Ever since “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies came to life on the silver screen, travel enthusiasts around the world made sure to put a visit to New Zealand on their bucket list as the films perfectly showcased the stunning beauty of the country’s natural landscape.
But it wasn’t only the tourism industry that benefited from the overwhelming success of these movies. Hollywood also took note: here was a country that provided breathtaking scenery, from snow-capped mountain tops and glaciers to invigorating forests and picturesque lakes. The list of films shot and produced in New Zealand grew longer over the years, whereas the latest addition, Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”, was released in September. The heartwarming story of a young boy named Pete who loses his parents in a car accident, gets lost in the woods and is then taken in and looked after by Elliot, a dragon that can turn invisible, is a remake of a 1977 musical film of the same name. “Pete’s Dragon”, starring Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley and Robert Redford, was shot on four different locations in New Zealand, and if you want to follow in the footsteps of adventurous Pete and Elliot, they are all worth a visit.
Rotorua – Redwoods Forest
Most of the forest scenes for “Pete’s Dragon” were shot in Rotorua’s Redwoods Forest with its towering, 110-year-old trees, conveying an almost mystical atmosphere. With over 5600 hectares, Redwoods Forest is a most exhilarating playground for mountain bikers, hikers, trekkers and nature lovers. Many trails wind through the forest with spectacular hilltop views over the lakes and volcanic wonders of Rotorua. The new Redwoods Forest Treewalk takes you high above ground for a stroll among giants. It is an over half a kilometre long walkway that consists of a series of 21 suspension bridges traversing the gaps between 22 majestic Redwood trees. The city of Rotorua, rich with Maori culture and known for bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, ranks among the most popular tourist destinations of New Zealand.
Production for “Pete’s Dragon” began at Wellington’s Stone Street Studios in Miramar, which is Wellington’s film industry hub. A tour at the Weta Workshop reveals fascinating insights into the work of the creative minds at the design studio – it is the place where Elliot was transformed into the lovable dragon we see on screen.
Only 30 minutes from Wellington lies Battle Hill Farm Forest Park – here, the scene in which Pete jumps off a cliff only to land on Elliot’s back and fly high through the skies, was filmed.
Queenstown is New Zealand’s premier four season lake and alpine resort. Dubbed the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is surrounded by majestic mountains and set on the shores of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu. These picture-perfect surroundings were used for many of the aerial sequences that can be seen in “Pete’s Dragon”.
In another memorable scene of the movie, Pete watches as Elliot appears from beneath a cliff top to fly over him. This scene was filmed in Deer Park Heights, just below The Remarkables mountains.
Tapanui is a small town on the south Island – population 900! – surrounded by the green farmland of West Otago. Located on the edge of the forest, and a popular spot Tapanui for fishermen who revel in the abundance of brown trout and sea salmon in the local rivers, in particular the Pomahaka River.
For “Pete’s dragon”, Tapanui was temporarily transformed into the main street of the film’s fictional quiet and sleepy logging town, Millhaven