Lord of the Rings Photo Safari – Queenstown, NZ

Nomad-SafarisLast fall when we asked our boys what they’d like to see and do in New Zealand, they agreed on two things: 1) see some of the sites where Peter Jackson filmed scenes for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy; and 2) lots of photography. So they were ready and waiting in front of our hotel when guide and driver Ivan pulled up in a Nomad Safaris Toyota Land Cruiser.

As requested, it was clear from the start that we weren’t on a standard tour. Ivan went over his preliminary thoughts for the day, tweaked his plan a little based on our feedback about what we’d already seen & done in New Zealand and then we were on our way.

As he drove the two-lane highway hugging the lakeshore between Queenstown and Glenorchy, Ivan shared the Maori legend of Lake Wakatipu as well as a running dialogue about New Zealand’s natural history, geography, more recent history, etc. He also stopped several times at great spots for photography.

Mr. GeoK took this photo while I was studying some of the recently planted native shrubs and enjoying the early morning light.
Mr. GeoK took this photo while I was studying some of the recently planted native shrubs and enjoying the early morning light.
One of Mr. GeoK's stitched panorama photographs taken at our first stop.
One of Mr. GeoK’s stitched panorama photographs taken at our first stop.
There are several paved pull-outs along the highway where tourists can safely stop to photograph Lake Wakatipu.
There are several paved pull-outs along the highway where tourists can safely stop to photograph Lake Wakatipu.
The little ribbon of two-line highway along the right side of the photograph reinforces the fact that Lake Wakatipu is the largest of all the many lakes in New Zealand.
This is one of the LOTR locations we visited. Try to imagine two huge oliphaunts with loads of warriors on their backs lumbering through this clearing, with Middle Earth foot soldiers all around them and Sam, Frodo and Gollum peering down at them from the top of an embankment just behind where this photo was taken.
And that embankment up the creek that K is walking beside is the embankment where Sam, Frodo and Gollum lay on their stomachs watching the Oliphaunts.
As you can see, there are no telltale signs left behind to indicate that this is where Sam, Frodo and Gollum spotted two Oiliphaunts.

Our next stop was in the little settlement of Glenorchy, at the head of Lake Wakatipu. We really appreciated the photo opportunities at the red wharf shed.

While K took photos from the cargo platform alongside New Zealand’s shortest rail line (running from the shed to the wharf), I tried to squeeze the whole building into one frame. I think a slightly wider angle lens is on my wish list now that I see how tight things are at the top of the frame.
For this photograph, Mr. GeoK went out to the end of the Glenorchy wharf and looked to the head of Lake Wakatipu.
As soon as we arrived at the wharf shed, this line of waterlogged shrubs caught my attention. I came home with three compositions I like, including this one with some deadfall in the foreground.

From Glenorchy, Ivan drove generally north. Shortly after we entered Mount Aspiring National Park he parked the Land Cruiser and we walked a short distance into the woods to learn all about New Zealand’s indigenous beech trees: red beech, silver beech and black beech. LOTR fans will probably already know that this ancient beech forest served as Lothlorien. Ivan explained that the filming crews had to retrieve every golden leaf that was used in these scenes, as they couldn’t leave anything behind. Imagine trying to find gold-painted leaves among the centuries of leaf litter on the forest floor!

A little further along, we passed Paradise Lake (named for the Paradise Shelduck) and then stopped beside a farm paddock to photograph the location where shapeshifter Beorn provided shelter to Thorin Oakenshield, his company of dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf.

Try to imagine this as the site of Beorn’s home. It was hard to do with a whole paddock of Angus cattle just behind us in the paddock across the road!

By that time it was almost noon, so we drove part of the way back to Queenstown before stopping at a picturesque spot along Lake Wakatipu for a picnic lunch. The boys (and Ivan) also took turns skipping stones while Mr. GeoK and I took (yet more) photographs.



Once we’d all satisfied our appetites and stretched our legs, we piled back in the Land Cruiser. Ivan drove straight through Queenstown and continued on to the picturesque village of Arrowtown. It had a lot of visual appeal and is on our list of places to spend a day or so, if and when we make another visit to New Zealand. But instead of joining the throngs of tourists wandering the very English-looking narrow streets, we opted to continue to the Arrow River for some fun off-roading, a quick stop at the Ford of Bruinen and then a more extended stop to try panning for gold.

None of us found enough gold to pay for our vacation, but we all managed to find at least a few little specs of the precious metal.

By about 2:30 in the afternoon we’d visited all the sites we agreed on at the start of the day. So after a bit more discussion, Ivan returned to Arrowtown via the Arrow River bed and then drove us part way down into Skippers Canyon. We couldn’t go all the way, as we were in a Land Cruiser and it’s not rough and tough enough to make it all the way down to the Shotover River. But that really didn’t matter to us. The landscape of Skippers Canyon was absolutely stunning – one of the visual highlights of our entire trip. The road is just a narrow, unpaved track, with steep drop-offs on one side and steep hillsides stretching up towards the sky on the other. Hairpin turns and blind corners add to the challenge. Again, Ivan obliged by stopping several times so we could take photographs.

I had K stand beside the stalks of wild flowers long past their “best before” date, just to give a sense of scale.
The road hugs the hillside along one side of the valley, as seen from this pullout a short distance away.
Another instance where K was kind enough to provide a sense of scale. The rugged grassland was punctuated here and there with rocky outcroppings, like this one.
Another example of the rocky outcroppings that add visual interest to Skippers Canyon.
Do you like the way C managed to include hid Dad in this photo of Skippers Canyon?

We had the chance to look over The Remarkables ski area when we climbed Single Cone. Another local ski option is Coronet Peak, our next-to-last stop.

Road crews were hard at work repairing the road that winds its way up to Coronet Peak. But that didn’t seem to deter adventure seekers. From the parking lot at the day lodge, we watched two tandem hang gliders take off. Looked like an awesome experience!

Those of you still reading will be glad to know there are just a couple of photos from our last stop of the day – a small park in one of Queenstown’s suburbs, where we sat overlooking the lake and watched a couple of planes take-off from the airport.

And finally, the GeoKs “take five” at the end of an amazing day touring some of the scenic highlights around Queenstown.
If you look carefully, you’ll spot the Queenstown airport to the left of the hill, and maybe even a plane taking off.

Nomad Safaris has a lot of half-day and full-day tour options. If Ivan is anything to go by, their guides are extremely knowledgeable and go out of their way create a memorable experience. Thanks for an amazing day!

4 thoughts on “Lord of the Rings Photo Safari – Queenstown, NZ

    1. Thanks very much! Just visited your blog and can’t wait to see more photos from your recent trip to Tanzania. We were there for just a few days in 2011 and I would love to go back some day.


    1. The last time we visited Itsly was BC (before children) and BB (before blogging). The hill towns around Siena were so beautiful and we really loved the evenings, when everyone came out to walk and mingle. Does that still happen?


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