Adventures in Middle-Earth

“It’s a dangerous businessFrodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Bilbo Baggins, The Felowship of the Ring


My first foray into the lore of Middle Earth was in 1996. JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was on the Irish Junior Certificate syllabus that cycle. Over the course of a few English classes I was swept up into a world of dragons, caves full of treasure and goblins, elves, men and a trio of trolls. And of course, a dozen dwarves, a wizard and one Bilbo Baggins – gentlemen thief thrown into the mix.

When I heard there was a followup book I started to read that too.

Frodo and the One True… Jellybean! (Jellybean Art installation at the Queenstown Cable Car Station)

When the movies came out I went to the cinema to see the entire trilogy. For Return of the King I actually had to beg my dad to take me when we went to Brussels for a weekend. Luckily there is a lot of battle scenes in the final installment – as I had to contend with both Flemish and French subtitles on the screen.

I got the Extended Edition DVD Box set after that, played RISK: Lord of the Rings Edition and probably some of the best video games on the Playstation 2. I played Warhammer at the time and between myself and my brother Emmet we had a couple of sets of the Lord Of the Rings Minatures. He went with the forces of good, whereas I was busy building an Uruk Hai army.

Together we passed our passion for LOTR onto our younger brother Cameron.

Living in London afforded me the opportunity to dine at Gandalf’s pub – The Grapes – in Limehouse.

When I arrived in Sydney back in 2014 one of my first events was to go to a 1 day screening of the Extended Edition of the Lord of The Rings Trilogy at the Hayden Orpheum.

These days I spend my time doing some LOTR artwork, quoting the movie with fellow enthuasiasts at work, playing Howard Shore’s excellent soundtrack at my infant son’s bath-time, he really likes the ‘Lighting of the Beacons’ score and we are slowly making our way through the Hobbit audio book on Spotify.

I would not say I am obsessed with LOTR – but I have managed to fit it into my life.

At this point you are wondering why I am writing about this topic on a Travel Blog? Well living in Sydney, Australia means that we are only a short flight away from New Zealand. We are only a short flight away from Middle Earth….

Auckland Airport “The Gateway to Middle Earth”

They are taking the bloggers to Isengard

At the north end of Lake Wakatipu is the little village of Glenorchy. It acts as the gateway to Paradise, the Routeburn Track and the Mt Aspiring National Park. In LOTR terms it is Isengard, Amon Hem and Lothlorien and the snow capped mountains beyond are the Misty Mountains.

North of Glenorcy, on the Te Araroa Bypass is a small bridge across the Dart River. It is from here that you can get a glimpse of Isengard (minus the CGI Orthanc of course!) – Mount Earnslaw and Mt Aspiring providing the backdrop.

Paradise was the setting for Beorn’s House in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The exact location is on private grounds (Arcadia House) but the backdrop is inescapable, roling pastures and misty mountains.

Further up the road past Paradise is a break in the forest called Dan’s Paddock. It is here where the sequence that Gandalf rides up to Isengard was shot. The high peak of Mt Earnslaw towering above the paddock was also used to portray part of Misty Mountains.

Behind the picture of our hire car is a forest glade that was used to portray the Fellowship entering Lothlorien.

Isuldur’s Folly

20 Minutes east of Queenstown in the picturesque village of Arrowtown. We used it as a base to explore Wanaka and the nearby Gibbston Valley Wine Region by bike.

It was also a good opportunity to get in some more LOTR locations.

The Bruinen Ford was located 200m upstream from the Miners’s cottage. Here you will see where the Nazgul tried to cross the river after being taunted by Liv Tyler’s Arwen (‘If you want him, come and claim him!’). The subsequent flooding of the river was shot further upstream at Skipper’s Canyon.

A liitle further down the river, back towards Arrowtown, is a track that mirrors the river. It is here in the dead of winter that the Ambush of Isuldur takes place where the One Ring betrays him, and he is shot by Orcs from the Misty Mountians.

Finally down near the wineries we have the Kawarau River running parallel. This doubled for the Anduin River that the Fellowship paddled down to reach Amon Hen and is where the Argonath (Pillars of the Kings) were digitally placed.

Behold the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings!’ cried Aragorn. […] 
      Great power and majesty they still wore, the silent wardens of the long-vanished kingdom. 

Aragorn, The Fellowship of the Ring


I think we should get off the road

While climbing Mount Victoria in the heart of Wellington we had a strange feeling that we needed to vacate the path…This was the spot where Frodo listened out for the approaching Nazgul.

Wellywood

No trip to Wellington could not be complete for a LOTR fan without taking a pilgrimage tour of Weta Cave and its Studio Tour. Located in Miramar this Cave is a treasure trove of props, weapons, suits, dioramas and lore.

Established in 1987 this visual effects company reaches far beyond the work of Sir Peter Jackson and Middle Earth to encompass a catalogue that includes Blade Runner 2049 ; Alita Battle Engine ; Hellboy and the Last Samurai to name but a few.

The Tour involved a lot of history of Weta and a creative demonstration by one of the designers as well as lots of items to ooh and aah over. We were allowed to take only a few pictures as a lot of the creative gems inside do not belong to Weta – but the clients they work for. I will divulge that I did get to go up close and personal with a fully operational M12 Warthog from the Halo Series.

To start the tour one must first come to grips with Tom, Bert and William. The Three Trolls from The Hobbit.

Inside the Studio and shop is all manner of artwork, large scale models (epecially of Azog from The Hobbit) and lots and lots of armour and weapons. Of particular note was a collection of Orc and Goblin swords and helms.

The stand out piece for me was a replica of King Theoden’s helm and armour – as seen most prominently at the Battle of Pelennor Fields in the Return of the King. Just looking at it gives you goosebumps as you recall Bernad Lee’s stirring battle speech.

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake, fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

Theoden, Return Of the King

All Movie Stills courtesy of New Line Productions. Location hunting primarily inspired by the excellent work of Ian Brodie and his location guides.

On my next trip to New Zealand I hope to scout more of the Locations – especially Hobbiton (outside of Auckland) and sup some ale at the Green Dragon Inn.

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