The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey | 2012
Shot as two films, back-to-back, with a little additional footage, the saga was finally divided into a trilogy.
Much of the filming is in the area of Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island.
In the prologue, narrated by the older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), the dragon Smaug drives the Dwarves from their traditional home of Erebor. A pass called the Mararoa Saddle, between the Oreti and Mararoa Rivers, southwest of Lake Wakatipu, is the mountain route through which Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) leads the dwarf refugees.
The famous Hobbiton set at Matamata, on State Highway 27 between Hamilton and Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island, is used again. Rebuilt and extended, it was intended to last as a tourist attraction. Not only can you see the Hobbit homes, you can now wine and dine at The Green Dragon Inn or The Shires Rest.
As the company heads west through the ‘Westfarthing’ region of the Shire, they’re at the furthest end of the South Island, on Takaka Hill, west of Nelson and just south of Abel Tasman National Park. A dramatic cliff top, which offers spectacular views over western Golden Bay, the land is the private property of the Kaihoka Station, a large sheep farm. Cape Farewell Horse Treks, however, offer rides through the area.
‘Straddles Farm’, the abandoned farmhouse at Trollshaw where the company camps for the night, is another private property. It’s on farmland near Piopio, southwest of Te Kuiti on the western side of the North Island, backed by the sheer cliffs of the Mangaotaki Rocks.
Although the camp and the Trolls’ campfire are stage sets, the entrance to the cave in which the Troll hoard is discovered, is here. There was talk of opening up the land for tours, but nothing seems to have happened yet.
It’s suddenly back to the southeast of the South Island for the Warg attack, as Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) provides a diversion with his bunny-drawn sled. The landscape strewn with jagged boulders is real. The Dwarves are fleeing across the wide glacial valley of Strath Taieri, a few miles north of the town of Middlemarch on State Highway 87, with the imposing Rock and Pillars Range in the background.
The chase continues about 100 miles to the north, across the lands of Braemar Station in the Mackenzie Basin region off State Highway 8 between Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, which is where Gandalf guides the Dwarves down through a crack in the rocks.
Most of the aerial shooting was captured by a second unit, overseen by Andy Serkis, in between donning the motion capture suit to play Gollum.
Thorin is furious to find Gandalf has brought them to Rivendell, the realm of the Elves. The Rivendell set, with Gandalf, Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) discussing mysterious portents with a loftily dismissive Saruman (Christopher Lee) was built at Pinewood Studios in the UK to allow the 89-year-old Lee to return to the role he created in the earlier films (the prologue with Ian Holm as Bilbo was also filmed in the UK).
Meanwhile, the Dwarves sneak quietly away to trek through the mountains, “over the edge of the Wild” at Pass Burn on the Mavora Walkway section of New Zealand’s national walkway Te Araroa, which runs the length of the country. In fact, Queenstown is a popular base for some of the world’s best hiking. Pass Burn connects the Mararoa Valley and the Greenstone Valley, just west of the northern part of Lake Wakatipu, on land owned by New Zealand’s Ngai Tahu Maori tribe and managed by the Department of Conservation, which permits public access.
The 'Misty Mountain Paths' where the Company pass behind a majestic waterfall before negotiating the bluffs towards the ‘Misty Mountains’ were shot at Earnslaw Burn, a few miles north of the tip of Lake Wakatipu on Glenorchy Paradise Road.
In this dramatic landscape, a sheer wall of granite rises more than 2,500 feet from the basin floor, where a monumental glacier cascades from the top of the cliff to form ice caves below. In the summer months, the ice melts giving rise to dozens of waterfalls.
They press on to the Treble Cone area, west of the southern end of Lake Wanaka, which also happens to be a world-class ski field, boasting unrivalled views across Lake Wanaka itself and the Central Otago region.
After a desperate confrontation with mounted Orcs, the Dwarves are rescued by giant eagles, who soar over the breathtaking Sutherland Falls, to the southeast of Sutherland Sound in Fiordland National Park. The huge birds bear the Company to ‘The Carrock’ – which is the summit peak just to the south of Lake Dale in the Light River Valley southeast of Sutherland Sound.