Exploring Middle-Earth with Red Carpet Tours

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I was not your average teenager obsessed with boy bands and the latest hair clip fashions (I was a teen in the 2000s — hair clip fashion was a thing). Instead, my adolescent attention was drawn to slightly… nerdier pursuits. Namely: the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

I saw “Fellowship of the Ring” when it came out in 2001, and soon began reading anything and everything Tolkien-related that I could get my hands on. I also made it a life mission to visit New Zealand, the REAL home of Middle-Earth.

Lake Pukaki

All through high school I saved up money from part-time jobs, holidays, birthdays, etc., so that I could go to Middle-Earth and be a hobbit. Or, more specifically, so I could go on a “Lord of the Rings” tour of New Zealand that I read about online.

The tour was offered by Red Carpet Tours — the first and most comprehensive “Lord of the Rings” tour company in New Zealand — and when I finally went in 2005, it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

And now, a decade later, Red Carpet Tours is still offering the BEST “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” tours in New Zealand.

Hobbiton with Red Carpet Tours

After keeping in touch with the company's owners over the years (they're seriously like the aunt and uncle you never knew you had), I was lucky enough to get to experience a Red Carpet Tour for a second time in 2014, and let me tell you: they've only gotten better. If you're a fan of Middle-Earth at all, this is definitely a tour you want to know about.

You can read all about the tour below; but first, watch this video:

Where will you go?

The 14-day tour starts in Auckland (at the top of the North Island) and ends in Queenstown (at the bottom of the South Island), meaning you cover a lot of ground in just two weeks. You're in a new town nearly every night, with the exception of 3 nights in Wellington and 3 nights in Queenstown.

The pace may be fast, but it's worth it to get to see all the great locations included on this tour.

Hiking to Edoras

Notable stops and overnights include:

  • Matamata
  • Piopio
  • Rotorua
  • Ohakune and Mount Ruapehu
  • Wellington
  • Nelson
  • Kaikoura
  • Christchurch and the Canterbury region
  • Cromwell
  • Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand

Some notable “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” sites you get to see include:

  • Trollshaw Forest
  • Hobbiton
  • Mount Doom
  • The River Anduin
  • The “get off the road” site
  • The river the dwarves and Bilbo ride down in barrels
  • Edoras (and a lot of Rohan)
  • The Pelennor Fields
  • The “Leaf Brooch Canyon”
  • The “Breaking of the Fellowshop” site where Frodo and Sam leave
Where Bilbo gets Sting in Piopio
Where Bilbo first finds Sting
Pelennor Fields with Red Carpet Tours
The Pelennor Fields

Who will you travel with?

It's hard to explain the types of people who go on these tours, but they're NOT the typical “geek” stereotype many people automatically picture when they hear “Lord of the Rings tour.” Sure, a couple people may have costumes or cloaks in their luggage, and others may spend a ton of money on Weta replicas and souvenirs… but most are really cool, normal people.

Reid Helicopters

We had multiple countries represented in our group, including Canada, Australia, the US, England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, and even Luxembourg! The ages ranged from 10 to the 60s/70s range, though I'd say the average hovered somewhere between 25 and 30. This was actually a surprise to me — I was impressed by how many 20-somethings saved up for an epic trip like this!

The first time I went on this tour (back in 2005), there were 9 people in our “fellowship.” But, with “Lord of the Rings” tourism booming again after the “Hobbit” movies, the tour groups are larger these days. My group was 29 people (plus our tour guide and driver).

Edoras with Red Carpet Tours

This is a larger group than I'm used to traveling with, but I actually didn't mind it. People were usually on-time (or, more likely early!) for everything, and having a larger group means there's a better chance you'll find people to get along with. (Though, on a tour like this, you already have one huge thing in common — prepare for some serious and long-lasting bonds.)

Who is the guide?

With specialty tours like this, there's always the fear that you'll get stuck with a guide who isn't a fan and who just looks at their job as a job. Well not with this company.

Red Carpet Tours is a family-owned and operated company, meaning you'll usually be guided by Vic James or his daughter Julie. They are as big of “Lord of the Rings” fans as anyone on tour, so you can be sure that the passion is there, no matter who is guiding. They are fans first and foremost, meaning they know exactly what you're hoping to see and do on this once-in-a-lifetime tour.

