The not so very secret Diary of Tanja - The North Island
Day 0 (15.12.02)
Sunday afternoon. I'm throwing the last bit of travel gear in my bag, briefly acknowledging the fact that I will forget to pack some minor important object for sure. Oh well... No time to worry now, with my flatmate waiting outside to drive me to the Spencer Hotel in Takapuna for our Welcome Dinner.
Am a good hour early, but already find my north-island-roommate in our room - along with a borrowed DVD-Player, the extended version of 'Fellowship...', a bottle of red wine and a basket full of strawberries, which she had managed to organize. Am seriously impressed. Go, Tour!
Down to the restaurant for our Welcome Dinner. Still so engaged in talking that we took the staff elevator. Brief detour included kitchen level and startled personnel.
Found restaurant. Most of our group already there, listening to a tall guy talking about Rohan. Vic waving at us to hand out our name tags and explains tall guy's name is Bruce Hopkins. Ah. He plays 'Gamling' in the movie. Oh. (My sincere apologies to Bruce. But at that point no one had seen the second movie yet...) Very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Very diverse group. Very interesting insights into filming!
Great first evening.
My personal highlight: Along with sharing his experiences around filming LotR, Bruce at some point unwrapped a book from a pillowcase and handed it over for everyone to have a look. This book was a gift from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Limited to only 100 copies, it contained still shots and behind-the-scenes pictures from cast and crew; each photo accompanied by a funny comment - an awesome souvenir reflecting the great time everybody had while working on the movie(s).
Day 1 (16.12.02)
First stop: Matamata a.k.a Hobbiton. 'Fellowship' score setting the mood while leaving flat grassland for rolling green hills. Camera team of TV One News following us. Tried to escape camera and almost got run over by travel mates, charging at "Welcome to Hobbiton"-sign.
Short walk downhill and suddenly find myself standing in the shire, now occupied by a few hundred sheep though. Down to my right the lake and huge 'party-tree', in the hills to my left several hobbit-holes, on top of all: Bag End.
Merely a hobbit-sized wooden frame and lacking door or windows, but as inviting as if Bilbo was still living there.
Take turns in exploring Bag End and stroll through the rest of the shire. Feel very much at home. Don't want to leave.
Lunchstop at Oraka Wapiti Deer Farm. Not LotR-related, but great food. Bottle-fed a little deer fawn, increasing today's level of 'cuteness' even further. Still in shire-mood...
Short photo stop at Huka Falls near Taupo. Awesome scenery.
Dinner at the bank of Lake Taupo. Mount Doom almost in view, if it wasn't for those clouds. (But then again, what else would you expect from Mount Doom?)
My personal highlight: Hobbiton. Before I went on this trip, several people asked me: "Why visit Hobbiton? There's nothing left except for some shabby hobbit-hole frames...". They were right. In a way. There's not much left of the hobbit homes as such. No doors or windows, no colourful paint, no flowers or vegetable gardens and of course no Hobbits... BUT the shire is still there and it is very much recognizable. The lake is there, as is the party tree, the hills, the stepping stones leading up to Bag End, the road(s) Gandalf traveled in his cart, the place where he lit the fireworks for the hobbit children... It's all there. Along with a lot of information on preparations and actual filming. You need but little imagination to make it all come alive again.
Day 2 (17.12.02)
Woke up with Mount Doom in view from bedroom window. Yay!
Within minutes scenery changes from green hills to flat brownish grassland and volcanic rock. Entering Tongariro National Park. Mountains again covered in dark clouds. Stop at Whakapapa Ski Fields. Head to the site of Mordor, 'orc road' to our left, ski lift to our right. Can't help but imagining Sauron and his army taking ski lift to fight 'last alliance of men and elves'.
Wander off to the right with a small group of fellow travelers, climbing steep rocks and enjoying the view of a river running in the deep. Beautiful! Thank god, am not afraid of heights! Try to climb down again without crashing camera or self...
Decide it's time to get back to bus. Follow fellow travelers into a gorge, seems to be an easier walk than climbing back over the rocks.
...Are these clouds coming up?
Gorge definitely not much easier than rocks. Ground slippery from drizzle. Thick fog everywhere. Can't see a thing. "I hope the others found a safer road..." unanimously chosen as quote of the day.
Eventually managed to find our way back to the bus.
Next stop: Mangawhero Falls, location for Gollum's fishpond / the Ithilien Camp. Stunning scenery. Absolutely lovely. And definitely worth a visit, even though the pond itself is not publicly accessible. Explore several overgrown paths, leading deeper into forest to rocky viewpoints or small meadows. Am sorry to leave this place...
Head towards our accommodation for the night: The Hobbit Lodge in Ohakune. Cute little motel with hobbit-pictures in the rooms and a menu that offers specialties even for the 'vegetarian elves'.
Quickly change and go out to meet other part of our group, staying at the Powderhorn Chateau, which served as accommodation for film cast and part of the crew for more than six weeks.
Guided tour through the hotel includes heaps of information on filming and room numbers. Leads to groups of people madly rushing from room to room and one 'lost' key. (Heard rumors that pictures exist of two highly embarrassed girls on a certain bed... Wonder, who that could possibly be. Wonder what happened to that video camera...) Definitely most surreal experience so far.
Attention shifts from bed to bathroom. Good. Sneak out and join room party in Ian McKellen's former suite.
My personal highlight: Walking through Mordor and getting lost in exactly the same spot that features Frodo and Sam in TTT with the following dialog:
Sam: "This place looks familiar.'"
Frodo: "Because we've been here before! We're walking in circles..."
I could so relate....;-)
Day 3 (18.12.02) - Premiere Day
Start early from the Hobbit Lodge.
First Stop: Hightime Bungy Bridge near Taihape, location of River Anduin. Two people of our group actually did the jump. Congrats to Nick and Jeremy!
