Location > the tours > self-drive tours overview > 23-day of elves and men

An unexpected journey.

Photo credits (from top):
Black Sheep Touring Co.
Tourism New Zealand
Black Sheep Touring Co.
Ian Brodie
Destination Taupo
Black Sheep Touring Co.
Black Sheep Touring Co.
Wilderness Lodge Arthurs Pass
Black Sheep Touring Co.
Fox Glacier Guiding
Black Sheep Touring Co.
Tourism New Zealand
Black Sheep Touring Co.

The 23-day Of Elves and Men self-drive is for those who want to see Real Middle-earth. Your journey highlights sites and activities featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, including a visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set, a full-day exploration of the mountainscape of Edoras and a guided tour of filming locations in the Queenstown region.

Optional activities include the chance to hike the landscape of Mordor on the renowned Tongariro Crossing and to visit the Weta Cave, home to the creative minds of Weta Studios. Along the way, you'll be immersed in New Zealand's iconic scenery featured in the films, from snowcapped peaks to ancient forest, lush farmland to high-country stations. Destinations include: Auckland - Rotorua - Tongariro - Wellington - Marlborough - Nelson - Kaikoura* - Christchurch - Punakaiki - Glaciers - Queenstown - Mt Cook.

*Note, there is currently no public road access to Kaikoura; therefore, an alternative destination has been arranged. Talk to one of our Travel Shepherds for details.

Need more inspiration? Watch the video on the Home of Middle-earth and read the brief summary of the Of Elves & Men tour below. 

    Day 1: Welcome to New Zealand!

    You will be transferred to your central city accommodation, where a Black Sheep Touring Co. representative will meet you, take you through your tour documentation and brief you about traveling in New Zealand. The remainder of the day is free to recover from your journey and explore this energetic city.

    Day 2: The Shire
    Head south through the rich farmland of the Waikato region to Hobbiton. Tour the movie set and visit hobbit holes, The Mill, The Green Dragon Inn, the party tree and other features around the Shire and Bag End. Continue to Rotorua, a Maori cultural centre and a dynamic geothermal region. Enjoy the many sights and adventures on offer here, including excellent biking and hiking trails. 

    Day 3: Rotorua - Geothermal Activity
    Today, explore some of the region's active geothermal features with a variety of optional activities: travel by boat to the active White Island volcano for a guided walk in a Mordor-esque landscape, fly over the crater rift of dormant Mt Tarawera and the steaming lakes of Waimangu Valley by floatplane, view boiling mud, hot lakes and geysers in a colourful thermal reserve, and more. Details of options are included in your self-drive packet in consultation with your Black Sheep Travel Shepherd.

    Day 4: Mt Doom 
    Depart Rotorua and continue south via spectacular Huka Falls and Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Drive along the lake edge to the Tongariro National Park, the landscape of Mordor and home to Mt Ruapehu (Mt Doom). Settle yourself into your lodging for the next two nights, where the LOTR crew based itself whilst filming here. 

    Day 5: Mordor, Emyn Muil & Ithilien

    Spend the day exploring the volcanic landscape around Mt Doom. This is where the battle marking the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth took place. Self-guided walks take you to sites where several LOTR scenes were filmed (described in your trip notes). Alternatively, immerse yourself in the lands of Mordor on what is considered one of the best day hikes in the world, the Tongariro Crossing. Ask your Black Sheep Travel Shepherd for details.

    Day 6: Mt Doom to the Middle of Middle-earth

    Drop from the Volcanic Plateau to the wide river valleys of the Manawatu, location of the filming sites for the River Anduin and the forests where Frodo, Sam and Smeagol tread. Arrive this afternoon in the picturesque capital city of Wellington, the site of many cultural features and a Mecca for film enthusiasts. Your trip notes identify highlights.

