The highlight of the trip should have been a look at Paradise, the farm at the far end of Lake Wakatipu, where much of the filming took place through spring and early summer.
That is where the shots of Arwen riding and the Nazgul taking a smoko break come from, as far as I know. The actors and crews were gone already, Id read in the local paper, but it might be possible to check the area out still.
I drove north from Te Anau, passed Queenstown again and went on to Glenorchy, the nearest town to Paradise. The road still relied on precarious temporary cures for the destructive floods the month before. On the side of a hill overlooking the approach to Glenorchy, somebody had written Hollywood in big white letters across the grass.
All pretty promising, until I got to the motor camp where I was staying. It was as graceless, mingy and penny-pinching an establishment as you will find anywhere. Considering that its main customers are the trampers heading out on three or four of New Zealands Great Walks, its incredible that they have no facilities to dry packs, boots and raincoats, and seemed to find the idea irrelevant. They have a near-monopoly on backpacker accommodation and access to the trailheads, youd think theyd be coining money, yet the facilities were as ugly and minimal as possible.
After spending days living in, on, and around dirt and mud, its odd that a bare concrete showerblock smelling of disinfectant (and sloughed-off skin-cells) should fill me with a greater horror of germs; not only that but it had the architecture of a de-lousing chamber which made me hesitate with superstitious horror before turning on the taps.
I dumped my bags and drove out to Paradise. The famous signs pointing to Jamboree were posted along the dirt roads, and I found it with no trouble. There wasnt anything to be seen except a road going up a bank into a light forest. The owners lived not far from the entrance to the set. Right by the access road was a caravan and a surly security guard. We had a three-sentence conversation and I couldnt see any point hanging round any longer. Bet he was on the phone to the security chief the minute I left.
I had my own stuff to do, a four-day walk up one river and down another.
I had noticed before that some of the official website concept art showed rivers with that peculiar blue-green tinge that glacial water has, so I took a few photos of what I saw in the region so you can see it for yourself, as well as some of the beech-forest thats going to be the backdrop to a lot of scenes. Well, not the same bit of beech-forest, since I didnt get into Paradise. The extra I talked to said they mainly used one clearing there and one bit of forest, but they had a lot of fake trees and bushes that they could move around to make it look different.
The flat plain of the Rees river looked to me like the sort of grassy fields that Rohan might have at the feet of the mountains, and there were places that could have been the borders of Fangorn. Since then weve heard that theres some action going on with horses and riders near Gore, which is nowhere nearby.
And Ill chuck in a picture that could stand in for the Deeping Comb that winds its way between the mountains to Helms Deep. Though as I say, the film crews could have found a hundred similar places to this one.
Four days later I followed the Dart River down past the Paradise farm again. The caravan was gone and so too were any signs of the filming, I expect. It didnt seem worth pestering the owners for a look, especially knowing the pictures and eyewitness accounts that were available online already.
Back at Glenorchy I talked to the locals and found some people that had a contract to supply the film company with as much scrap possum-fur as they could provide, but they werent allowed to say what for. Theyd made a fur-lined oilskin jacket for one of the LOTR producers too but it was the wrong size, so that was still hanging around. Looked nice. Suit somebody quite big.
I drove off to the West Coast for the fun of it, and ended up two days later in a place called Karamea, a deadend road on the northern end of the Coast.
This place is near a whole lot of places with names taken out of Tolkien, so that there are creeks named for Celeborn, Galadriel, Nenya, Narya and Vilya, and a Nimrodel Creek, all dyed tea-coloured with the tannin of a million fallen leaves.
Ive always wanted to see it. Its wild limestone country, always good for surprises. There is a natural archway called Moria Gate.
Well, thats nice, but not much use for Moria, what with all that burgeoning rainforest everywhere. Itd be a nice place for an Ent to hang out, though.
Back at the (absolutely fabulous) hostel in Karamea, a party developed involving guests, visitors, locals, the owners and their friends and relatives. I mentioned LOTR and somebody said theyd flown a helicopter for some Rings locations scouts. They wanted to look at some limestone formations further up the river in the area thats forbidden to the public because people keep nicking off with fossils there. Some people thought theyd said theyd be back to film there, others said they hadnt heard any more and that was that.
They also told me about the stained-glass craftsman further down the Coast who was contracted to make things for the film. Much later I wondered if their work was going to fit into the delicate art-nouveau woodwork bits of set that somebody got a shot of, which were guessing will be in Lothlorien.
The last thing I did was go and look at the Mirror Tarn near Moria Gate, not because it would be any use but because it sounded interesting. It was such a perfect mirror that I nearly stood in it before I saw it. Its not important, its just there, looking totally magical without CGI or special lighting of any kind. Effortlessly being Middle-earth whether anyones there to film it or not.
What a star this place is going to be, I thought, when it can succeed so well without even trying. And thats where my search for Middle-earth ended.