Red Carpet Tours and Shane Rangi
Me with Julie and stunt man Shane Rangi.

We had Julie guiding on our trip, and she was fantastic. Always smiling and always trying to force people to put on costumes and re-enact scenes. (Yes, it's going to happen. Just accept it.)

How will you travel?

As the groups get larger, so does the transport. We were on a large coach for this tour — larger than we needed, meaning it was pretty easy to spread out. Our driver, Craig, was a wealth of information about New Zealand, and Julie would often pop in “Lord of the Rings” DVDs or behind-the-scenes extras from “The Hobbit” on longer drives.

The bus made frequent stops, too, so long travel days didn't usually feel long.

Lake Wanaka
For example: a lunch stop in Wanaka

The buses usually have wifi, too (though, like with nearly all wifi in New Zealand, you have to pay for it).

The tour also includes a ferry crossing between the North and the South islands. I LOVE that this is part of the tour, because this crossing is stunning!

Where will you stay?

The accommodations on this tour are all in 4-star hotels. I had no complaints at all — in fact, some of them (like the Amora in Wellington) were far nicer than I would usually expect from a group tour like this!

Hotel room in New Zealand

You stay in some unique properties, too. Like the Powerhorn Chateau in Oahkune. This ski lodge-like hotel was used by most of the “Lord of the Rings” stars when they were filming in the area, so you have a good chance of getting a “star room.” (If you do, you can buy a souvenir keychain saying you slept in Orlando or Elijah's room…)

The hotels are all centrally-located, too, and most have at least one restaurant on-site.

Golden Gate Lodge in Cromwell, New Zealand

What will you eat?

A good number of meals are included in the tour (all breakfasts, 4 dinners, and 1 or 2 lunches), and the guides will often book group dinners for anybody interested. You certainly don't HAVE to eat with the rest of the group, though — you're free to do your own thing most every evening.

The food in New Zealand isn't exactly exotic, but there are a few things I definitely recommend trying: like green-lipped mussels and venison (which they actually farm in New Zealand, so it's incredibly tender and delicious). You can also try local lamb/mutton, and any seafood you order is usually guaranteed to be fresh, too.

Green-lipped mussels in New Zealand
Green-lipped mussels – YUM!

What will you do?

This tour is JAM-PACKED with cool activities — and not ALL of them are Middle-Earth-related. Yes, this tour was made for fans. But I feel like even non-fans would enjoy it.

Lupins at Lake Tekapo
Photo stop at Lake Tekapo
Poolburn, New Zealand
Some exclusive access to filming sites in Poolburn

Some of the included activities include:

  • A guided tour of Hobbiton and lunch at the Green Dragon
  • A guided tour of the Trollshaw Forest in Piopio
  • A behind-the-scenes tour of Weta Workshop
  • A morning with map-maker and calligrapher Daniel Reeve
  • A visit to the One Ring maker's shop in Nelson
  • Stopping to see fur seals in Kaikoura
  • Hiking to the top of Mount Sunday (AKA Edoras)
  • Scenic stops at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
  • Visits to several filming locations on private land (like the Leaf Brooch Canyon and the Pelennor Fields)
  • A gondola ride and dinner at the Skyline restaurant in Queenstown

Bag End at Hobbiton

Holding the One Ring in Nelson, NZ

But there were plenty of optional extras, too. Such as:

  • A Maori cultural show and traditional hangi dinner at Mitai Maori Village ($145 NZD; about $108 USD)
  • Adventure activities (like a flying fox or bungee jump) at Gravity Canyon
  • A helicopter tour from Nelson to the “South of Rivendell” site ($400 NZD; $300 USD)
  • Rafting down the Pelorus River (the “barrel river”) ($80 NZD; $60 USD)
  • Wine tasting ($5 NZD)
  • Archery in Wanaka ($8; $6 USD)
  • Day tours in Queenstown (helicopter tours, skydiving, “Lord of the Rings” day trips, etc.)
South of Rivendell
South of Rivendell
Rafting down the Pelorus River
Rafting down the Pelorus River

What makes this tour special?

Because of the relationships they've built with property owners, Weta employees, and even actors over the years, Red Carpet has access to places and people that you simply can't get as a normal tourist in New Zealand.

