31 best things to do in the central North Island
Dominated by the enormous Lake Taupō and a trio of volcanoes including Mount Ruapehu, the Central Plateau is sporting a plethora of natural ...
New Zealand’s most beautiful scenery has always been the backdrop to native Kiwi cinema, but our down under, all-locations-covered wonderland is now attracting more and more Hollywood star power.
Of course, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies by New Zealand born-and-bred director Peter Jackson have showcased some of our most awe-inspiring natural sights, but New Zealand has been scene-stealing in a bunch of other productions as well. From the top to the bottom of the nation, wherever you are in New Zealand, it’s likely you’re not that far away from a recognisable film location.
The broody black sands of Karekare and Piha Beaches in the Auckland region provided the perfectly bleak backdrop to the iconic (and sodden) beach scenes in Jane Campion’s period drama The Piano (contrary to the evidence of that film, the sun does shine here!) The city and nearby surrounds (especially the hills of Waitakere Ranges Forest Park) have also stood in as an enchanted locale for children’s fantasy drama The Bridge to Terabithia, the dark and foreboding woods in the gore-tastic remake of cult classic The Evil Dead and its subsequent Bruce Campbell-starring TV revival Ash Vs Evil Dead, the China of legend for big Netflix sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (which also filmed in Waikato and The Coromandel) and a bunch of other TV productions from blood and sandals series Spartacus to everyone’s favourite leather-clad hellcat Xena: Warrior Princess. Taika Waititi’s smash-hot Kiwi success Hunt For The Wilderpeople also filmed in and around Auckland, including at the Good Gals Dairy (151 Point Chevalier Road) and Mount Eden Prison, with the Waitakere Ranges playing the Ureweras. Jason Statham tackles a prehistoric shark out on what is actually the Hauraki Gulf in The Meg. Parents might also spot familiar looking backgrounds (or people!) from various iterations of the cult, ongoing Power Rangers series.
The iconic ‘New Zealandness’ (really, there’s no other word for it – you’ll know what we mean when you get there) of Eastland’s small town Waihau Bay was the perfect stomping ground for Boy’s ‘egg’-loving, big-dreaming protagonist.
Taranaki’s lush green farmland became Japan at the end of the Imperial Era (while Mt Fuji found a fitting understudy in Mt Taranaki) in the 2003 Tom Cruise epic The Last Samurai. With a large chunk filmed around the region, you can head over to New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park and scope out where rifle training scenes were filmed, or check out Uruti Valley where the epic samurai battles were staged.
‘Wellywood’, as it’s been dubbed here, has become the nerve centre of New Zealand’s modern film boom, with Peter Jackson’s premiere Stone Street Studio facilities hosting such blockbusters as Avatar, The Legend of Zorro, and Pete’s Dragon. Stroll the streets and you may find many of the locations for the 2005 remake of King Kong, with ocean and island scenes filmed around the coast and in Cook Strait, as well as the hangouts of the vampire crew from What We Do In The Shadows. Be sure to swing by Wellington’s impressive Opera House on Manners Street, which became the New York City theatre where Kong escapes. Wellington also gave rise to the technological future of Scarlett Johansson’s 2017 sci-fi action flick Ghost In The Shell. You’ll also want to check out the Weta Cave, where design and prop wizards Weta Workshop showcase sculptures, prop replicas, art prints and apparel from a host of high-profile films they’ve worked on.
Peter Jackson transformed the port town of Lyttelton into small-town America for his early Hollywood effort The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox, and shot the inspired-by-true-events teen murderesses chiller Heavenly Creatures, starring a pre-Titanic Kate Winslet, in and around Christchurch. The tiny Banks Peninsula township of Port Levy was transformed into the tiny, sleepy Midwest American town at the heart of the post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick Z for Zachariah. Fancy ducking out the back of the closet into Narnia? Head to Flock Hill, between Darfield and Arthur’s Pass, where you’ll find the stunning limestone outcroppings that doubled as Narnia for the climactic battle of the first Chronicles of Narnia film. The Michael Fassbender-starring ‘European-style’ Western Slow West was filmed around the South Canterbury town of Twizel, and New Zealand-set gold-rush era The Stolen was also filmed around Canterbury in 2016, as well as at Christchurch’s Ferrymead Heritage Park.
The small West Otago town of Tapanui had its main street and old lumber mill relocated to the United States for the purposes of Disney’s recent live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon, while Hugh Jackman also popped into such locations as Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the famous jet boating/bungy adventure location of Skippers Canyon for X Men Origins: Wolverine. Central Otago has also been standing in for Iraq during the filming of Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) escapades in Mission Impossible: Fallout. The University of Otago became the setting for sinister goings-on in 2019’s Black Christmas.
In a rare case of art imitating life, the real-life home of quirky New Zealand two-wheeled speed demon Burt Munro was also the filming location for the biopic of his life, The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Anthony Hopkins. Scenes were filmed in Invercargill as well as on the nearby Oreti Beach on the shores of Foveaux Strait, where the real-life Burt nailed his motorcycle speed runs before smashing international records on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride and crew also had the fortune (or misfortune for the characters) of landing in Fiordland’s otherworldly Milford Sound for Ridley Scott’s most recent Alien series film, Alien: Covenant. (Fear not visitors: we promise there are no xenomorph spores anywhere!)
Where to start? These epic celluloid success stories were shot entirely in New Zealand and have featured locations the length and breadth of the nation. There are too many iconic locations to list, so here’s the highlight reel, as it were: Matamata, Waikato (Hobbiton), Twizel and Mt Potts Station in Canterbury (The Pelennor Fields and Edoras), Paradise near Glenorchy (Amon Hen and Lothlorien), Kaitoke Regional Park in Upper Hutt (Rivendell), Mt Ruapehu/Tongariro National Park (Mordor), Skippers Canyon and the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge near Queenstown (the Ford of Bruinen and The Arganath), the Kepler Mire in Fiordland (the Dead Marshes), and many, many more.