(Somehow keep seeing stupid picture of Lurtz dangling upside down on bungy rope, trying to grab hold of Frodo paddling past in elvish boat... *sigh*)
Lunchstop at seafood restaurant. Yummy food, but tension in group caused by several phone calls telling us a) we do NOT have specially assigned viewing area for our group at the red carpet and b) Wellington City already packed with LotR Fans. Try to get used to thought of us standing way back in crowd. Fail.
Everybody eating really fast.
4:15 p.m., finally arrive in Wellington. Check into hotel, shower and change in record time and head to red carpet with rest of group. Some wearing most beautiful self-made costumes, mirror images of the characters... Awesome!
Not quite as many people at red carpet as feared would be, but still no room for us. Finally settle for some small space next to plastic-tape-barrier. Can't even see fence but at least can see big screen and back of podium...
6 p.m. Oops? Plastic tape gone. Suddenly find myself next to fence. How did that happen?
Giant Gollum is unveiled, crawling on top of embassy theatre, trying to grab giant ring. Awesome Weta-work! Where did they find the time for this?
First glimpse of Peter Jackson and three hobbit actors on screen. People around me madly screaming. Me too. Recognize Bruce on the red carpet. Yay, Bruce!:-) And is that Alan Lee, cheerfully working his way to our little corner...?
First glimpse of PJ and Elijah in front of the podium, giving interviews to press people. Dominic and Billy still on their way. Karl Urban strutting along, quite indifferently signing random books and papers. Doesn't look too happy...
PJ's signing my book!
Elijah's signing my book, too!
All cast and crew are called to take a seat at podium. Movie made for Peter Jackson is shown on big screen: "New Zealand says 'thank you' to Peter Jackson". Very emotional! Great country! Standing ovations from everybody including actors. PJ gives his speech. Forces Mark Ordesky from New Line to publicly announce world premiere of "The Return of the King" will be in Wellington. Find myself madly cheering, even though couldn't possibly pick a place further away from Germany. Briefly wonder how on earth I could finance another trip to New Zealand in 2003?!
Sooooo close to getting signatures of Dominic and Billy. Unfortunately they get picked out of the crowd by their assistants and directed into the theatre. Imagine they were very very happy and relieved though. Don't know how they survive hours of autograph-writing and screaming fans without letting it all get on their nerves.
Crowd disappears quickly once actors are in theatre. Have dinner with roommates. Return to theatre for the exit but learn from fellow traveler that hobbits had left through backdoor, 5 minutes after entering. Other rumors lead to change in plans: Take short run to Te Papa Museum, just in time to see PJ, the hobbits and all other premiere guests arrive for exclusive VIP-preview of LotR exhibition. Awesome venue! Fiery ring above the entrance, percussion groups all over the building, much less people around than at the red carpet... Wow!
Linger and enjoy mood. Then take short run back to Embassy Theatre, just in time for midnight showing of TTT.
My personal highlight: Being so lucky to have the opportunity to tell Alan Lee, Elijah Wood and Peter Jackson how much I love their work. I know, I know... they probably heard this a thousand times and more and it might not have been the most original thing to say. But this is MY personal highlight...
Well, that and of course having my picture taken with Elijah. J (What really impressed me: He was just as enthusiastic as all the fans and truly seemed to enjoy every minute of the red carpet event. How does he do it?)
Day 4 (19.12.02)
Go to bed at around 4 a.m. Still excited.
Get up at 8, grab breakfast and meet others for exclusive non-VIP preview of LotR exhibition.
Get in through back door and freight elevator - 30 minutes before official opening. Am overwhelmed by amount of work and love for detail put into every single little exhibit. Interesting behind-the-scenes information on special effects and scale models, a hilarious video clip of Lawrence being transformed into Lurtz, an alarmingly realistic wax figure of dead Boromir in the boat, Gandalf's cart in front of a green screen (Interactive! Good idea not to wear green clothes for exhibition...) and many costumes, weapons and props. Not to forget the One Ring. Mmmm... would have loved to try it on! Looked like it would fit my finger...;-)
Exhibition room packed with people. Am really glad we got the preview! Meet the others in bus, heading for Chocolate Fish Café. Stopped on the way to visit location where entrance to the Path of the Dead ('Return of the King') had been filmed - now being a rather unspectacular hill where someone dumped a rusty car and a shabby old mat (at once identified as Aragorn's car and Legolas' bed...). Go back to town for lunch as Chocolate Fish Café and beach were packed.
Meet with Vic and fellow travelers in front of Embassy Theatre and walk up Mt Victoria to see "Get off the road!"-location. Very nice walk! Highly recommendable! Am surprised that location is instantly recognizable. Walk on uphill a little to find path leads to beautiful meadow with view over Wellington.
Go back to city with small group of fellow travelers - with several people doing Pippin-glued-to-Treebeard-impressions on several trees along the way.
Meet up with rest of group at "Green Parrot" (supposedly Viggo Mortensen's favorite restaurant) for dinner. Spend some time at "Molly Malone's" Irish Pub (supposedly Sean Bean's favorite pub) afterwards. End up at hotelbar, as some people didn't carry IDs and weren't allowed inside the pub. Depressing last evening before the "breaking of the fellowship", with 12 people leaving the tour and the rest of us flying to South Island...
My personal highlight: Hard to decide this time... Mt Victoria was very nice and the exhibition was impressive. Yet I think my personal highlight was to realize how close we all got within this short amount of time. In only four days, the group grew to be the 'Fellowship of the Tour'. And sitting in the hotel talking to everybody, realizing how much I'm going to miss all the people who stay behind, really added a great deal to the whole experience.
Coming Soon: Tanja's report from the South Island part of the tour.....