For example, you won't find places like the Pelennor Fields or Leaf Brooch Canyon on your own — they are located on private land, and the owners only come out to meet people traveling with Red Carpet. Similarly, you'll get to meet all sort of people in Wellington, from calligrapher Daniel Reeve to Thorin's stunt double to people who were extras in the films. Once I even got to go with a Red Carpet group into the boardroom at Weta to hold their Academy Awards. (Yes, I have a photo.)

Leaf Brooch Canyon in Poolburn, NZ
Leaf Brooch Canyon – you can't get here on your own

And when you go to places that normal tourists CAN visit (like Edoras and some of the sites around Queenstown like the “Breaking of the Fellowship” lake), you get the added bonus of being with an expert guide who knows all sorts of extra stories and tidbits about the locations and the filming that happened there.

Plus, you don't just go up and SEE the locations. You spend time out in the elements actually interacting with them. You hike to the top of Edoras. You dance on the Party Field in Hobbiton. You climb trees and run through canyons and re-enact battles.

This isn't just a bus tour with a handful of photo stops — you can get as involved with the locations as you want.

Red Carpet Tours in Wellington
Pretending to be Sam and Frodo as they're leaving the Shire

Any downsides?

With a large, fast-paced tour like this, you are always going to sacrifice some flexibility and independence. But that's kind of a given with a group tour like this.

The days also start EARLY on this tour — you usually have to be on the bus between 7 and 8 a.m., and you often don't get to your evening destination until around dinner time. You usually have evenings free, though. And you get free time in the places that matter, like Wellington and Queenstown.

Oriental Bay in Wellington, NZ
Enjoying free time in Wellington

Would I recommend it?

Umm, DUH.

I LOVE Julie and Vic (and his wife Raewyn) and admire the dedication they have towards this company. It really shows. They are always trying to make the experience better, and they have some serious connections (for example, there will be even more actors, stunt performers, and Weta artists included in 2015 tours and beyond).

If you are even the slightest “Lord of the Rings” fan and want to see New Zealand, then this is the absolute perfect way to do it.

Weta Cave in Wellington, NZ

If you want to read more about this tour, here are some posts to check out:

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Is this a tour YOU would consider in New Zealand?

 

*Note: I received a complimentary 14-day Lord of the Rings tour with Red Carpet Tours. As always, though, all opinions are my own. And, in this case, I really do LOVE this company — this was my second tour with them, after all!

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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37 Comments on “Exploring Middle-Earth with Red Carpet Tours

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  1. Okay this sounds amazing, definitely on my bucket list now!! I’ll be in New Zealand in about a years time, I’ll see if I can fit it into my schedule then! I will be cycling the entire country though, so maybe a couple weeks of the bike would be a nice change 🙂

      Oh wow! That will be an epic trip! But yeah… two weeks off the bike might be a nice break! 😉 If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this is hands-down the best tour out there!

    This sounds so ridiculously amazing, but I can’t imagine being able to afford it! 🙁 That’s some SERIOUS saving to do lol.

      It is, but it is SO worth it! I was really impressed at the number of young Aussies on the tour with me – many of them did what I did back in high school: saved up for a couple years just to go on this trip! It’s definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime-type experiences, though, and I don’t think you would regret it!

    It always cracks me up how New Zealand actually stole Lord Of The Rings from the UK. The whole story was inspired by the industrial revolution, mining and the so-called black country in Birmingham and surrounding areas. That’s the real middle earth. I am huge fan of Lord of the Rings (not so much of the hobbit). It’s fun reading about all these locations. I actually promised myself that I am going to watch LOTR again, so I can recognize some locations I have already visited in NZ and look for some that I still want to see.

      Haha, yup, Tolkien wrote a lot of his stuff to serve as the “mythology” England never had. (Though, really he wrote Lord of the Rings because he wanted an excuse to invent Elvish – he was always a linguist first!)

      I’m glad it was filmed in New Zealand, though. I mean, yes, the UK has some incredible landscapes. But NZ is such a special place, and the movies really DID help people become more aware of it as a travel destination!

    I envy you, I too am a HUGE LOTR fan and that is the trip of a lifetime!

