Middle Earth (aka New Zealand): Part One

It’s the books. It has always been about the books. But when you can’t step into the pages and see the world for yourself, you have to settle for the movie. I always knew I would hunt for Lord of the Rings scenery when I reached New Zealand. It started when I reached Queenstown…

The Fellowship of the Ring

While Sarah is not the manic LotR fan I am, she was happy to indulge my little quests. Armed with an autographed copy of Ian Brodie’s “Location Guidebook,” Sarah, myself and fellow LotR fanatic Ryan set out to discover the rings for ourselves. The result was a task more difficult than we ever could have imagined – is this how Frodo and the rest of the fellowship felt once they left the safety of Rivendell?

There were minor setbacks – like the four-wheel drive only road on the way to the Ford of Bruinen (where Arwen defeats the Black Riders) or the private, pay-to-enter land of Deer Park Heights (where Aragon is atacked en route to Helm’s Depp in Rohan). There were successes though. We found the Pillars of Argonath on the river Kaweru; it was one of the main things I wanted to see on my trip to NZ.

And so, the fellowship came to an unfortunate but necessary conclusion: the only way to see Middle Earth is with a guide.

The Two Towers

And what better than the four-legged kind? Dart Stables is located in Glenorchy, about 45 minutes outside of Queenstown. There’s no cell signal and a population of 250, but it is a movie-maker’s paradise. And that’s exactly what it is called: Paradise.

After an exhilarating morning ride cantering along the braided rivers around Glenorchy, I saddled up for the “Ride of the Rings.” This two-hour ride took me up to a viewpoint where the site of Isengard, Saruman’s tower, was clearly and obviously visible. The scenery is spectacular up there. The Dart River viewed from above weaves intricate patterns in the grey-brown silt and snow-capped Mt. Aspiring National Park looms in the distance.

As if the river scenery wasn’t enough, the trail took us through stunning beech forests. The first forest, dominated by towering red beech trees, was the home of Amon Hen (where Boromir is killed by the Uruk-hai in the first movie). The second forest, however, was the more sparsely decorated winter beech forest, and the stunning home of Lothlorien (where Galadriel resides). Even though the forest looks quite different in the movie (2500 spray-painted leaves will do that), the same ethereal presence is evident. To be able to travel through it on horseback is something else completely.

The Return of the King

LotR isn’t the only movie to be made in that area. In fact, on my ride I was taken past the “hot” set of the new X-men film “Wolverine.” Watch for a farmhouse being blown up and a huge motorcycle stunt – I was there! No extra work unfortunately – I could’ve done, but I don’t have a work visa – gutted! Alas!

Also, our guide reenacted a scene from the upcoming “Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” movie. The Prince is on horseback through the forest (where I was) when he is attacked and rescued by Trufflehunter the badger – another scene to look out for!

Sarah and I have been saying all along how absolutely out of this world New Zealand is. It’s no surprsie that so much “fantasy” is made here too!

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