There is a gigantic mountain just nearby, which I have probably mentioned once or twice before. It featured rather prominently in the film version of The Lord of the Rings as the brooding Mount Doom, the ultimate destination of the hobbits and where the ring was to be taken to be destroyed. That mountain is Mount Ngauruhoe, and I have a whole post about climbing it for your enjoyment.
However, that is not the end of the story when it comes to parts of Middle Earth and the surrounding locale, even if Mount Doom is the key drawcard.
A whole range of other Mordor based scenes were filmed in the Tongariro National Park area, and it was with this in mind that we set off for a bit of an exploration. If you’re not into Lord of the Rings, I’d still recommend giving these spots a visit as the scenery is stunning even without fantasising about orcs and hobbits wandering around.
Our destination for this venture was the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, the largest mountain on the North Island, and the location of multiple scenes from the films.
From the main state highway past the Tongariro National Park, SH47, it is a short drive up past Whakapapa village to a car park and the hub of the North Island’s main ski field, a place known as the top of the Bruce. So called because this is the Bruce road. And the car park is, you guessed it, at the top of it.
From here, in Winter, hordes of skiers park their vehicles and hop on the chair lifts for some of the southern hemisphere’s best skiing. In summer however, there is rather less snow, and instead people come for the hiking opportunities, one of which is the walk up to the crater lake at the top of the volcano, an excellent day hike that I am hoping to do soon.
The area at the car park is much like you would expect a ski resort in Summer to look like. This being a high ski resort on the side of an active volcano, it isn’t pretty alpine trees, babbling brooks and joyful birdsong. Rather, you should be thinking giant grey mountainous slopes, boulder fields, and huge cascading waterfalls as a result of the snow melt. In fact, you should be thinking of Mordor.
Two key scenes from the films are in easy walking distance of the car park. The first, and easiest to get to, is the scene from the original battle of the first alliance, where Isildur chopped the ring off Sauron’s finger.and started the whole ring disappearing problem in the first place.
From the car park you walk up to the bottom of the ski chair lift (which operates in Summer as both a scenic ride and shortcut up the mountain), head on past it, and after about a 200 metre walk, you come to a giant wall sticking out of the ground. It was on this plain that the scene was shot, and it’s not hard to imagine why.
On the day we visited, the cloud was hanging low and grey over the mountain, and the main slopes of Ruapehu were shrouded and foreboding. Beyond the wall was a sheer drop down into a river valley, which wended it’s way away from Ruapehu and towards the conical shape of Mount Doom. Not too much imagination was required to populate the whole area with orcs, elves and lords of evil. No signs were apparent – one of the stipulations of the filming contract was that everything had to be returned to the state it was in once filming had ended, which I thought was a bit of a shame, particularly as so many people come through to take a look at these spots. Still, with the scenery around you being what it is, the imagination part isn’t too hard.
The other main scenery that was shot in this area was Emyn Muil, the mountainous area which surrounds the river Anduin. If I am talking gibberish to you right now, then you are likely to remember it as the rock filled landscape that the two ring bearing hobbits, Sam and Frodo, spend a great deal of the second film being lost in, before Gollum “finds” them and leads them out. With the grey clouds swirling about, and endless jagged rock spires all around, this particular scene needed very little imagining to bring to life.
From what I can tell, pretty much the whole area fits the scenery of Emyn Muil, but key parts, including where Gollum was captured by the hobbits, were filmed around four hundred metres or so from Isildur’s sword swinging scene, near where the river wends through the Whakapapa gorge. A great view of this can be had from the ridge above the valley.
For those of you with GPS receivers, which is most folks with a modern phone these days, the exact co-ordinates of the two sites we took a look at were:
Emyn Muil: 39° 14.177’S 175° 33.670’E
Isildur’s sword swinging antics: 39° 14.114’S 175° 33.522’E
I’d highly recommend taking the time to visit these spots, even if you are just passing through, the surrounding scenery and views of the western half of the North Island are more than worth it, and the bonus lord of the rings link is the icing on the cake.
You can find a full list of filming locations in New Zealand’s national parks on the excellent Department of Conservation site, here.
Also near me at the moment are Ithilien and the Black Gate of Mordor itself, locations which I will report upon in a future post.
For more photos from this adventure, check out the site’s Facebook Page, where an album of additional photos has been posted. Enjoy!