There’s a reason why I start to resume my holiday in New Zealand with a Middle Earth edition: I’m a freaking nerd. It’s not that I didn’t know that before, dear me, but during six weeks in New Zealand I proved it to myself once more …
I won’t say that the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies were the only reason I wanted to go to New Zealand, but I can’t deny that they played a major role in my decision – which raises the question: Should you really go to visit a country because you got enamoured by seeing it in in some movies?
Simple answer: Yes. Hell yes, to be exact. I could write quite a few lines about “It’s not only some country in some movies” (I guess I don’t have to tell you about that), but the simple thing is that you should do whatever you like to, and you shouldn’t have to explain yourself for going on a journey ever. And don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do that. Just take me as example: I’m an introvert with overly worried parents, have never even booked a flight online, or have gone on a holiday alone. And now I’ve been to New Zealand for six weeks on my own … and wish I could still be there.
But that’s enough philosophy for today, let’s explore/revisit some movie locations!
Matamata – Hobbiton Movie Set
What better way to start exploring Middle Earth than visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set? However, I found the label “movie set” a bit misleading: I didn’t have the impression that I was at a movie set because it seemed so real. I was there on a rainy day in the middle of September, and smoke was rising from the chimneys amidst the green hills. There are clotheslines with shirts and dresses hanging from, market stables filled with pastries, a chair with a jacket on the backrest, as if its owner would return any moment, beehives and ladders to reach the branches of fruit trees … and I just stood there, amidst all the green, and tried not to stare at the one hobbit hole up on the hill with its green door and an oak tree on top of it, while thinking “Yeah, I’m in Hobbiton, and that’s Bag End up there, but I’m fine. I’m cool. I’m NOT freaking out …”
I even got a photo of me, standing in front of that green door, with my little Pop!Thorin, and was told he was cute 😉 From Bag End, we headed for a drink to the Green Dragon, and I just sat in front of the fire, my mug in hands, and still couldn’t believe it …
I also couldn’t quite believe it when I got there the second time – and yes, I went to Hobbiton twice: The first time was quite at the beginning of my holiday, and the second time was on my last day in New Zealand before heading to Auckland and flying back home. It was the Evening Banquet Tour, and it was such a great experience! It started – just like the day tour – with a walk through Hobbiton (got another photo of me and my Thorin in front of Bag End … you can never have enough of that!). But this time, a feast was waiting for us in the Green Dragon, and oh my … I still remember the delicious smells, and the point all the people on the tour were just sitting around the tables, hands folded over bellies, cheeks rosy, and everybody sighed they couldn’t take one more bite … until desserts came. Phew.
But even after way too much great food, we managed to sing the song of the Green Dragon (the one Merry and Pippin were singing) and dance around the may pole at the festival field. Then, we walked through Hobbiton again, and all the hobbit holes were alight – it’s only a pity that we didn’t pass Bag End one more time!
It was a perfect conclusion for my holiday in New Zealand. Though I got a bit emotional when our guide bid us farewell. Just a bit. Bless me, I was sobbing and sniffing all the time when I drove back to Matamata!
Piopio – Hairy Feet Waitomo
I can only recommend this tour to anybody who ever has the chance to join it! I was the only participant on the 1 pm tour that day, and it took place nonetheless, and I never felt awkward for a single moment despite having that kind of private tour. My tour guide, Suzie, was such a lovely lady! We started with a little photo shooting – I look weirdly good with Gandalf’s hat, staff, and Glamdring 🙂 Radagast’s staff was great as well, and I was – of course – enthralled by Orcrist. More determined than ever to buy this sword one day …
You could tell that Suzie was a big fan of the movies herself, and that she was proud and happy that they chose their farm as a location. It’s really a great, diverse location – high cliffs, green hills, and deep woods so close to each other! Aaaand I even got to sit on the same rock where Richard Armitage sat, fully dressed as Thorin. I know I shouldn’t grin like a madmen because of that, but I still do 🙂 Though I can’t help wondering how Richard could actually sit there – it’s a rather weirdly shaped rock and not comfortable at all … My grin didn’t go unnoticed, of course, and Suzie could also tell me some anecdotes from the shoot: like that she didn’t quite dare to approach Richard because he always stayed so focus she was afraid she would only disturb him; or that she got closer once just to see his costume in detail. Metal and fur and leather, mh. What a nice picture to imagine …
Oh, and I also got Sting bestowed upon me – there exists a photo where you can clearly tell that I try to make a serious hobbit face, but the corners of my mouth are twitching upward! I also stood on the exact spot Martin Freeman stood when the wargs attacked – they even have a little yellow mark with “Bilbo” written on one side and “Martin” on the other. The production team left it, but the tour operators won’t send it back 😉
Tongariro National Park
Okay, there’s one thing to rant about: Websites about the Lord of the Rings locations recommend a guided tour because it can be difficult to find and to access the right location, but the only Middle Earth-themed tour on offer is a six- to eight-hour-hike … self-guided. Meh.
