My Favorite (Kinda) Secret Place in New Zealand

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The first time I went to Mount Sunday, it was nothing more than a desolate high country sheep station at the end of a poorly paved road.

There were no tour buses. No well-worn hiking trails. And, to get to Mount Sunday itself, you had to take off your shoes and ford a handful of bone-chillingly cold rivers.

View from Mount Sunday (Edoras)

It was only for fanatical “Lord of the Rings” fans wanting to see Edoras (Tolkien's fictional city of the Rohan horse lords) in person — and it was difficult to find for anyone not in-the-know.

Mount Sunday AKA Edoras

My second trip to Mount Sunday was, in many ways, very similar to the first. It was a blustery, chilly day (though in a completely different season). The sky was partially blue and the mountains were dusted with fresh snow. And I was once again in the company of a bunch of “Lord of the Rings” fans excited to climb Edoras.

Mount Sunday AKA Edoras

But, unlike that first time when we crawled through fences and forded streams, this time the site was practically groomed for tourists.

Instead of fording streams, we crossed new bridges. Instead of forging our own path through the tussock, there were now narrow trails well-worn from many sets of curious feet. And, instead of having the entire site to ourselves, we passed other groups of fans on the trail.

Mount Sunday AKA Edoras

The view from Mount Sunday

Hiking to Edoras

This isn't a BAD thing. After all, this site is one of the most epic I've been lucky enough to visit in New Zealand.

Hiking to Edoras

Mount Sunday AKA Edoras

But it just goes to show you the impact the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies have had on tourism here.

Climbing up Mount Sunday (Edoras)

Even though Hobbiton is the only film set still in-tact in New Zealand, people still seek out other filming locations around the country — because Peter Jackson did not do anything half-assed and chose some truly INCREDIBLE places for on-location shoots.

Mount Sunday AKA Edoras

Following the release of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, a Tourism New Zealand study in 2004 found that 6 percent of visitors cited the films as one reason for them visiting NZ. Ten years later in 2014, a similar survey found that 13 percent of international visitors said that “The Hobbit” was a factor that influenced their interest in New Zealand as a destination. A year ago, a news story suggested that the Green Dragon (the themed pub at the Hobbiton movie set) was the busiest bar in New Zealand's Waikato district.

Yes, hobbits and orcs and the world they live in have certainly left a lasting impression on the tourists of the world.

Atop Mount Sunday with a Rohan flag

There's proof of it at Edoras, too — tour groups come from Christchurch every day, even off of cruise ships (though I would never recommend those cruise ship tours — they don't even give you enough time to climb Mount Sunday!).

But, thankfully, the remoteness of this location keeps the huge Hobbiton-scale crowds away.

Hiking to Edoras

Getting to Mount Sunday requires about a 2-hour drive from Christchurch, and a bit of know-how in order to find the road that leads to the site. Once there, there's a small gravel parking lot, a gravel road the leads to the first bridge, and then a rough track that take you to the top of “Edoras” itself.

Mount Sunday map

Hiking to Edoras

The 30-minute hike to the top is steep in spots, and can be slippery. And be prepared for strong wind!

But the views at the top are SO worth it.

The view from Mount Sunday

The view from Mount Sunday

None of the Edoras set remains (though every once in a while you'll find a nail or bit of wood that was left behind by accident), but it's not difficult to imagine Rohan flags blowing outside the Golden Hall of Meduseld. (Sorry, too geeky?)

Mount Sunday AKA Edoras

Even if you're NOT a Lord of the Rings fan, you would still be able to appreciate this location.

The view from Mount Sunday

Hiking to Edoras

Lots of tussock

So there you have it — my favorite not-so-secret-anymore location in New Zealand.

Even though I don't ever want to see it overrun with tourists, I still highly recommend finding this spot if you find yourself with some extra time in the Canterbury region of New Zealand.

Mount Sunday AKA Edoras

——

Is this a place YOU would visit?

 

*Note: I visited Edoras as part of my 14-day Lord of the Rings tour with partner Red Carpet Tours. As always, though, all opinions are my own! 

"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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30 Comments on “My Favorite (Kinda) Secret Place in New Zealand

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  1. Gorgeous photos! I would absolutely visit this place. Even if I wasn’t a Lord of the Rings fan (which I am), I would want to go hiking here. Thank you for sharing so many beautiful photos. They truly brightened my day (photos of sun are needed on these gray Pittsburgh winter days).

