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Pete's Dragon: The New Zealand backdrop is even more spectacular than the dragon

The giant green dragon might not be real but the scenery is – although it's nowhere near North America

Published: Friday, 12th August 2016 at 3:15 pm

Disney's remake of Pete's Dragon is a lot more spectacular than the original.


For those who missed the 1977 original, it's about an orphaned boy called Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just happens to be a dragon. For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. His forest ranger daughter thinks these stories are little more than tall tales until she meets a mysterious 10-year-old who claims to live in the woods with a giant green dragon named Elliot.

Thanks to the magic of CGI, Elliot is a lot more believable this time round, but he's not the only reason cinema-goers will be gasping. The scenery is very real and absolutely stunning – although it's not really the Pacific Northwest as it's supposed to be. Those mighty trees, snow-capped peaks and turquoise lakes are actually all in New Zealand.

Here's where...


The Rotorua Redwood Forest is the home of Elliot the Dragon and where Pete comes across his mysterious new friend. The 110-year-old trees tower above the forest floor and the numerous tracks and trails are popular with walkers and bikers.

Oona Laurence plays 11-year-old girl Natalie in Pete's Dragon 

For a dragon's-eye-view of the forest floor below, the new Redwood Forest Treewalk takes you high above ground to stroll amongst giants. A grove of 22 majestic specimens are linked together 12 metres in the air with not one nail or screw connecting the structure to the trees.

The central North Island town of Rotorua is one of New Zealand’s foremost tourism destinations, known for its powerful Māori culture experiences and amazing geothermal parks. 

Queenstown & Paradise

Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu beneath The Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown has movie star good looks. The beautiful lakes and snowy alps provide the stunning backdrop when Pete takes to the air on the back of his friend. You can take your own leap off the edge, with A J Hackett Bungy, home of the world’s first commercial bungy operation.

Lake Wakatipu seen from The Remarkables range

Not far from Queenstown, on the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu, sits Glenorchy and the gateway to Paradise. True to its name, this picturesque place has to be seen to be believed. Drive one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads, then journey up the river aboard a Dart River jet boat. There are no dragons here but you still won’t believe your eyes as you zoom through the shallow river on your way to Paradise. 


The small South Island town of Tapanui) was transformed into a small logging town in America’s Pacific Northwest for Pete’s Dragon. Located in the Otago region, Tapanui is renowned for its incredible fishing: the rivers here are brimming with brown trout and salmon. In particular, the Pomahaka River offers world-class fishing with some of the biggest brown trout in the world.

If fishing isn’t your thing, then grab a bike and jump on the Clutha Gold Trail, one of the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s Great Rides. The trail is 45 miles long and follows one of the country's longest rivers through a landscape rich with goldminers’ tales of bust and boom. 


New Zealand’s capital city is the home to Weta Workshop, a special effects and prop company that played an important role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and brought Pete’s Dragon to life. Weta Workshop tours have been named one of the top 10 studio tours in the world. Film fans can meet members of the creative team and see first-hand how they create jaw-dropping special effects.

Just 30 minutes out of Wellington is Battle Hill Farm Park, which is where Pete makes the leap off a cliff only to land on Elliot’s back. The Battle Hill Farm Park is home to cycle trails and mountain bike tracks. The park is a popular spot for walkers and there are designated camping areas so you can stay overnight right in the heart of the film location. 

Peter's Dragon is in UK cinemas from 12th August. Watch the trailer:


You might also like: The producer of New Zealand: Earth's Mythical Islands takes us on his dream tour of the North and South Island

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