Day 5 (20.12.02)
Emotional goodbye to everybody staying in Wellington. Promises to stay in touch.
South Island crowd transfers to airport, sad to leave Wellington but looking forward to things to come. Flight to Christchurch in tiny plane. First to arrive, loitering in airport café and music shop until rest of group turns up at baggage claim. South Island bus driver greets us with friendly “Hey, I’ve seen you guys on TV!”, even remembering a few names. Very. Weird. Apparently some people have been watching TV One News at premiere night…
Afternoon off to relax and do sightseeing. Very nice, very British town! Agree with fellow travelers on mission for today: Find cinema, get tickets.
Do some shopping and eventually meet up with 3 others for coffee and dinner. Learn mission is accomplished, group is to reunite at cinema around 8 p.m. for second showing of TTT.
Movie even better this time!
My personal highlight: Just enjoying the day…
Day 6 (21.12.02)
Bus leaves early from Christchurch, heading to Lake Clearwater to meet our guide for first part of day: Derek, Rohan-extra at Edoras.
Weather check: cloudy.
Derek very impressive, fluently reciting black speech as well as elvish on bus. Also tells us he discussed Tolkien languages with Sir Ian McKellen during break at Edoras-set.
Time flies with him telling entertaining stories about casting, make-up and filming.
Suddenly clouds vanish. Mountains open up and bus stops at most beautiful location: Mt Potts Station. Am surrounded by snow capped mountains, a valley below, brownish grass, bushes, a river and – instantly recognizable right in the middle of this valley – Edoras (Mt Sunday). Slightly smaller than expected but even more stunning than in the movie. Linger and take in everything for a few minutes. Hard to believe all this is actually private ground. Get back in bus to drive closer to Edoras, TTT score playing Rohan theme.
Gate to farm locked, owner on holidays. Ha! As if that would stop us!
Follow stony path to Edoras-hill, after more or less gracefully climbing the fence.
Stony path leads to waist-deep river. Uhm… well. As if that would stop us!
Derek scouting for shallow part of river, everybody else securing cameras and bags, rolling up trouser legs or – in one case – stripping to underwear, as jeans not that suitable to roll up.
Crossing knee-deep part of river in groups of three or four over smooth, slippery rocks. Everyone soaked but happy. No casualties, no missing people. Short pause to remove quite impressive collection of river pebbles from inside shoes and socks. Refreshing ‘squish’ with every step.
Finally arrive at hill. Would have loved to see set of Edoras, but am enthralled even without. Spend some time at locations of great gate and Theodred’s grave – now plain grassland – before climbing Edoras.
Reach location of Great Hall on top of hill – now a few boulders on a plateau. Spectacular 360-degree-view! Feel like diving right into Tolkien’s middle-earth, with Dereks descriptions and no sign of man-made structures, cars or people anywhere in sight. Can easily envision group of Rohirrim riding across the plain and hear the stomping of their horses. Not much imagination necessary…
Spend around one hour on Edoras, completely enchanted. Despite cold feet in wet shoes. Fell totally and utterly in love with this place.
Eventually make our way back to bus, by now expertly crossing the river and climbing the fence. Leave Edoras listening to Rohan-theme from soundtrack again, the whole bus being rather quite…
Drop Derek off at his car before continuing our way to Geraldine for a quick, late lunch.
Next stops after Geraldine: Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. Awesome views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman! Reminds me in a way of mountain lakes in Switzerland or Austria. Clear blue sky, bright turquoise water, snow on mountain tops, lupines everywhere… Just beautiful!
Back to bus. Reach today’s final destination at around 5:30 p.m.: Twizel, a.k.a the Pelennor Fields. Friendly greeting by owners of farm, Simon and Priscilla, as well as cute little dog. Learn Priscilla has been an orc-extra (“I’m one of the little, multiplied dots.”). Extremely hard to believe! Must have been nicest orc in middle-earth…
Learn film crew spent 4 weeks on farm, working with over 300 horses, 600 extras and a big blue screen in front of hill. Don’t envy Rohan-Riders that much anymore, now knowing they spent up to 10 hours a day on horseback. In armour. False beards glued to their face. Do however envy Simon and Priscilla for experience of having more than one hundred horses galloping through their backyard at 40 km/h. Awesome! Can’t wait to see “Return of the King”!
My personal highlight: Edoras. It’s just unbelievable. Having been at this place for some reason makes the country of Rohan in the movies even more come to life. It’s like someone simply proofed to you “Yes. It is real. It does exist. And it looks just like this.”. Not once did I feel like visiting a set but rather like stepping right into Tolkien’s middle-earth myself.
Day 7 (22.12.02)
Extensive breakfast. Board bus hobbit-style as shoes still wet and – after spending last night on patio – unpleasantly cold. Oh well. Who needs shoes, anyway?