I decided to find out how far the combination of car and feet would get me, and I actually got quite far. I started with a drive to the Mangawhero Falls to find they glade where Frodo and Sam saw the broken statue of a king, crowned with flowers, and drove up to Turoa skifield, the Desolation of Smaug. It really felt desolate – the road was open, but the skifield itself was closed because of the strong wind … and it was strong. I got out of the car nonetheless and managed to walk a bit around without getting blown off my feet … but it was a short walk, I admit it.
After that, I drove to the northern access of Tongariro National Park to find Iwikau Village where they shot parts of Dagorlad, Morannon, the Emyn Muil … But it was pouring. I admit that I didn’t see much of that location but rain … But it wasn’t raining that much a few kilometres down the road, so I could go the short walk to Tawhai Falls, the location for Henneth Annûn. I always knew that the weather in Ithilien was much nicer than in Mordor. Rain and snow in Mordor … Sure. I gave things have changed since Sauron left XD
Taupo – Aratiatia Rapids
This is the reservoir dam where you can watch huge amounts of water getting released and rushing down the rapids. A great sight, even without dwarves in barrels 🙂 It starts out slowly, almost a bit disappointing, but as soon as the deep blue colour of the rapids mixes with the iceblue spray … Gorgeous sight.
Wellington – Lord of the Rings Movie Tour
Wellington has some Lord of the Rings Tours to offer, and I chose the “Ultimative Movie Tour+”. Not doing things by halves! It was a full-day tour, and the first part led us outside of Wellington to the locations of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith, Isengard (yep, they were taking us to Isengard; it’s the photo above!), the river where Aragorn was washed ashore after the attack of the warg-riders, and Rivendell. The afternoon part led us to Mt Victoria, on the hobbit’s trail.
And they had so many prompts! Loved it. I was walking through the gardens of Isengard, leaning on Gandalf’s staff; I posed with bow and arrow, elf-ears AND a blonde wig (I guess I have to hide that photo … I look far better as a hobbit!) ; I was hiding from a Nazgûl … Another great thing was that they had a screen on the van and showed us scenes with the places we were visiting as a little reminder. That’s the point on a trip where you learn to tell the hard-core fans from the others: These are the ones who stare at the screen (because hobbits!!!) instead of looking out of the window. Including my good self, of course.
Our last stop was at Weta Cave. My tour included the workshop tour, so we got a look behind the scenes. Oh my, all the prompts! I saw a life-size figure of Thorin, Orcrist and Deathless, I got to hold the oakenshield, and I held mithril in my hands …
Another great thing was: I got an e-mail from my parents in the morning, saying “When you’re on the tour and you see something you like, get it. It’s our birthday present for you”. Sorry for showing off now, but I’m the proud owner of a 1/6 scale figure of Thorin Oakenshield!!! No self-control, no regrets. I mean – he was on sale as well, how could I have said no?! And the people at the Weta Cave were happy as well because I had such a big grin on my face 🙂
Havelock – Pelorus Bridge
You can explore the Pelorus River and thus the location from “Barrels out of Bond” by kayak, but you can also simply walk there. There’s a walk, and a signpost almost casually saying “river access”. And suddenly I stood there and thought “But wait … Isn’t this where the dwarves got ashore after the barrel escape!?” Truth to be told, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if you’re really in the right spot … and I think the water level was actually lower than in the movie. Only solution: Take as many photos as possible! Just for reference, of course … 🙂
Nelson – Ringmaker Jens Hansen
It’s not an actual movie location, but Nelson is home to many artists and craftspeople … also to the maker of the One Ring (and no, I’m not talking of Sauron here).
When I entered the shop, some people were already looking at a display with rings, and I joined them for some ogling. And the salesperson was so lovely! She asked if I was a Lord of the Rings fan – heavy nodding – and directly asked if I would like to see the big, 2,5 kg ring they used for filming, if I would like to hold it, and if she should take a picture of me … and all that without even knowing if I would buy anything! Still impressed and happy.