    Day 7: Weta Habitat
    Wellington was the home to cast and crew and was central to the production of the film trilogies. Today is an opportunity to visit the famous Weta Cave, the shop front to Weta Studios. It serves as a museum and showcase of movie props and merchandise. From there, you can take an optional Weta Cave Workshop Tour for a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creative workings of the Weta Workshop team. And of course, there are Wellington's other great sites, like the national museum of Te Papa, Parliament, and Mt Victoria, another film location, now free of Nazgul, with great views over the city and harbour. 

    Day 8: Wellington to Nelson via Marlborough
    This morning, cross the Cook Strait via ferry to the South Island, gliding past the beautiful coastline of the Marlborough Sounds on route to Picton. Collect your rental car and travel to the renowned Marlborough wine region. Choose your designated driver and consider tastings and a vineyard lunch before continuing to Nelson. On route, visit the river used for the barrel scenes from The Desolation of Smaug with the option of a river kayaking trip to visit filming sites on its banks. Continue to sun-soaked Nelson, home of Jens Hansen, creator of the 40 different rings used in production.

    Day 9: Nelson - Abel Tasman National Park

    Today is a free day to enjoy the region. A scenic drive around the bay from Nelson is The Abel Tasman National Park, arguably a must do by land or sea or both. We recommend a sea kayaking expedition along the coast, exploring remote bays and stopping to stroll golden beaches and hike the forest track. Your Black Sheep Travel Shepherd can advise you or offer other activities in the region, including helicopter flights to the remote locations of Dimrill Dale and South of Rivendell.

    Day 10: Nelson to Kaikoura
    Depart the Nelson region and return east to the Pacific coast and Kaikoura, New Zealand's marine-life centre. Take a self-guided walk this afternoon amongst lounging fur seals, nesting sea birds and natural limestone formations as you enjoy sensational sea and mountain views. Tonight, perhaps sample the local specialty, crayfish (lobster), against the backdrop of the bay.

    Day 11: Kaikoura to Christchurch
    This morning, a range of optional activities give you the chance to behold Kaikoura's wildlife, including whale watching by sea or air, dolphin or seal swimming, or a trip to the feeding grounds of albatross and other pelagic birdlife. From Kaikoura, journey south through the rolling farmland of Canterbury to the garden city of Christchurch. Though the site of a devastating earthquake in 2010, the city is rebuilding and art and ingenuity are everywhere. Explore the city's favourite features: hire a punt on the Avon, stroll through the Botanical Gardens, visit the Canterbury Museum or head to the Antarctic Centre for some penguin-spotting.

    Day 12: Edoras
    A full-day tour from Christchurch takes you via 4WD to remote and beautiful Mt Sunday, which was transformed into Edoras, the capital city of the Rohan people and a favourite filming location for Richard Taylor. While the site has been returned to its natural beauty, this tour allows you to relive the film through knowledgeable commentary and exclusive behind-the-scenes photos of Edoras under contruction. The tour includes a champagne picnic lunch amongst the lakes and blue rivers of the high country station on which the site is located.

    Day 13: Christchurch to Punakaiki
    This morning, drive over the Southern Alps (the Misty Mountains), the backdrop to Helms Deep, to the West Coast. The Alps' stark peaks give way to lush rainforest and dramatic coastline as you wind your way to your accommodation at the edge of the Paparoa National Park. Explore the renowned Pancake Rocks and other tracks in this peaceful, remote settlement, home for the next two nights.

    Day 14: Punakaiki 
    While the limestone caves that honeycomb this region were not part of the films, this is an opportunity to get in touch with your inner dwarf and explore the underground world of Real Middle-earth. Optional caving adventures provide a range of opportunities, from scenic caving in dry upper chambers to a an unforgettable cave rafting trip. Your Black Sheep Travel Shepherd can advise on the options for this day, including enjoyable above-ground alternatives.