Destination for today: Queenstown.
First stop on the way: Tarras, location of The Great Chase.
Quickly decide I need shoes anyway, after seeing all the gravel on path. Reluctantly have to admit, am no good as a hobbit…
Don’t have to climb fence this time. Enter forest and recognize scenery at once: Two almost parallel paths, in between very familiar looking pine forest. Very pleasant scent!
Keep looking for stone with blue paint on it – upposedly marker for camera.
Pine needles all over the ground. Several travel mates happily galloping around the place on imaginary horses, impersonating Arwen, Frodo or the Black Riders (all nine of them;-) respectively. Zig-zag through trees as well, though prefer walking and being myself. Hope they had all those rabbit holes removed before sending any poor person on horse on their way.
Found stone with blue marking! Yay!
Also find clearing Arwen and Nazgul crossed, just a few minutes walk away from pine forest section. Am surprised. For some reason always thought these were two different locations.
Continue to wander about for some time, enjoying relaxing atmosphere, before returning to bus with others. Wait... Finally send out search party for one missing hobbit…
Search party successful. Everybody on board. Head to Wanaka Airport next, meeting up with Ian Brodie – friend of Peter Jackson and author of “Lord of the Rings – Location Guidebook”. And probably most of all ‘Lord of the Rings’-Fan himself. Obviously.
Prominently displayed on his desk: a replica of Aragorn’s sword. (Mind you… 19 ring-crazy people in one small room with a replica of Aragorn’s sword!) On another table, next to a pile of his books, some Styrofoam-remains of the Moria set. On his computer: the most beautiful location pictures (taken by Ian himself, Alan Lee and Viggo Mortensen) as well as several movie stills. And most prrrecioussss to us all, in his head: stories of how he got to know Peter Jackson, how he managed to write his location-guidebook, how he waited at the TTT premiere in Wellington for the movie to start, and other most interesting behind-the-scenes information… (Have to admit, at that point, jealousy kicked in…)
Back to bus after too short a time talking to Ian and browsing through pictures. Sure hope to meet with him again one day!
Short Lunchstop in Wanaka, next to beautiful lake.
This time waiting for Vic to get back on bus…
There’s Vic... And Ian? How nice! So soon!
Change in plans. Everybody down to the lake again, where Ian points out one more location to us. Finally second farewell to Ian and back to bus, heading to Arrowtown – location of Ford of Bruinen.
Again some news coverage, this time Otago Daily Times interviewing fellow travelers. Walk ahead with small group, trying to find exact Nazgul-location. Don’t recognize a thing. Neither does anybody else. Oh well. Take some random pictures of banks of Arrow River, beautifully overgrown with lupines, bushes and trees. Impressed by glittering river pebbles – look very elvish!
Walk back and stroll through Arrowtown. How cute! Definitely worth a visit!
Transfer to Hotel in Queenstown – final destination for this tour. Remarkables truly remarkable! Hotel right next to Lake Wakatipu, couldn’t have picked a better place.
My personal highlight: Hard to say… Probably the visit at Ian’s. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a people-person… J
Day 8 (23.12.02)
Shoe update: dry! Yay!
Weather update: drizzle and clouds. Boo!
Board bus to go up Kelvin Heights Deer Park. Stop for short, shoeless gatekeeper to open gate to park. Pass pretty much every animal but deer on the way up.
Stop at extremely ugly Korean prison building (set for 1989 Disney movie ‘The Rescue’). Why? Why tear down a beautiful set like Edoras and leave this horrible cement thing, I wonder?
No rain anymore. Good. Take muddy footpath through high, wet, brownish grass to Refugee-Lake.
Shoe update: soaked. (Why do I even bother?)
Wow! Lake very much recognizable!
Clouds start to rise. Mountains suddenly appear. Lake even more recognizable… Truly spectacular scenery!
Think found warg-rock not far away from lake… Not sure though. Send fellow traveler up to pose as warg. Hmmm… Could be…. Where’s Bruce when you need him?
Everybody walking about. Reach weather station on top of hill and enjoy amazing 360 degree view. Remind myself that somewhere further down, there are supposed to be 18 fellow travelers. And Vic. Don’t see anybody…
Return to bus at 11am. Head back to Queenstown for some River Rafting on Kawarau River, another location of Anduin. Mighty proud of self for showing courage! Never done rafting before. Very excited now! Let’s see…
Weather update: sunny!
Weather update wearing wetsuit, wetsuit jacket, second jacket, life jacket, diving shoes and helmet: BOILING HOT! … Breathe, that’s the key… Look stupid and feel like astronaut. Barely able to move in extremely tight suit.