Queenstown and surroundings
As an Austrian, I always thought that I would be most impressed by New Zealand’s rivers, lakes, and the sea. But mountains? I know them from home, of course, so why should I be impress- But oh my, the Remarkables. I just loved their sight – I think they’re my most popular photo subject. Plus: They were used for almost all the mountains of Middle Earth. For me, they are the embodiment of the Misty Mountains. I think I was humming “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold” to myself more than once … I also drove up to the Remarkables skifield – the location for Azanulbizar – although I must admit that I skipped the last three kilometres. Gravel road, eeks. It was shaking so terribly that even my GPS fell from the windscreen. Shame on my Austrian head for that! I think I got a good impression from Azanulbizar, though.
Another great trip was the location tour to Glenorchy/Paradise. On the way there, we stopped at Twelve Mile Delta to walk through the fields of Ithilien. At one point, our guide just pointed at some spot: “And this is where Sam and Gollum had their discussion about how to properly cook a rabbit!”
After that, we drove past Beorn’s house in Paradise – it’s actually a hill with a bush in some noticeable shape you can also see in the movie. A pity we couldn’t get closer … But, only a short time after that, we arrived at the valley of Isengard. No Orthanc anymore (the Ents did a good job), but a very nice view … and besides, I found out that I like driving through deep water puddles with a 4WD, even when I’m only sitting on the passenger seat.
Walking through the woods around Glenorchy (Lothlorien) was quite funny as well. Usually, the tour guides show you pictures from the movies for reference, but they couldn’t do that there – Peter Jackson made quite a secret out of the actual filming location so they could only guess! But we we’re having a tea break somewhere in Lothlorien, and drinking tea dressed up as a hobbit is quite a nice thing 🙂 Our tour guide just looked at me and said “You look like you’d love to be a hobbit” … Sure!! And when another car with some tourists drives past you and they all stare at you because you’re wearing a sword … Priceless.
Not far from Queenstown there’s Arrowtown, and a part of the Arrow River was shown in the Fellowship of the Ring as Bruinen ford. Same problem as on the Pelorus River: Am I in the right spot? I am in the right spot … right? Just take photos. And eat ice cream.
Middlemarch – Rock and Pillar Range
Richard Armitage described the Rock and Pillar Range as “monumental”, and who am I to ignore such a recommendation? However, I made a mistake: As the Rock and Pillar Range is a conservation area, I thought you couldn’t access it. But you can – actually, you can go hiking up there! I’m still grumbling – if I had known that, I would have stayed a night longer and would have gone hiking (I’m never going hiking at home, but I would have done that, I promise). But I didn’t carry enough food or even water with me for such a trip … I mean, I didn’t go up far, and it was monumental. Grrr. Seems I have to travel to New Zealand once more to catch up on that!
Twizel – Pelennor Location Tour
I’m really glad I could go on this tour! When I arrived in Twizel and asked about the tour at the tourist information, they couldn’t guarantee me it would take place on the next day: So far, I was the only participant! But fortunately, two other people booked until next morning, and they turned out to be an absolutely lovely, somewhat elderly English couple. They were more enthusiastic about the whole tour than the younger participants I met on such tours – she was so happy about being able to dress up as Èowyn and kill the Witchking, played by her husband … maybe a bit too happy? *giggles* My main role was the Gondorian Gatekeeper – the location is on private land, secured by a gate, and I was allowed to open it with a tiny tiny key attached to a big replica of Thorin’s key! It’s so difficult to find a keyhole when it’s not Durin’s Day … I love it when I can make such a joke and people actually understand it! And joining the Rohirrim on their battle charge while sitting in a van that drives 60 km/h (the speed of their horses) while screaming “Death!!” is a once-in-a-lifetime experience … And a really great one. I always love the anecdotes the tour guides can tell – ours played one of the refugees from Lake Town in Battle of the Five Armies! I’ll have to look for her the next time …
All these landscapes were incredible – I always make a face when somebody asks me „What was your favourite part of New Zealand?“ because everything was just so beautiful … And I think that there was even an extra thrill because I so often thought „Oh my, I just stepped into Middle Earth!!“ That’s like the extra cherry on the cream topping of the ice cream bowl, if I may use this hobbit-like comparison…