      (I hear ya with the gray days – just as bad over here in Cleveland!) This is a great place to do a quick hike – and definitely unique!

    Absolutely stunning! Though I guess it’s not “kinda secret” anymore!

      It’s still a liiiiittle secret – most New Zealanders probably wouldn’t be able to tell you how to find it!

    Wow, what a beautiful place! The views are spectacular. Even though I’m not a huge Lord of the Rings fan (I like it, just don’t love it), I’d love to go visit some of the filming locations because they looked so amazing in the movies.

      I promise that they’re all even better in person! Definitely a ton of epic landscapes to see in New Zealand.

    There’s a bridge now?? Damn the last time I was there we nearly got swept down river trying to cross the damn thing. Plus making our way through the pricker bushes, hopping the (thankfully off) electric fences… But like you said it was TOTALLY worth it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Hands down my favorite spot in New Zealand!

      Yeah, no more frigid river crossings!! I was actually a little sad about that, but it’s definitely still just as epic as ever!

        Haha yeah it did make for a better story that’s for sure!

    We visited Edoras in October 2013. We did it on our own (my husband, two kids and I) and we had to cross over a slightly raging stream that had washed out the road in our little rental car to get there (it had rained a lot in previous days). But it was a beautiful day and the highlight of our 2 week trip to NZ. We passed a few people on our walk to Mt. Sunday and then a couple of guys came up the Mt while we were up there. But the majority of the time, we had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a picnic lunch while taking in the sight and listening to the LOTR soundtrack. (Geeky enough?) 😉 Loved it!

      Sounds awesome! Glad you guys enjoyed it so much!

    Love this! My friends are going to New Zealand here shortly, I’ll have to share this post with them. Thanks for sharing 🙂
    xx
    Jessica

      If they like LotR (or just really epic landscapes) then yes, definitely share this with them!

    Love New Zealand the pics are amesome. Also the article was very well write, wish i could visit there this Year.
    I think you don’t any secret to hide anymore now.
    Thanx

      Haha, yeah, not so “secret” anymore!

    As you said that the views at the top are worth it, so yes, I’d definitely take the trouble! 🙂 New Zealand is on my radar whenever I visit Australia next. Thanks for the inspiration!

      It’s certainly worth the trip. I always tend to go to NZ instead of Australia… one of these years I’ll pull myself away from NZ and spend some time in Australia! 😉

    Another beautiful part of New Zealand. As a north islander, I know a lot of secret spots on my island but not so many on the south island. Looks like a great place to go for a hike 🙂

      I’ll have to ask you about some of those secret North Island spots sometime! 😉

    Stunning photos Amanda! New Zealand reminds me of Iceland a lot, and it makes me want to go even more!

      It’s definitely very Iceland-like in many respects! (Though, NZ still edges out Iceland for me!)

    Hey! I am a HUGE LotR fan from Vancouver, BC and was just wondering what time of year you went on this trip? I am hoping to do it May 2016 (once I have saved up enough money to pay for the tour).

      I was there in November this time around – it’s a good time to go to New Zealand because it’s the end of spring! April/May is also really nice, though, because it’s autumn. You’ll see some lovely fall colors there (especially on the South Island) if you go in May!

    Hi Amanda,

    … great to receive your Blog ” MY FAVORITE (KINDA) SECRET PLACE IN NEW ZEALAND …” and also the reference to staying at Mt Potts lodge – perfect ! so thanks for that, as it’s not too widely known that WE ARE HERE ! .. we are literally right next door to Edoras (Mt Sunday) and have real comfy accommodation for couples to families, that will enable all to really enjoy their stay in Middle earth without needing to rush in and out of this remarkable remote location .. we REALLY look forward to welcoming you to the Lodge the next time you visit New Zealand.

    Hi Amanda,

    So the place isn’t in a private land now? And I can simply drive there (then walk up of course) if I have a rental car?

    Thanks,
    Michael

      I believe it is still private land, but they are okay with tourists visiting now, so long as you can find the place. 🙂

    Excellent post, thank you! We are going to New Zealand in a few weeks, and are planning to head to this site. We really appreciate the information.

    -Sarah

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