      Put it on your bucket list! 🙂

    But what about second breakfast? Elevenses? JK, JK – this tour sounds amazing!

      Oh don’t worry – we had stops for second breakfast nearly every day! 😉

    Wow! Even though I don’t know much about the Lord of the rings, I still want to explore the same trail. It looks and sounds so exciting! New Zealand is a land for nature lovers.

      There were some people on the tour who weren’t huge Lord of the Rings fans (i.e. spouses or mothers of huge fans), but they all loved it anyway! New Zealand is special that way.

    I bet you had an awesome time! this tour looks pretty fun

      It was SO MUCH fun. Really fun group of people, and of course New Zealand is always incredible!

    This all looks like crazy fun but mainly I’m leaving a comment because your expression in the picture of you holding the ring is positively devious and really made me crack up.

      Haha! I can pull a good face every now and then. And I mayyyyy or may not have purchased a “Precious” at that ring shop. Though, sadly, not the giant one in the photo. 😉

    I loved visiting some of the LOTR sites in New Zealand. We never made it to Hobbiton though and I wish we did! I must go back to NZ soon!

      Aw you most definitely need to go to Hobbiton next time! It’s so much fun.

    Is this a tour I would consider in New Zealand? I sure would!

    I’m a British person and of course, we all read The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings as children, as it’s a British story so to speak. But, I’m hugely pleased that the film was made in NZ because NZ is what the English country-side looked like at the time, or at least, the nostalgia of it as Tolkien was in the War. What’s even more pleasing, is that the original illistrator of the books (Alan Lee) continued to illustrate, consult and even help to construct objects, and advice the Weta Workshop people.

    Lord of the Rings has always been an extremely difficult book to film and none had been particularly successful until Peter Jackson came along. New Zealand couldn’t have been a better choice, and I think they stayed true to the images of Tolkien, not that he was particularly bothered, as he was sceptical if “ordinary” people would understand what his books were actually about LOL…!

      Haha, yeah, I have no clue what Tolkien would have thought of the films, but I think Peter Jackson and team did a phenomenal job of bringing the story to life. I, too, love that he brought in Alan Lee and John Howe to help with all the conceptual work – he was definitely dedicated to making it all feel as “real” as possible. And yes, New Zealand was such a great place to film it! It really IS the closest you can get to Middle-Earth in real life.

    What an amazing tour! I especially like the photos of the hobbit houses…there is just something about circular doors that is so warm and welcoming 🙂

      I agree! Love the round doors.

    […] guys. It’s no secret that I’m kind of a big nerd. I did just recently write about a Lord of the Rings tour of New Zealand, after all, and in the past I’ve written about Harry Potter locations in the UK and about how […]

    How amazing it that! I am not a big fan of the Lord of the Ring, but I have seen the movies and liked them. Seeing those landscapes for real is just something that must be breathtaking! What a nice trip!
    Thanks for sharing such a great post, the experience, and those beautiful parts of New Zealand 🙂

    Best,
    Julie.

      Yes, seeing the landscapes in real life is definitely special!

    […] 2005, right after I graduated high school, I used my passport for the first time to go on a Lord of the Rings tour of New Zealand with my mom. On tour in Wellington, we got to meet Daniel Reeve, the man responsible for the […]

    […] spent the rest of my high school career saving up so that I could go on a Lord of the Rings-themed tour of New Zealand when I graduated (geeky, […]

    Hello~This tour is amazing!I heard about this tour months ago but I am still get confused of several questions,such as how to pay for this tour(payment routine)and do I need to sign on a contract of this tour?Thanks very much!

      If you go to their website, you can send them an email with your questions! They have payment plans, though, and accept payment several different ways.

    Hi Amanda! I know this post was a couple years ago now, but I just stumbled upon it on Pinterest and I am determined to go on this trip! I don’t know if you’re going to see this, but I was curious how their meals were. I’m Vegan and have a hard time finding vegan options when I travel. I’m worried a group trip would be slightly more difficult because they may have specific items they feed you.

      Other than breakfasts, a lot of meals are kind of on your own – but if you let them know about your dietary needs they should certainly be able to accommodate you!

    My husband and I just booked our tour in December 2019.
    I am so excited 🙂

      Awesome! You’re going to love it!

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