MOUNTAINS: The wilds of Middle Earth are an awe-inspiring thing to behold, with their rocky ravines, dizzying drops and snow-covered slopes. Lucky for us, this wonderful world is home to some truly spectacular mountain landscapes just waiting to be explored. From the sweeping mountainsides of New Zealand to the depths of the jungle that covers the peaks of the Andes, we present to you ten real life Middle Earth mountain ranges and where to find them.
The Southern Alps
Only a trip to this most magical of mountain ranges will show you why Peter Jackson chose its mountainous passes and sublime lakes as the setting for his Middle Earth in both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies. New Zealand's Southern Alps rise dramatically from the Pacific Ocean to roll through the entire length of the South Island until they reach their western peak with the famous Aoraki, or Mount Cook, rising to an awe-inspiring 3,753 metres.
Southern Alps New Zealand
The island also has another 20 peaks which rise to above 3,000 metres, making the Aoraki National Park one of the best spots in the world for mountaineering, trekking and heli-hiking. Come down from the clouds and you'll find the Milford Sound, one of New Zealand's most breath-taking fiords encased by steep cliffs and impenetrable rainforests.
The Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies roll dramatically from Alberta in the East to British Colombia in the West, pausing here and there to surround emerald-green lakes or climbing up into the snow-capped peaks of 4,000-metre Mount Robson. Thought to be 80 million years old, the entire Rocky range stretches for over 3,000 miles, encompassing 100 mountain ranges as it spreads its meandering vertebrae down the West coast of North America.
Snow in Canadian Rockies
The shale and limestone peaks are home to some of the most unique species on Earth, with black and grizzly bears, as well as mountain lions and wolverines roaming the rocky passes and undulating meadows. Summer in Banff and Jasper mean world-class hiking and beautiful vistas onto Lake Louise's glacial waters, whilst winter in Whistler brings a freeze-frame of the once lush landscape and some of the best powder the world has to offer.
The Chugach Range
The northern reaches of Alaska, removed from humanity, wandering glaciers formed millions of years ago must be one of the greatest pleasures known to man. The Chugach Mountains, northernmost of the mountains that make up the Pacific Coast Ranges, can equally force the human body to extremes with unbelievable snowfall or allow the mind to wander along the winding paths of its many rivers.
Chugach Mountain Range
Under the watchful eye of Mount Marcus Baker, visitors spread out along the banks of the Kenai and Russian rivers to pan for gold or fish for salmon in the serene summer months. When winter's unrelenting freeze arrives, the mountains' record-breaking snowfall brings adrenaline junkies in droves, searching for the freshest powder on some of the most extreme slopes in the world.
Pristine snowy peaks, wooden farmhouses nestled amongst sprawling vineyards and uniform orchards marching out into the middle-distance - this can only be the Dolomites. Making up a part of the larger Northern Italian Alps, the Dolomites are the perfect compromise between wilderness and structure. Endless peaks stretch upwards, their grey faces showing no signs of life, whilst pastures lower down abound with the greens and browns of a vibrant ecosystem that produces some of the most exceptional food in a country renowned for its culinary expertise.
Dolomites Northern Italian Alps
Even Marmolada, the range's highest peak, has food on the brain and attracts mountain climbers from all over to try their hand at scaling its rocky peaks or skiers to conquer its snow-covered slopes with style. The Dolomites are the home of European extreme sport, providing everything from picture-perfect conditions for paragliding and hang gliding, to terrifying heights from which base jumpers launch themselves into the void below.
The Andes, the largest continental mountain range in the world with 5,500 miles of non-stop valleys and peaks, ridges and ravines, volcanoes and rainforests. The highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere rise from the cloud forests of the lower foothills to almost 7,000 metres, rubbing shoulders with active volcanoes that make up part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
The Andes mountain range
Trekking here could be never-ending if you wished and the summer season also provides incredible terrain for mountain-biking and gushing rivers for rafting. In equal measure, winter brings some of the most undiscovered slopes in the world, with excellent coverage and plenty of resorts to choose from throughout the seven countries that this spectacular range passes through.
The Japanese Alps
Place of religious pilgrimages as well as prestigious peaks, the Japanese Alps encompass the Hida, Kisa and Akaishi ranges across the main island of Honshu. The towering Mount Kita rises to an impressive 3,193 metres, whilst the famous Mount Ontake - still an active volcano - welcomes Buddhist pilgrims to its sacred slopes all year round.
Snow in Japanese Alps
The mountains here overflow with onsens - natural hot springs - as well as perfectly preserved temples and tea rooms, ancient meeting places for the geishas of old and their clients. During the winter months, the Alps offer incredible skiing opportunities, especially in Happo-One, considered by many to be one of the best Japanese resorts.
Meaning 'Celestial Mountains' in Chinese, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world rises unexpectedly from the swathes of the impenetrable Taklimakan Desert to spread across the border regions of China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. At its intimidating heights, Victory Peak or Jengish Chokusu reaches 7,493 metres whilst Khan Tengri, famous Sky Ruler, soaks up the crimson shades of the setting sun to boast some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.
Celestial Mountains China
The ridges, canyons, forests and glaciers of the Tian Shan offer the ultimate in trekking for serious mountaineers, whilst the numerous hot springs welcome weary bodies to repose in the soothing waters.
The home of Everest needs little introduction, covering everything from the sacred Hindu peaks of Mount Kailash and the Vindhya Mountains to the sources of three of the world's major rivers - the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra. Over 100 mountains stand well over 7,000 feet, dominating their surroundings with an ease that has long tempted climbers to conquer their snowy peaks.
Snowy peaks in Himilayas
This range is perhaps the greatest challenge for mountaineers, where the altitude alone can make it almost impossible to make the perilous climb into the clouds. Alongside them, pilgrims make once-in-a-lifetime journeys to sacred peaks, including Paro Taktsang, said to be the birth place of Buddhism.
The Western Alps
These beautiful peaks take in parts of Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland, exhibiting some of the most famous faces in the world and the most notoriously difficult peaks. Home to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, as well as the Matterhorn, with its insurmountable ridges, the Western Alps never lose their pure excitement or their thrilling beauty.
Mountains of Western Alps
As the youngest mountain range in Europe, the Alps offer a smorgasbord of activities throughout winter and summer. Strap into those skis and take to some of the most famous ski slopes in the world at Val Thorens, or leave it until the summer months to discover the pristine walking trails or mountain-biking terrain of the Swiss Alps.
Breath-taking sunrises, layers of pine trees, sudden hot springs and fabulous winter snow, the Huangshan range in China is like ascending into another world. The 100 million-year-old peaks are best seen from above the clouds to witness the Huangshan Sea - an endless formation of clouds separating the mountain tops from the world below.
Huangshan mountain range in China
Hikers are rewarded in full on arrival at the top of their chosen peak, sometimes lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Buddha's light - which appears like a saint's halo every so often to paint the clouds all the colours of the rainbow. The mountains' natural springs and quality Chinese tea make for a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the edge of the world.