Lonely Planet Writer

Peter Jackson wants to turn this tiny New Zealand island into a tourist destination

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is in discussions to turn a tiny island in New Zealand into a high-tech visitor attraction.

Wellington Harbour, New Zealand.
Wellington Harbour, New Zealand. Image by Aidan / CC BY 2.0

The Matiu-Soames island in Wellington Harbour has, through history, variously been used as an internment camp, a quarantine station, a military base, and a lighthouse. However, now it might find its true calling as a major tourist destination telling the story of New Zealand through the latest digital and virtual technology. The island currently operates as a wildlife reserve and is visited by around 20,000 visitors a year. It is around a twenty-minute ferry ride from the city of Wellington but numbers would climb dramatically if the Peter Jackson project were to go ahead.

The director of the Lord of the Rings films and the Hobbit trilogies has been responsible for an enormous rise in visitors to his native country. Spending by visitors in one small part of New Zealand – where the Hobbit was filmed – more than trebled in the space of six years. Numbers visiting the Hobbiton attraction increased more than tenfold from 2011 to 2015. Plans for the visitor attraction in Wellington Harbour are at an early stage but will involve telling the story of New Zealand’s native history. Dominic Sheehan of Jackson’s Wingnut film production company told the New Zealand Herald: “we are in the early stages of this journey together, but the idea potentially involves using various media, including digital storytelling and the latest in virtual and augmented reality technology, to tell stories about the Maori history of Wellington.”

In the meantime, the island is open to visitors and along with two other smaller islands, Mokopuna and Makaro-Ward, are considered the “jewels” of Wellington Harbour. The islands are considered sacred places to the Maori, and are being used for the regeneration of native plants, animals and birds. Among the species that have been successfully reintroduced there are unique insects, lizards, red-crowned parakeets, and North Island robins.