    Day 15: Ered Nimrais
    This morning, head to New Zealand's glacier region. Stop in Franz Josef for a view of the glacier. A hike to the face offers a view of Mt Gunn, the location for Ered Nimrais. The beacons that run along the White Mountains from Gondor to Rohan were lit here. Continue to the quaint alpine village of Fox for your two-night stay.

    Day 16: Fox Glacier Discovery
    Explore Fox Glacier and the surrounding region in a variety of ways. Enjoy the cycling and walking trails through thick, old-growth forest here. Optional guided heli-hikes and heli-flights provide access to the Fox Glacier ice fall and its neve. A hiking track along glacial riverbed offers views of the glacier valley and terminus. Your trip notes provide options in the area.

    Day 17: Queenstown Bound
    Today, it's a scenic road trip to Queenstown. Your trip notes identify highlights along the way as you drive through the Mt Aspiring National Park into the Otago region, New Zealand's Outback. Pause in the serene lakeside town of Wanaka, with views of the peaks used as a backdrop to Gandalf's flight on the giant eagle Gwaihir to Edoras. Cross the spectacular Crown Range to Queenstown, the playground of Middle-earth, and settle in for your three-night stay.

    Day 18: Middle-earth on Steroids
    Queenstown is New Zealand's adrenalin capital and the true gateway to Middle-earth, with many spectacular backdrops used in all of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. There is a seemingly endless array of optional activities to get in the spirit of adventure, from jet boating, whitewater rafting, horse trekking, sky diving and more; or enjoy more leisurely pursuits like wine trails, fishing, golf, and walking. Alternatively, take a day trip to renowned Fiordland National Park. Your Black Sheep Travel Shepherd can advise you about options based on your interests and suggest some of our favourites.

    Day 19: Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trail
    A half-day tour takes you deep into Middle-earth as you explore Isengard, Amon Hen, Lothlorien Forest, the Misty Mountains, Ithilien, and more. Stories and secrets are shared by your passionate and knowledgeable guide who makes the movies come to life in the stunning landscape of the ancient beech forest, braided rivers and glacier-carved valleys of this World Heritage region.

    Day 20: Pelannor Fields & Laketown
    This morning, travel along the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps (the Misty Mountains of Rivendell) to Aoraki Mt Cook. Pass through the area where the Flight to the Ford was filmed, the beautiful tussock land of the Lindis Pass, and the township of Twizel, where the largest battle scene in the Lord of the Rings, Pelennor Fields, was shot. Most of the town's residents were employed during filming here. Drive along aquamarine Lake Pukaki, the location of The Hobbit's Laketown, and settle into your accommodation in Mt Cook village. 

    Day 21: Aoraki Mt Cook
    Hiking opportunities abound in this region and we recommend spending time exploring on foot, watching for unique flora and fauna such as the giant mountain buttercup, the Mt Cook lily, and the mischievous mountain parrot, the kea. This is the home to the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's longest, and in season, an optional boat trip on the terminal lake is a chance to pass alongside icebergs and watch for ice cleaving off the glacier face. 

    Day 22: Mt Cook to Christchurch

    Take a leisurely drive to Christchurch with optional scenic stops along the way, including the surreal blue water of Lake Tekapo and a thick stand of native forest. Settle back into the Garden City for your final night in Real Middle-earth. 

    Day 23: Journey's End

    Depending on your schedule, have a relaxed morning before driving to Christchurch airport to drop off your rental car and await your departing flight. Plan for an epic Middle-earth Movie Night when you get home and start plotting your next adventure.

    Please contact one of our Travel Shepherds for a more detailed itinerary that includes driving times and information on suggested activities. 

    Tour pricing includes pre-booked accommodation, rental car and insurance, a Hobbiton Movie Set tour, a full-day tour of Edoras including champagne picnic lunch, a half-day Lord of the Rings tour in Queenstown, other pre-booked activities as selected, and a comprehensive packet of personalized trip notes highlighting film locations on route, road atlas, and more. See Self-drive Tour Pricing on our Dates & Rates page for details.