The ongoing quest for middle earth

Red berries snow covered mountains New ZealandI know I know. It’s starting to become a bit of an obsession. More so than the lighthouses. Even Vera is starting to think I’m getting a bit weird with all this Tolkien searching. But still.

Since I’m in New Zealand, and I am a slight Lord of the Rings fan (addicted since I was about five I think, when parts of the book were read out at a class assembly for some reason), it seems to make perfect sense to me to visit as many of the filming locations as possible. Even if that quest occasionally leads to disappointment.

This quest also makes sense from a scenic viewpoint. After all, the most beautiful parts of the country were usually the ones that were chosen for the film – so hunting these out, even for a complete non fan, results in some epic rewards. I like to tell myself that anyway, when driving endlessly around housing estates in the rain. Anyway.

Coming down the West coast the pickings were a little slim. Ok, so the views were awe inspiring. And of course, the southern alps were used for quite a few scenic shots, and also for the dramatic lighting of the beacons scenes. But as it stood, I wasn’t about to go scrabbling around on the tops of snow covered mountains to find some ash. I’m not quite that crazy yet.

Lake Wakatipu  blue sky mountains

Once over the Haast Pass however, and into the Otago region, the outlook improved considerably. Near Wanaka for example, in the Mount Aspiring National Park, the fellowship battled their way through the snow in an attempt to go over the mines of Moria. We stood within at least 10km of this spot on our walk to the Rob Roy glacier, and I’m sure parts of the same snow were visible through the clouds.

Between Wanaka and Queenstown we took a slightly circuitous route, which lead us past a large open plain dotted with pine trees. To some, this would look like a large open plain dotted with pine trees. To others, it was clearly where Arwen outrode the Nazgul whilst taking Frodo to safety.

Flight from the Nazgul

From there it was down to the Kawarau bridge. To a few people, this would be famous as the location of the worlds first commercial bungy jumping station. Ok, for pretty much everyone. But if you stand on the bridge and peer up and down the gorge, and use your imagination just a teeny bit, you can imagine some gigantic kingly statues populating the gorge, for the scene featuring the Pillars of the Kings.

Well, ok, so you do need to use quite a lot of imagination for these entirely computer generated statues. But the thought is there. Alternatively, you can watch people throw themselves off a perfectly good bridge attached to some elastic. The choice being yours.

Pillars of the Kings - Kawarau Gorge

Our self guided tour, which was becoming ever more indirect the further we went, next took us to Arrowtown. This is a wonderfully quaint little town, just a little bit north of Queenstown. It is the sort of town you might imagine ye olde townes of yore to look like, complete with ye olde posteshoppe and so on.

As well as ye olde touriste stuff, it also has a highly informative tour of a former gold mining town, which was solely populated by Chinese gold miners.

Chinatown in Arrowtown. A bit like Hobbiton but without the round holes

But of course, that wasn’t why we came here. No. (Although ye olde ice cream shoppe and ye olde pie shoppe were pretty darn goode). We came here to look at the river which was used as the Ford of Brunein, which was where Arwen summoned the river to sweep the Nazgul and their rather unfortunate horses away.

When we visited, there were some optimistic looking gold panners and not one black rider in sight. Presumably they were well and truly washed and not willing to try the whole thing again.

Ford of Brunein - Arrowtown

Since we were in the area already, we decided we may as well take a little wander along the river to where Isildur was ambushed and the ring lost, all those ages ago. Yes, it’s some wood and a dirt track. But the thought is there at least, and the name from the film, the Gladden Fields, feels suitably impressive. Plus it was a rather nice day for a wander.

Finally we headed towards Queenstown, past the rather un snow covered Coronet Peak, behind which are some more Ford of Brunein locations. Unfortunately this was down a 4WD only track with some seriously scary warning signs up which we felt we were ok for once to pay attention to. So we missed out on that, much to Vera and Bernie’s relief.

The Gladden Fields

Just a little south of Queenstown, near the airport, there is a place called Deer Park Heights, upon which Warg riders battled with the refugees of Rohan. After quite a long time driving around a rather expensive looking housing estate, and getting some rather odd looks from the locals, we concluded that the huge fence around the park was probably going to be a bit of a issue in terms of getting to the actual scene of the Warg battle. Still. We got close, and you could see most of the hill. Not every journey is going to be a total victory.

Across from Deer Park heights is the quite frankly remarkable Remarkables mountain range, which is yet another ski field, home to the exit of the Moria mines. These mountains tower impressively, and cannot fail to wow even the most hardened of minds. My mind being fairly soft, I can confirm that I was more than wowed.

Cloud coated mountains by Lake Wakatipu 2

Our journey then took us on past Queenstown, with the road heading up along Lake Wakatipu - New Zealand’s longest lake. The road is incredibly scenic, with the deep blue of the lake set against majestic snow capped mountains. Add a few Milka cows and we’d be in chocolate advert heaven.

Along the way to Glenorchy there were a couple more locations to watch our for – one where Sam boiled his Coney’s, much to Gollums disgust, and one just near here where Sam and Frodo happened upon a column of marching oliphaunts.


These days this is a Department of Conservation campsite. We could have camped there, surrounded by invisible imaginary oliphaunts, had we so chosen to. Instead we camped at a totally un Tolkien location where the night was so cold that ice formed inside the van. Which was different.

Finally, our epic Tolkien adventure brought us to Glenorchy, the town which sits at the head of the lake, and is mostly famous for being the starting point for the Routeburn track, regularly rated as being one of the top ten hikes in the world.

Our frozen and scenic campsite

We did actually walk a part of that track, which will come up in another, entirely non-Tolkien themed post, but to stay on topic, Glenorchy was mostly made famous as being the main filming point for much of Isengard. Obviously gigantic black towers were not in sight, but the general theme was there. Apparently nearly everyone in the town was roped in to be an extra, including a number of horses from the nearby Dart Stables.

Thus concludes a slightly geeky (ok, very geeky) tour of some, admittedly less than major, scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mount Doom and Hobbiton these were not. But stumbling upon (or studiously hunting out) these scenes from the movies does get us to places that we may not otherwise have thought to visit. And as the scenery is always incredible in New Zealand, it has always been worth it. Until the next time…

Ice crystals

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