Day 150: There And Back Again

Thur. 10th January 2013

Sadly, for us it was No EntryAs a teenager, I read the Lord of the Rings books and they captured my imagination. Later, one of the joys of parenthood was passing on my love of the books to Chris and Steve as we the read the stories night after night (after night) at bedtime. Then the films came out and we all revisited the stories once more. When setting up the blog I pinched the title of Bilbo Baggins’ memoirs (albeit from the Hobbit) – There And Back Again. It seemed to be an obvious fit, particularly as we would be visiting New Zealand.

Lunch in the rainWhilst there were many places up and down New Zealand that were used as locations for the filming of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) films, Queenstown was one of the major bases for filming. As well as support for the actors and film crew, it provided a handful of the key locations all within a short drive of one another. With Queenstown being so tourist oriented, it was inevitable that there would be a half a dozen companies offering tours of one sort or another. We picked Pure Glenorchy on the advice of the iSite tourist office that they focused more on the scenery than recreating the film (some companies dress you up in Orc or Hobbit or whatever gear).

The Oliphants were filmed down thereWe wanted to do this because, whatever you think of the films, they do a superb job of showcasing some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery. It would be a missed opportunity to be in New Zealand and not see as much of it as possible. We contemplated doing our own trip but as it turned out, we would never have found the right places to stop – and at least one road would have been impassable in the camper van.

Looking back over Lake Wakatipu to The Remarkables (Misty Mountains)So, at 8:10 on a grey morning we were standing outside the entrance to the campsite ready for our minibus. There were a total of 6 of us on the tour so at least we were avoiding the big group activities. We headed out along the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Behind the lake are The Remarkables mountains which Alana, our guide, explains were used for (part of) the Misty Mountains in the films.

The Wizard's ValeAs the road turns in from the lake for a stretch we again pull over for the location where Frodo, Sam and Sméagol see the Oliphants. Alana makes use of the LOTR Location Guide (Amazon link here) to help us correlate what we are seeing back to the film (and the glimpse of the distant toilet block accidentally left in the film). Then it is back to the lake shore looking along to Glenorchy for the view of what was Wizards Vale in the film. Apparently one fanatic (and his poor wife) spent a fortnight with their car parked in the layby waiting for the weather and light to duplicate the shot in the film. More than my life is worth to suggest that!!

The Dead MarshesFurther along still we get to the nature reserve wetlands that served as the Dead Marshes (along with an indoor film stage so that Frodo wouldn’t have to fall into the freezing cold water). The combination of Alana and the book not only explain how the filming was done but also (as we’d hoped) highlight the beautiful scenery.

End of the road, no paradise todayPast the small town of Glenorchy we head for Paradise (yes, part of NZ is officially called Paradise) which was used as Isengard in the films. Unfortunately, yesterday’s rain (pretty much all day and all night) has washed away a section of the road. Despite only having a two wheel drive minibus, Alana is all for trying to drive across – until she spots the farmer ‘giving her the eye’ on the other side of the flood.

The Ent treeSo, we turn back and head for the forest that was used for both Lothlorien and for Fangorn and meet the old beech tree that was used as the basis for Treebeard and the other Ents. We also learn a lot more about the forest itself. It is an unmanaged forest and it is illegal to remove any wood live or dead from the forest. As a consequence, it looks very different from forests in the UK. There is no neatness or order to it at all. There is a mix of old and young trees with fallen trees lying amongst them. The forest floor is a mass of roots and fallen leaves.

In order to film some of the action sequences in the forest, not only did the director have to have a camera on a wire strung between the trees he also had to cover the ground with rubber / foam chips to create a level surface. Before he did this, he had to photograph every square metre and remove all the fallen branches. Then when filming finished, it all had to be replaced exactly as it was found. Apparently it took 3 months work by the clear up team to restore the forest to its original state after the end of filming.

Your going to get wet feet!Finally, it was back in to Queenstown and up to Deer Park Heights and past the houses that are worth $1m just for the view out over the lake. Here we can see the hills where Gandalf walked and (also) where the Rohirrim refugees fled Edoras. We also learn more about the impact of the film making on the people of Queenstown. Up to 30% of the residents were employed as extras on the film (at $300/day). Everyone from school children to the 6’6” brickies and chippies who were used as Uruk Hai.

The million dollar viewAs you read this, you are probably thinking that the whole tour sounds ridiculous – it certainly did to me as I read back what I’d just typed. Perhaps it is one of those times when you just needed to be there – but it is the context and background that is interesting. Alana was also able to use use scenes from the film to help us to look closer at specific parts of the landscape and thereby seeing the beauty and the contrasts. We certainly enjoyed the tour – despite the grey clouds and intermittent rain. We would never have been able to find some of the scenes without Alana pointing them out to us – even if we had the Location Guide. Whether or not you like the films, we would recommend taking the tour.

On the other hand, we do now want to see the films again to see if we can spot the places we have been. (Our list of films to see to remind us of our travels keeps on growing). We also have ordered the location guide book from Amazon where it will be waiting for us when we get back. [Sheila, it is worth having a look through for the pictures of the New Zealand landscape].

TSS Earnslaw under way - I was hoping for something faster than thisIt isn’t all glamour in our lives though. Once back in Queenstown, the sky cleared and it was back to the jet boat office to see if there were any spaces on one of the afternoon trips. Apparently, there was so much rain yesterday, that the river is flooded and so it’s not running at all today. Instead, we have the joy of washing and re-waterproofing our jackets – where is Gandalf when you need him!


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