From pre-historic landscapes to a dystopian future – what can't the New Zealand landscape morph into? Here, we look at some of the best-known flicks filmed in the land of the Kiwi.
Whale Rider (2002)
Whale Rider, a simple tale about a Māori girl stands up for herself and wants to be counted as a leader, went on to become one of New Zealand's most financially successful films ever. So deeply rooted in the country and culture is the film, it was almost impossible to film it anywhere else. Most of Whale Rider was filmed on location in Whangara, and director Niki Caro, highlighted the significance of the movie: "For audiences, I think particularly in New Zealand, it gives us the chance to be inside the multi-culture and to feel the strengths of it and the importance of it and the beauty of it. And that's an amazing feeling ... There was no question that we would shoot [in New Zealand]. We couldn't shoot anywhere else, but on that piece of land ..."
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003)
The entire Lord of the Rings film trilogy was shot in New Zealand, earning the island nation the nickname 'Home of Middle-Earth'. With its rugged mountains, enchanting valleys and diversity of landscapes, it's no wonder Kiwi icon Peter Jackson chose his homeland to shoot the series. "We've seen a 50% increase in arrivals to New Zealand since Lord of the Rings," said Gregg Anderson, a general manager of the Western long-haul markets for Tourism New Zealand. It seems that tourists can't get enough of Hobbiton – or rather, the lush dairy region of Matamata. So synonymous is New Zealand with the Shire that you can now go on various tours of the film locations.
The Last Samurai (2003)
When he wasn't filming epic fight scenes, Tom Cruise, who starred in The Last Samurai, was enjoying all New Zealand had to offer. "It was great in New Zealand because there was sea-kayaking and caving and all that stuff. It was a lot of fun," he said about filming on location. While almost 10 000 kilometers separate New Zealand and Japan, the land of the Kiwi played the role of Japan beautifully for the filming of The Last Samurai.
King Kong (2005)
The reboot to the Hollywood classic was filmed primarily in New Zealand. 1930s New York came alive in New Zealand at Seaview in Wellington's Hutt Valley as director Peter Jackson created a Depression-era version of the Big Apple complete with Broadway, Times Square and Macy's department store, as well as vintage cars and extras clad in period costume. Auckland's magnificent 1929 atmospheric theatre doubled for the interior of the New York theatre where Kong breaks free of his chains and escapes. Says the movie's director, Peter Jackson: "There's a very go-to kind of attitude in New Zealand that stems from that psyche of being quite isolated and not being able to rely on the rest of the world's infrastructure."
District 9 (2009)
We've come to know District 9 as a triumph for South African film, but did you know that some of its most compelling scenes were filmed on a soundstage in New Zealand? The Neill Blomkamp-directed sci-fi flick was actually a co-production of South Africa, the United States of America and New Zealand. Iconic Kiwi director Peter Jackson produced the film. Jackson and Blomkamp connected after Jackson saw a series of short films Blomkamp shot in his spare time.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
The Coromandel Peninsula, which lies east of Auckland, was the setting for scenes in which the Pevensie children took their first steps back into Narnia. An hour north-west of Auckland, the dark trees of Woodhill Forest was transformed into the camp of the White Witch of Narnia. And the South Island was transformed into the battleground for the battle for Narnia. "In many ways, [New Zealand] is a fairy-tale country with the kind of locations that make your jaw drop," says producer Mark Johnson. We couldn't agree with him more.