Have short chat with Rich, guide for rafting company, responsible for water safety during filming at Kawarau and Arrow River as well as “water stunt double for that blonde dude with the ears”. Nice guy. Looks very elvish, not blond though. Also told us, they put up a whole lot of artificial trees behind Nazgul when filming in Arrowtown. Tricksssy film people! No wonder, we didn’t recognize the place!
Usual safety instructions before boarding rafts. Manage to get into same raft with the only three other fellow travelers from our group, who joined in on this adventure instead of doing the “LotR”-flight or relaxing in Queenstown. Paddle past site of Argonath / ‘pillars of the kings’ right after first small rapid. No pillars of course. But still very impressive. Around the corner: another bungy bridge with some terrified looking person ready to jump.
How comes have to paddle that hard? Legolas & co. looked way more relaxed in movie… Decide to give it a break and join the “Fellowship of the Raft” in river – swimming through the next rapid (or rather grabbing hold of fellow traveler and trusting life jacket to keep me afloat). Great fun! Pleasantly refreshing.
Not quite as easy to get back into raft, though…
Expertly pass two more rapids before get raft stuck on rock. Bugger. Need guide from other raft to push and drag us back into water. Oh well… At least we made it last.
Finally paddle to side of river. Get picked up by mini-bus. Transfer to rafting base for BBQ. Can’t believe just spent an hour on Kawarau River / Anduin. That was SO much fun!
Head back to hotel, quickly change and meet up for dinner before joining group for third showing of TTT.
My personal highlight: Sorry, I can’t decide this time. Kelvin Heights Deer Park was fantastic, wild, pure, original… and very much the middle-earth location you know from TTT. River rafting was, well, river rafting – on Kawarau River on a perfectly sunny day with people I grew to like a lot. Simply great fun! It’s just impossible for me to rank one above the other. Oh, and this movie was pretty good, too…
Day 9 (24.12.02)
Christmas Eve. Weird. Don’t feel like Christmas.
Sleep in. Take short walk at lakeside. Part of group doing LotR-flight today, but join Vic and two others for trip to Amon Hen (Closeburn) and Ithilien (Twelve Mile Delta) around lunchtime.
Stop next to road and walk up hill to location of Amon Hen. Beautiful location! By now completely overgrown with grass and broom but still remotely familiar. Pose as Aragorn for picture, complete with tree branch in hand for sword, to make up for sending fellow traveler up the rock in Deer Park Heights to pose as warg. Didn’t do much to make it look more like Amon Hen though. Apparently am no good as Aragorn either…
Spend a good half hour wandering around and playing Orc-and-Ranger. Now heading to Twelve Mile Delta.
Take Ian’s book as guide and have lots of fun walking along beach speculating which hill is the one that had Faramir standing on it. Am pretty sure we eventually found place where picture of Faramir must have been shot. Can’t recall seeing location in TTT though. Apparently have to watch movie again…Or upcoming extended version. Or ‘Return of the King’. Take some pictures myself and enjoy view of mountains and lake.
Board mini-van and stop at one more location on way back to Queenstown: Moke Lake – basically scenic valley, farmland with cows and sheep, hills and a lake. Apparently SOME filming was done somewhere around this place. Unfortunately couldn’t find anybody to tell us more about it.
Return to hotel around afternoon. Have chat with Kelly, girl from housekeeping. Turns out she’s been one of the Rohirrim (Riders of Rohan). Spend next 90 minutes talking about LotR, filming, horses and New Zealand, before leaving for dinner with fellow travelers.
My personal highlight: Locationwise: Amon Hen / Closeburn. LotR-related or not, it is just a very nice place. Informationwise: Kelly. Probably the most unexpected encounter between towels and toilet paper… It was fantastic to get that much first-hand information on the filming. I have to add that ever since reading the books, I have been most impressed by the idea of Rohan and the Rohirrim, so I might be a bit biased here. But hearing about the unique atmosphere on the set with hundreds of horses and riders, as well as about all the difficulties the riders encountered while shooting the scenes from someone who has been there and experienced it herself, was just great.
Day 10 (25.12.02)
Christmas Day. Still doesn’t feel like it…
Feels much more like last day before the tour is over… Weather setting the mood: dark clouds, pouring rain. Very depressing…
Plan for today: Do a Jetboat-Ride, have Christmas Dinner up the gondola, enjoy view over Queenstown. Hm…. Weather forecast bit of a concern.
Board bus to Glenorchy despite bus driver basically giving us a flood warning. Put on optimistic faces and go anyway. Weather continuously gets worse. Bus driver entertaining us along the way, roughly pointing out locations – only perceivable through layers of clouds and rain – and making us laugh when proudly stating: “Have you seen the second movie? I was a dead body!”. (He also was one of the humans fighting Sauron in the prologue of “Fellowship…”.)
