Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
With its stunning landscapes that include everything from soaring mountain peaks to beautiful beaches, turquoise lakes and lush countryside, it’s no wonder that New Zealand has become such a popular filming location. Many movies have been shot here, with Hollywood taking advantage of the jaw-dropping scenery. That’s resulted in the country becoming a favorite tourist destination, with many coming to see the sights they’ve witnessed on-screen in real life. These top film locations can are so spectacular you might feel as if you’ve stepped into a fantasy world.
One of the world’s most iconic film locations, Hobbiton Village is where J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was filmed. When the films were finished, the Hobbiton set in Matamata was transformed into a tourist attraction for fans from across the globe to come and experience the wonders of Middle Earth. It’s become one of the most popular destinations for visitors since opening in 2011 and features the Hobbit holes as well as the Hobbits favorite meeting spot, the Green Dragon Inn. Here you can sip on a range of Hobbit ales. ginger beer and apple cider. Visitors can also take a guided tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set where “secret” tidbits of information are shared, including director Peter Jackson and his movie making techniques.
Cathedral Cave is one of the most photogenic spots in New Zealand, located along the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. It can be reached by walking from Hahei Beach where you’ll see a huge arched cavern that passes through a white rock headland joining two remote coves. This was the home of the Kings and Queens of Narnia – it will be obvious why this site was chosen as the location for the famous C.S. Lewis book, Prince Caspian, from the moment you lay your eyes upon it. It’s an ideal spot for picnicking, relaxing in the sun and kayaking, with excursions available to take you along the spectacular shoreline. There are also boat tours to join that will bring you here, with opportunities to spot a variety of wildlife like fur seals, orca whales, dolphins, blue penguins, gannets and more.
Parts of the Marvel “Wolverine” series were shot in Milford Sound. A visit provides the opportunity to walk in the shoes of actor Hugh Jackman and enjoy some incredible scenery in the process. You might recall it during the scene when a disillusioned James walks away from his team, retreating to a home in what’s supposed to be the Canadian Rockies, but it’s actually Milford Sound. The “Alkali Lake” facility is above Stirling Falls, one of the two waterfalls here that flow year-round. It’s nearly 500-feet-high, three times the height of Niagara Falls.
The breathtaking landscapes of Fiordland National Park were used by director Ridley Scott who shot “Alien Covenant” around its most northern and accessible end. It offers some of the most jaw-dropping coastal scenery with magnificent dark blue waters and dramatic peaks. Scott was drawn to the area after witnessing the tremendous rain and waterfalls that would then appear out of nowhere down the mountainous terrain on a previous visit. The almost always present low-lying clouds made a perfect otherworldly backdrop.
The sci-fi fantasy hit “A Wrinkle in Time,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey was based in and primarily shot in the South Island of New Zealand. Wanaka was chosen for its fantastical scenery which helped to complement the amazing visual effects in the film. The small town is home to beautiful Lake Wanaka and enjoys a spectacular backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park, surrounded by snow-capped crags and evergreen trees. An outdoor adventurer’s paradise, there are miles of hikes, paddling opportunities and other excursions available from the town center, and you can even try the world’s tallest waterfall-climbing course.
Academy award-winning director Ed Zwick filmed much of “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise in the Mount Taranaki area. It was chosen as the mountain looks very much like Mount Fuji in Japan while the vibrant green hills offered an ideal backdrop for the film’s climactic battle scene which required some 500 Japanese extras. This is also a popular tourist spot in New Zealand, perfect for visitors who want to view one of the world’s most symmetrical volcanoes and enjoy hiking, with Egmont National Park offering a wide range of trails to explore. A hike up the mountain will reveal perfectly circular forest boundary that runs in a six-mile radius around Mount Taranaki where there are multiple short walks and day hikes.
Much of 1983’s Oscar-winning film “The Piano” starring Adrien Brody and Anna Paquin (her breakout role) was filmed in and around Auckland, including KareKare Beach. This is the main site to check out, featured in the scene in which the party comes ashore and where Ada’s beloved piano is initially abandoned. The black stretch of sand is located near Glen Eden 15 miles west of Auckland, and is a beautiful place with great surf as well as being popular for picnics and sandy strolls.
Outside of New Zealand, Whangara is best known as that place where the 2002 award-winning film “Whale Rider” was shot. Myth says that the legendary voyager Paikea reached this spot after journeying from Hawaiki on the back of a whale. The whale became the rock, Whāngārā Island, known for its distinctive whale-like shape. The tiny community along the east coast of the North Island between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay has a Whale Rider figure on top of the local marae.
Tom Cruise was in New Zealand for another film, the latest blockbuster in the
Mission Impossible” movies with Simon Pegg, Henry Cavill and others, who were all seen appreciating the gorgeous New Zealand scenery around Nevis Valley. Production personnel was said to have spent around four months building the camp setting for the shoot that lasted four weeks including the aerial work which took place in Fiordland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park and Skippers Canyon.
The high-adrenaline thriller from 2000, “Vertical Limit” starring Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton and others, was centered on Mount Cook, the country’s tallest mountain. While in real life the peaks were once used as a practice ground for Sir Edmund Hillary’s preparation for a Mount Everest climb, in the film, an entire team is hit by a storm, making it appear as if the entire area was especially hazardous terrain. Visitors who come experience a scene that’s incredibly mesmerizing, with the sheer magnificence of the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park’s vistas that including glistening glaciers, permanent snowfields and sky-scraping peaks.