The tour guides explain you the composition of the LoR scenes very well. Although they do not wear strange ears as they do on some of the tours in the Wellington region, and do not show film clips, you get a good idea of the differences between the film scenes and reality.
The guides have fabulous books of the making of… So you can have a look at what you have seen at the movies. And then you find out that not only “stuff” has been built for the filming and destroyed afterwards, like Rohan in LoR II, and other things like the pillars in the Kawarau Gorge have been added digitally. Not even the landscapes you see compare 1:1. For example, the heros and Hobbits or whoever rode on their horses through the Arrow River – but when they came out of the river they left Lake Te Anau down south… They digitally removed plants like broom (that was in full bloom when we were on the tour at the end of November) and other features of the river valley.
Anyway. You get the idea.
Although I am no LoR fan, just of the landscapes, I finally went on a LoR safari. It was a half day tour, and it was fabulous. I think our guide with Nomad Safaris was as good as the scenery. He had a great acting talent and played several roles at a time, imitating dialogues between actors of LoR. This was comedy at its best, and I enjoyed it more than the endless battles of the film trilogy that turned me a bit off the films.
However, the tour is all about the landscapes, of course. Just getting up to all those mountains opens up the incredible views you can get around Queenstown.
I was on the Wakatipu tour which covers film sets of the Queenstown and Arrowtown area. Another half day tour would cover the Glenorchy region. And they also offer full day tours for diehards.
The scenic highlights were a trip half-way up the Remarkables and Coronet Peak, and from there into Skippers Canyon. Plus, we stood high above the Kawarau Gorge, with a LoR view to one side and the Bungy Jump bridge to the other side.
As you might know, you do not get insurance cover for rental cars in Skippers, and if you get oncoming traffic on this unsealed, winding, narrow and unsecured barrier-free “road” as we did you will understand why LOL Not only the drive is breathtaking but also the views.
Also the guide has his moments to impress personally. They really dare a U-turn on this road with the big Land Rover which has a maximum of six passengers. And when we met this oncoming truck neither of the drivers bothered to move back to one of the few lay-bys along the road. The other truck squeezed against the steep rocks on the left side, and our truck – on the way downhill – somehow dangled in the air above the precipice. My offer to fold the mirror, so they could pass with more ease, was declined… ;-)
The second of those moments was the trip through the Arrow River where the Ford of Bruinen of the film is located. Our guide raced and paced and ploughed through the water, making the truck lean on banks at scary angles. If you had not digested your lunch yet you would have done it on this rocky ride. And to add to the adventurous experience, he drove in circles in the river and outside, as if he wanted to prove he could do better spins than the drivers of the jetboats on the Shotover River.
We had a tea break with hot drinks and biscuits on the banks of the Arrow River. There we also got a lesson in gold panning. Unfortunately we only found some dusts of gold but no nugget ;-)
My conclusion: I would prefer one or two more film locations instead of gold panning but the tour is great, especially as you get into Skippers Canyon which you cannot do in a rental car. A half day tours comes to NZ$ 140.
They do not include Deer Park Heights because they charge an entry fee. You can visit most sites on your own as well, without the need of a 4WD. In good weather conditions you can drive up to the Remarkables Range although it is a very rocky drive, and you can walk to the Ford of Bruinen. Just take care that you do not get under a shower of a performing tour truck ;-)))
I will post some sites and give directions for DIY sightseeing.
Three LoR Tours are on offer, two half day tours (NZ$ 140 each) and a full day tour.
Tour A (daily departures at 8.30am and 1.30pm, 4 hours) covers the Wakatipu Basin, so the Queenstown area, including Misty Mountains, Pillars of the Kings, Ford of Bruinen, Skippers Canyon and more.
Tour B (daily departures at 8.15am and 1.30pm, more than 4 hours) is in the Glenorchy area. Visited sites are Isengard, Amon Hen, Lothlorien, Ithilien Camp, etc.
The full day tour is just a combination of those tours, with a (self-provided) lunch break after the first tour.
Even if you're not into the Lord of the Rings movies the two 1/2 day tours Nomad Safaris offer provide a fun way to get out of Queenstown and see some of the surrounding countryside. You get a quick overview of Arrowstown although we did not stop long enough to check out any of the shops. Another stop provides a view of the original bungy jump.
If you're into the movies you'll want to get a copy of the Location Guidebook so you can follow along with the guide on the stops that are made and compare back to your photos later.
For a difference experience, join Safari of The Rings tour run by Nomad Safaris. It is a half-day guided tour, took about 4 hours, cost NZ$120 including hotel pick-up and drop-off and refreshment.
They also run tours to Skipper Canyon and Macetown.
See my SAFARI OF THE RINGS travelodge for details.