When J. R. R. Tolkien first began writing The Hobbit in 1930, do you think he envisaged an entire country wrapping its marketing campaign around it? Perhaps if he’d had the chance to explore the wild parts of New Zealand that may just have been the inspiration to bring Bilbo Baggins to life. Here are the top three hobbit hikes in New Zealand.
1. Tongariro National Park, Central Plateau
There is no doubting the magic of this landscape of three active volcanoes: the very restless Mt Tongariro, the occasionally venting Mt Ngauruhoe and the sleeping giant Mt Ruapehu. Even outside of the context of a film about hobbits they are oozing drama and cloaked in legend. Once the land of Mordor, Tongariro National Park morphs into the Long Valley and the Lonely Mountains for The Hobbit.
To walk among these landscapes that have evolved straight out of Tolkien’s imagination you only need to embark on a journey of the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This 51.5km Great Walk takes 3-4 days and will require moderate fitness. There are usually four huts on this circuit, but Ketetahi Hut is still off limits because of recent eruptions in the Te Maari Volcanic Hazard Zone on the northern side of Mt Tongariro. The other three huts; Mangatepopo (20-bunk), Oturere (26-bunk) and Waihohonu (28-bunk) allow the circuit to be completed without interruption. The track begins and finishes at Whakapapa Village and can be walked in either direction. The lowest point is 1120m above sea level and the highest point is 1886m. The second longest and most strenuous leg is the 12.8km from Mangatepopo Hut to Oturere Hut – luckily it is one of the most amazing landscapes on earth and the most likely place to encounter a dragon named Smaug. Beware his fiery breath.
2. The Rock and Pillar Range, Otago
Just over an hour’s drive from Dunedin is the fascinating location of Dale Hills – a land of hobbits and curious schist tors and rocky pillars, known outside the Tolkien tome as the Rock and Pillar Conservation Area.
There are nine different access routes to the Rock and Pillar Range in summer (the two off the Old Dunstan Road are closed in winter), but one of the best walks is the trip to the historic Big Hut via the Six Mile Creek route. This alpine hut is owned and maintained by the Rock and Pillar Hut Trust. The trust also maintains the Six Mile Creek route that starts at Glencreag Station. The route is signposted from SH87 about six kilometres north of Middlemarch near the McKinnon Road junction. The route begins on private property and is then marked by snow poles and orange standards, but navigation can be difficult in poor conditions. Allow about 3hr to reach the hut.
This hut has no heating apart from a thermo-siphoning air panel that us being trialled. Temperatures can be sub-zero in winter. The hut features two bunkrooms, a large common room, table-tennis facilities and solar lighting. It can sleep 18 people without a warden present.
The area was once a thriving winter ski area and Big Hut is the highest habitable dwelling within Dunedin City limits at 1325m.
3. Paradise, Mt Aspiring National Park
Paradise is a small settlement just 20min north of Glenorchy. The wider area was well managed into Isengard, Lothlorien Forest, The Ithlien Camp, Amon Hen and The Misty Mountains for The Lord of The Rings. Substantial filming also took place here for The Hobbit where the location will be the outskirts of Bree, among others.
The name is enough to give you some sense of what the 18-plus walks in the Glenorchy-Paradise area are like. The wider region at the head of Lake Wakatipu is the access point for the Routeburn, Greenstone, Caples and Rees/Dart tracks.
A key filming location was near the Sugarloaf/Rockburn Loop Track on the opposite side of the Dart River from Paradise. This track is best started via the lake Sylvan Track – a 40min stroll through moraine terraces and giant red beech forest. From Lake Sylvan allow 2-3hr to reach Rockburn Hut, which sits in a great location in the forest with views of the Dart Valley, river and braids. The loop continues from Rockburn Hut up and over Sugarloaf Saddle and then descends steeply to the Routeburn Track. Views from the saddle peek into the Rock Burn and Route Burn. Allow 6-8hr from Rockburn Hut to the Routeburn car park.