Unraveling Aotearoa: The Hollywood Connection
Movies have the unique power to transport us to faraway places; some real and some only from the imagination of filmmakers. There is one place in particular that has done that time and again, with its almost endless gorgeous landscapes: New Zealand. Also known as Aotearoa, this country has earned its place as one of the best locations for dazzling cinematic locales. There are many NZ tours that will even take you through all of the places featured in particular films.
This majestic country has been the setting for some really blockbuster Hollywood films. Let’s look into some of the locations used in these movies:
- “The Lord of the Rings” & “The Hobbit” Trilogies
The sweeping hills of Matamata transformed into the charming Shire, while Tongariro National Park was a perfect stand-in for the treacherous Mordor. The Wellington region, Jackson’s hometown, served multiple roles, including the eerie Paths of the Dead and the beautiful Gardens of Isengard.
James Cameron’s groundbreaking “Avatar” may have taken us to an alien world, but its production was very much earthbound. While the alien planet of Pandora was primarily crafted through CGI, many of the film’s live-action scenes were shot in Wellington’s Stone Street Studios, taking advantage of the country’s top-tier production facilities.
- “King Kong”
Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of the classic “King Kong” utilized New Zealand as a stand-in for the infamous Skull Island. With a mix of location shooting and studio work, Jackson’s team crafted a thrilling adventure. Some of this film’s scenes were filmed in the Cook Strait and production was faciliated by studio facilities in Wellington.
- “The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”
This amazing film transported audiences to the mystical land of Narnia, thanks to New Zealand’s diverse landscapes. Flock Hill in Canterbury became the battlefield of Beruna, while the Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel provided the setting for the final scene of the Pevensie children.
- “The Last Samurai”
Though primarily set in Japan, much of Edward Zwick’s “The Last Samurai,” starring Tom Cruise, was shot in New Zealand. The Taranaki region on the west coast of the North Island doubled for 19th century Japan, with the spectacular Mt. Taranaki standing in for Mt. Fuji. The Uruti Valley, also in the Taranaki region, provided the setting for the film’s iconic final battle.
- “Mission Impossible: Fallout”
One of the best scenes in this film has Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in an intense helicopter chase. These breathtaking scenes were shot in the rugged landscapes of the Southern Alps, with the Rees Valley serving as the primary filming location. New Zealand’s snowy peaks and deep valleys added an extra layer of suspense to this thrilling sequence.
- “Pete’s Dragon”
The vast landscapes of Rotorua and Queenstown were also instrumental in creating the film’s natural, fairytale-like ambiance, proving once again that New Zealand’s natural beauty can transform into any setting required.
- “Wrinkle In Time”
In Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, the surreal landscapes of New Zealand naturally lent themselves to the fantastical narrative. The Southern Alps and Lake Pukaki provided the setting for the planet Uriel. The strikingly beautiful Hunter Valley Station, near Lake Hawea, served as the backdrop for the climactic showdown.
- “10,000 BC”
Roland Emmerich’s prehistoric epic, “10,000 BC,” was partly filmed in New Zealand. The Southern Alps’ rugged terrains provided the primeval settings necessary for the film’s story, while the forests around Queenstown and Fiordland stood in for the ancient jungles.
- “Vertical Limit”
Martin Campbell’s adrenaline-fueled adventure film “Vertical Limit” made use of Queenstown’s snowy peaks. Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, doubled for the treacherous K2, the second-highest peak in the world.
Each of these films, in their unique ways, has showcased the breathtaking and versatile landscapes of New Zealand, cementing its status as a Hollywood favorite. However, beyond the sweeping vistas, we must also acknowledge the country’s professional film crews, state-of-the-art production facilities, and favorable filming policies that further enhance its appeal to Hollywood producers.
New Zealand’s film tourism industry has thrived as a result of these productions. Tour operators offer location tours for fans to visit their favorite film scenes, be it the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata or the stunning Pelorus River, where the dwarves from “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” floated down in barrels.
In conclusion, New Zealand, with its diverse landscapes and unparalleled beauty, continues to charm Hollywood and the world alike.