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Finish: Mt Cook
Mileage: 480K / 299 miles
Site Visited: Edoras
As we left Christchurch for Potts Station and Edoras, our guide Anwen noted that wed passed our last stoplight for the rest of the trip six days. The South Island of New Zealand is rough golden country, much different from the rich green landscapes of the North Island. We drove west across Canterbury Plain, an agricultural area with open fields west of Christchurch.
Our guide Anwen and her father Derek both worked as Rohan extras at Edoras, so during the ride they told us stories about life on set. Anwen worked at Edoras in late September 2000 for two days, as a Rohan villager and as a refugee. Typical of Peter Jacksons attention to detail, the filmmakers asked the extras if they had other family members present so they could actually be grouped as Rohan families.
Anwen is the Rohan villager stirring soup when Eomer enters with the wounded Prince Theodred. Shes also in the scene where Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf head toward the stable, after Hama announces the removal to Helms Deep. Of her memories of the principals, she says Orlando was very energetic and enthusiastic, Viggo was in character nearly the whole time, and Ian McKellen would ask her how the soup was coming.
Her father Derek Carver joined us for the Edoras visit in his Gandalf costume. Derek appears in several scenes, as the last villager to kneel when the rejuvenated King Theoden is presented, and among refugees straggling into Edoras. Derek remembers having to wear a cape when leaving the extras tent to avoid being seen by spies, and sitting on the steps of the Golden Hall discussing Tolkiens languages with Ian McKellen.
Our bus had a CD/DVD player, so we prepared by watching the scenes from The Two Towers, and then listening to the Edoras/Rohan theme music as the site first came into view. All this just helped set the stage emotionally. After leaving the main road, we traveled down a long gravel road, stopping at a ski lodge near Mt. Potts to change clothes and get into our stream-crossing and hill-climbing gear. The lodge was closed, but I think the key was under the mat. You can still do that in New Zealand.
Mt. Sunday (Edoras) is a glacial moraine formed some 20,000 years ago. It is located at Mount Potts/Erewhon Station (Nowhere spelled backwards you may have read the novel by Samuel Butler), a huge, high country merino sheep farm that goes back to the mid-19th century. The Rangitata River divides it from its neighbor Mesopotamia Station, so named because it lies between two rivers. Everyone seems to quote Samuel Butler, so I will as well: Never shall I forget the utter loneliness of the prospect the vastness of mountain and plain, of river and sky.
Rugged does not do justice to this landscape its barren, windblown, big sky country with wide, flat, golden plains between stark hills and old, braided rivers, surrounded by the high Southern Alps that could easily be the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains. It feels utterly isolated, and absolutely like Rohan.
To reach Edoras itself, we had to cross three streams. They were cold and rather fast running, but not too high. Our fellowship made it across safely by going in teams and linking arms. Then we had to climb to the site of the Golden Hall. Believe me, its the only way to do it. We approached the same way Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli did, though without horses, and the climb gives you both a sense of accomplishment and a real feel for the geography of the town and the Golden Hall.
We spent nearly an hour at the top, eating our picnic lunch, walking the sites of the stables, the stairs, and the Golden Hall, and photographing the surrounding Southern Alps and the open plains. I sat on the ground by Meduseld and read The King of the Golden Hall.
Anwen and Derek explained that there were two sets, upper and lower, at Edoras, with the upper set consisting of the Golden Hall and the stairs. A beloved sheep dog belonging to the owner is buried on Mt. Sunday, and he asked that the grave not be disturbed. So the bell tower was built over the grave. Unseen in the film are the two access roads, one for each set, that were built on the back side of Mount Sunday to ferry up people and equipment. Like the stunning sets, they are no longer there.
We had arrived at Edoras in mid-morning, when there was still fog in the valley and on Edoras itself. By the time we left, much of the fog had lifted, so on our way out we were able to photograph Mt. Sunday against the sweeping background of the Southern Alps.
For many fellowship members, Edoras had been their favorite location in the films or books and was their favorite location on the tour. We stood where Eowyn had stood, where Aragorn ran up the stairs, where Gandalf rode away on Shadowfax with Pippin, where Theoden ordered the muster of the Rohirrim, and we had to push ourselves a little bit to get there so we appreciated it all the more.
From Mt. Sunday we stopped in the rural farming town of Geraldine for tea, then headed into Mackenzie Country, named for Scotsman James McKenzie, who pioneered sheep ranching, and sheep rustling, back in the 1850s. We passed the base of Lake Tekapo and the lovely small church of the Good Shepherd, an appropriate name in a region where sheep are so important. We continued on many miles in darkness on a road along the shores of Lake Pukaki to the foot of Mt. Cook, New Zealands highest peak at over 12,000 feet and where Sir Edmund Hillary trained for Everest. Its the most remote place Ive ever been.
If you are in the area with limited time and want to visit Edoras, there are several day tours from Christchuch and Methven that go via 4 wheel drive, and even a helicopter tour. You can find a selection at nzto.resultspage.com.
Tomorrow: The Pellenor Fields and The Great Chase