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Red Carpet LOTR Locations Tour: Day Five
Xoanon @ 7:47 pm EST
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Mileage: 150K / 93 Miles (estimate, not counting flight from Wellington to Christchurch)
Sites: Lothlorien, Isengard Gardens, Minas Tirith/Helm’s Deep, and the elven cloak factory
Stansborough Fibres Ltd. (the elven cloak factory)
Our first stop was the Stansborough Fibres shop in Wellington. Stansborough manufactured the Elven cloaks used in Lord of the Rings and has the license to sell them, but their story is much bigger than that.
Everyone’s heard about all the sheep in New Zealand, but Cheryl and Barry Eldridge’s are very special. Starting with Gotland sheep, they have used embryo transfer and other breeding techniques for ten years to evolve a unique breed, called Stansborough Greys. Bred to provide high quality wool for worsted fabric, they are raised on the 3000 acre Stansborough Farm in the Wairarapa Valley.
What is fascinating about Stansborough is that their use of high technology is in the agriculture, not the manufacture. They may use embryo transfer to develop a unique breed, but the fabric is woven on two rare antique looms from the 1890s in a manufacturing area behind the shop. The Eldridges are involved in every aspect of the wool business from breeding the sheep to selling the products online. After shearing, the wool is hand sorted by color and texture, carded (combed out), dyed with natural color fast dyes, and then spun into fiber. Cheryl explained that the same color dye will yield a different result, depending on the natural color of the wool. Finished products are then sewn and tailored from the spun fabric.
Lord of the Rings costume designers saw samples of their fabric in New York, loved the “silky, soft, and lustrous” wool and tracked them down. They wove over 3200 yards of fabric for the elven cloaks used in the films. Stansborough fabric was also used in Gimli’s tunic, numerous soldier’s mantles, the Ring Wraiths' robes, and some of the hobbits’ pintuck jackets. Several members of our fellowship purchased elven cloaks or scarves, wraps, and throws made from this unique fabric.
Barry and Cheryl’s business continues to diversify. It’s possible to stay at the farm in the Wairarapa. They design fabrics for architects, boutique hotels, interior designers, and offer baby goods, corporate gifts, and other lines. They sell fabric to designers and raw wool to spinners and weavers. They are now also breeding alpacas for wool.
And the film work has also continued: They have designed fabric for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and plan to obtain a license for Narnia fabric products. More on Stansborough, including their online store, at stansborough.co.nz.
From Stansborough we drove to Fernside, in the Wairarapa region about an hour northwest of Wellington. This estate was used for the Leaving Lothlorian and Deagol and Smeagol/Gladden Fields locations.
Fernside is a lovely Georgian English country house dating from the 1920s, complete with a large English garden and a lake. Our Lothlorien guide Mike, who works as the gardener on the property, met us in full Middle Earth costume. He told us he attended the Wellington Return of the King premiere and had his sword signed by Orlando Bloom and Andy Serkis, though drawing the sword in the crowd also got security’s attention at first. (not to worry, it’s not live steel.)
The scenes of the Fellowship leaving Lothlorien, saying farewell to the elves and floating down the Celebrant to where it joins the Anduin, were filmed here in winter, in early 2000. More than 200 people were on site, and the house itself was used for editing. The original bridge on the lake was embellished with Elvish motifs and details, and a large Lothlorien mallorn tree was built on the side of the lake that served as the river. The mallorn and the Elvish motifs are gone, but Fernside still looks and feels like Lothlorien. The bridge, trees, and lake are still there, and it is very easy to imagine that Galadriel’s farewell and the departure of the elven boats took place not long ago (see gallery).
Mike explained that in October 2000 cast and crew returned to film the Deagol and Smeagol scenes that open The Return of the King, noting that visitors enjoyed re-enacting both the finding of the ring and Deagol’s murder.
After Fernside, we had lunch in Martinborough, the center of the Wairarapa wine region, known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Here I learned the location of Peter Jackson’s new house in Masterton, when I mentioned to a bank teller that I was on a Lord of the Rings tour. I didn’t ask for the information; she volunteered it and told me exactly how to get there to see the turrets from the road. Alas, there was no time, though it would have been lovely to see The Bag End set in its new home. Read more about the Wairarapa and its attractions at wairarapanz.com.
Harcourt Park – The Gardens of Isengard
Heading back toward Wellington, we stopped at Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt, site of the Isengard Gardens where Gandalf and Saruman walked, where Gandalf arrived in Isengard, and where the orcs cut down the trees that fell into the underground factories. (The trees used were not from this park. Location Guide author Ian Brodie explains that the trees used were harvested elsewhere, cut into pieces, and re-assembled on set so they could survive repeated falls, calling them “the famous hinged trees of Isengard.”)
Both the garden path where Saruman and Gandalf walked, and the path between the two trees where Gandalf rose into Isengard, are very easy to recognize.
Winstone Aggregates – Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith
The Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith sets were built in the Winstone Aggregates quarry in Lower Hutt, close to Wellington. The sets are gone, but from the road outside the quarry and from the other side of the highway you can get a good picture clearly showing the outlines of the hills behind Minas Tirith.
We returned to Wellington and flew to Christchurch, saying goodbye to our hosts Vic and Raewyn James. Our South Island guides Anwen Carver and Bruce Holtshousen met us at Christchurch. Our flight was late due to fog, so we didn’t arrive at the hotel until around midnight, and leaving no chance to see any locations from Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures.” We consoled ourselves by thinking of the next day….
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