance to Skippers Canyon. While this scenery was not used for any scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is very evocative of Frodo and Sam’s long march into Mordor. It’s a stretch to really call this a film location, but it is a great excuse to see a place you may never otherwise have seen. The tour ends back in Queenstown.
I would advise when booking this tour that you tell Nomad Safaris if you are a big time LOTR fan. They have a lot of great guides, but some of them are bigger LOTR fans than others. Let them know, and they will try to fit the appropriate guide to your trip.
- Departs 8.30am & 1.30pm
- Duration approx 4 hours
- Price $169NZ per person (cheaper for kids)
- Wear good footwear and dress for the weather
Disclaimer time – I used to work for these guys. I am a little biased towards Nomad Safaris, but it also means I never had a need to try any of the other companies offering similar tours in Queenstown. I’m sure they are good too, but I like to stick with what I know!