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EPIC LOCATIONS - A VOYAGE TO MIDDLE-EARTH
 
(2014 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: CEIDRIK HEWARD



While this can be achieved with a computer, Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson wanted to use real locations to add maximum impact to his films. He had planned to make Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit many years ago and, having lived in New Zealand all his life, he imagined setting these stories in the spectacular scenery this cluster of small islands offers.

Hobbiton

The Alexander family quietly farmed sheep and cattle on their property near the small central North Island town of Matamata until Peter Jackson flew over it scouting locations for his upcoming Lord of the Rings trilogy. With its rolling hillocks and established trees, it was the perfect Hobbiton. The set was rebuilt with permanent materials when he came to film his Hobbit trilogy.

Today you can take an organized tour around the village that has become one of the most recognizable film sets in history. Hobbiton is within easy reach of Rotorua, a small city built around a thermal area and offering the visitor an insight into Maori culture. Hobbiton and Rotorua are easy day trips from Auckland.

Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island are a popular destination for boaters and fishermen. Unlike other areas of New Zealand that attract the international tourist, the Marlborough Sounds are where you’ll meet Kiwis on holiday. The inter-island ferry from the capital of Wellington to Picton travels along Queen Charlotte Sound. A few miles away, the Pelorus River flows from the Richmond Ranges into Pelorus Sound, the largest waterway in the Marlborough Sounds. This attractive little river with its gorges and bush is popular in summer for camping and river swimming.

Peter used this river to film the dwarves floating in giant barrels in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Stephen Hunter, who plays dwarf Bombur, said this experience was his favourite day of filming. You can enjoy this exact location for yourself by taking a pleasant riverside walk or joining a guided kayak tour. This part of the country is where you can engage in the authentic laid-back lifestyle of New Zealand in gentle scenery that speaks of tranquility and solitude.

Fiordland Area

The South Island contains some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Its jagged mountain ranges, dramatic lakes, sweeping beaches, awe-inspiring fjords, glaciers, huge waterfalls, moonscapes, lush forests and lost valleys have become magnets for international filmmakers.

Lake Pukaki, with its unusual milky green water, provides perfect reflections of Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, the one Kiwi climber, Sir Edmund Hillary used to practise on before his successful ascent of Everest. It is another popular summer holiday destination for Kiwis who enjoy the hot sunny days and the open spaces found here.

Peter chose this area for the shores of Lake-town, the largest outdoor set for the Hobbit films. Located beneath the magnificent Southern Alps, this region also incorporates Mt. Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. The Tasman Glacier is another one of the natural wonders in this alpine wonderland. In 2008, TripAdvisor ranked Milford Sound the world’s top travel destination. Of course, this region is also known for the Milford Track, long considered “the finest walk in the world.” It was discovered by Quintin McKinnon, who explored the region in 1888, so last year, the track celebrated 125 years. The Milford Track extends 53 kilometres from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound and takes five days to complete. You can rest overnight in provisioned huts that are strategically located along the track.

The equally impressive Routeburn Track is also located in this scenic wonderland. It starts at the head of Lake Wakatipu and passes a number of small lakes and waterfalls, as well as hidden valleys and jaw-dropping views over mountain ranges en route to the Tasman Sea. Native birds, including the cheeky kea and the friendly bush robin, accompany you in the forested portions of the walk. These walks get quite crowded from December through to April, with January being particularly busy.

One of the world’s longest waterfalls, the Sunderland Falls is seen as the eagles fly the company of dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf to Carrock in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This spectacular waterfall plunges 580 metres in the heart of Fiordland. You need a plane or helicopter to see it with any ease. There are many parts of Fiordland still unexplored, that’s how remote this dramatic part of the world is!

 I used to be a TV cameraman and worked here on many assignments. I was always amazed by the quality of the light. It makes the colours more intense. The sky is a very deep blue and the trees a deep green. There is a special magic in the silence too, a silence occasionally broken by the call of a distant bird or the rushing sound of a far-off waterfall. The Fiordland area is very elemental. Billowing clouds suddenly appear from behind a mountain range. It rains. The sun comes out and the landscape glistens like a scene in a children’s storybook. The air is filled with the sweet scent of wet grass, rocks and trees. I can safely say the senses are wonderfully stimulated in this part of the world.

Paradise

Queenstown sits at the base of The Remarkables. This mountain range became the mythical Misty Mountains in the Hobbit films. Known as “the adventure capital of the world,” Queenstown is located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

The aptly-named Paradise is 20 kilometres from the little settlement of Glenorchy at the head of this lake. Here Peter set Beorn’s house for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It also features as the outskirts of Bree in this movie.

The beech forest found near Paradise Valley hasn’t changed in 80 million years, so it is little wonder Peter was excited when he discovered this magical part of the world for his Hobbit films!

Travel Planner

Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.ca) has direct non-stop flights from Vancouver to Auckland and offers flights from many other North American cities. For more information about New Zealand, please visit NewZealand.com.         

A number of tours of the various filming locations are offered. A two-hour tour of Hobbiton near Matamata costs NZ$75 per adult (hobbitontours.com). A two-hour kayak trip on the Pelorus River costs NZ$95 (gobook.co.nz/nelson-marlborough/kayaking-on-the-pelorus-river). Half-day Paradise Safaris to Lord of the Rings and Hobbit locations cost NZ$139 per adult (infotrack.co.nz/lord-of-the-rings-tours.html). For information on Milford Sound tours and things to do, visit milford-sound.co.nz.

 
 
 
 
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