Arrive at Jetboat Company. Not too surprising: all rides are cancelled due to weather conditions and not very encouraging forecasts. Probably wouldn’t have seen much of the scenery anyway, as mountains have basically disappeared in clouds and rain.
Board bus for transfer back to Queenstown. Spend afternoon in hotel lobby with most of the group, just talking, exchanging email-addresses and writing nice things into each others diaries.
Still raining when we reach the restaurant on top of the hill and take our seats around two big tables for our Christmas dinner. Giant buffet, live music, Christmas cracker and a Santa Claus included...
And finally, whatever weather gods there might be in New Zealand or middle earth, they treat us to a special gift by stopping the rain, lifting the clouds, unveiling mountains covered in fresh snow and a rainbow over the city of Queenstown. Simply beautiful. Think just found my Christmas spirit.
Retreat to lounge after dinner. Now truly realizing that this is the last evening we spend together as a group. Recapture events and indulge in ‘Fellowship-spirit’ until restaurant closes and group reluctantly splits up to leave to respective hotels.
Spend more than an hour standing around staircase in hotel lobby with some fellow travelers, talking about this and that or nothing at all, probably most of all trying to seize every minute we have left of each others company. Granted, am dead tired, but ready to spend the night on the stairs…
My personal highlight: Us. Vic pretty much summed it up: What started out as a group of strangers from different countries – united only by their interest in Prof. Tolkien’s and Peter Jackson’s vision – became ‘extended family’ to each other in less than two weeks.
Re-reading my diary now, I almost find it hard to believe that we only spent 11 days traveling together. These 11 days have been filled with so much excitement, so many incredibly friendly people and fantastic experiences at the most beautiful places imaginable that it is awfully hard to leave everybody and return to the day-to-day life, we left behind somewhere in Takapuna on December 15th.
The tour is over. Everybody went his/her respective ways on Boxing Day or the 27th, returning to England, USA, Australia, China or – in my case – to Auckland.
What follows now is not part of ‘the story’ and will perhaps be of little if any informational value. So if you’re one of those people, who can’t wait to leave the cinema after the last word has been spoken, this is your cue. Thanks for bearing with me throughout the whole report!
However, if you are interested in the credits, feel free to read on…
This tour truly was a unique experience. (You probably would have guessed by now.)
A lot of people added to that and made middle earth come to life for us. This report just wouldn’t feel complete to me, without adding a final word of thanks to each of them.
First and foremost there’s Vic James, guide-god and ‘adopted dad’ to all of us. He’s put so much work in organizing this trip and was amazingly cool about literally going the extra mile for individual people to meet everybody’s demands. Throughout the trip, I always felt that he created Red Carpet Tours primarily to share his own enthusiasm for LotR and his home country. Thanks for that!
Same goes for Erica/Tehanu, who (as I understood) has been tracking down locations and people for us, and who I hopefully will meet before I have to leave for Germany again.
Then there’s Bruce Hopkins. He’s just been the best! Always kind and friendly and a fantastic storyteller with a great sense of humor. I’d love to talk to him again, now that we’ve seen the movie… And I’ll never forget how he unwrapped that book from the pillowcase and handed it over to us, trusting that we neither spill drinks over it nor take it and run. (Though quite a few people would have liked to do the latter, I can imagine…)
So everybody, look out for Gam(b)ling, I say! May he ride again!
Tracy from the Powderhorn Chateau…Thanks for your patience and your dedication in showing us around and providing us with so much behind-the-scenes information! And some certain room numbers… leading to truly unforgettable moments and most embarrassing photos!
Everybody on and around the red carpet, especially PJ, Elijah and Alan Lee: Wow! You made my day!
Derek, our guide to Edoras… A true man from Rohan! Great to have him with us to cross the rivers and climb the mountains! And cheers to his daughter as well, also a Rohan-extra, who met up with us in Wellington and shared her impressions of the filming.
Simon & Priscilla, owners of the farm in Twizel / the Pelennor Fields… Awesome! I still envy them for hosting one of the greatest battles of middle earth. Even though the location itself has been merely a flat, vast field, it wasn’t hard to imagine the action.
Ian Brodie. The man with the book. And the pictures. And the stories. And the sword…Without his enthusiasm and persistence in researching the locations and putting together this awesome guidebook, this tour probably wouldn’t have happened in quite the way it did. It was fantastic to finally meet him in Wanaka!
And finally: Rich, the ‘elven’ rafting guide, and Kelly, Rohan-rider in disguise… They have been so much fun to talk to! Thanks for sharing your experiences!
GOOD ON YA, GUYS!!!
My many thanks and all the best wishes to everybody involved in this ‘adventure’! I sure hope to meet you all again one day!