Wkakapapa ski field, on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in the center of New Zealand’s North Island, was used as location for several scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies: the epic battle at the very beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, Sam and Frodo’s journey through Mordor, and some of the scenes involving Frodo, Sam and Gollum’s travels through the “barren wasteland of razor-sharp rocks”, the Emyn Muil.
Wkakapapa Ski field can be accessed by road via Wkakapapa village – the access road branches off the main highway just a few km past National Park. The main film location is just a short walk from the main parking area at the end of the access road, at the bottom of the ski lifts – which are, of course, only operational during the ski season, so if one comes by in summer, there usually aren’t many people there (apart from a few Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, of course!)
State Highway One – the road connecting New Zealand from North to South, and from Auckland to Wellington – passes the volcanoes of the central plateau on their eastern side, and if one is so inclined, it is easy to take a detour via State Highway 4, on the mountain’s west. The access roads at Ohakune and National Park are on this side of the mountains. I have visited the location a few times, given that whenever I was driving north or south I would pass by in the neighborhood. The photos in this post were taken on two visits in April and November 2007 – the first in rather poor weather conditions, the second on a day of blazing blues skies and sun. I got there only an hour or so before sunset, and the evening light on those fantastical contorted volcanic rock formations is a thing well worth beholding! I’ve been able to identify one exact spot which appears in “Return of the King” – the gap between two rocks where Sam offers Frodo their very last drop of water. There is a steep gap behind that fringe of rocks, and in clear weather, the spot offers an excellent view of Mt Ngauruhoe, aka “Mount Doom”.