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Start: Mt. Cook
Mileage: 269 K / 167 miles
Sites Visited: The Pellenor Fields, The Great Chase
Twizel -The Pelennor Fields
Todays principal location was the Ben-Ohau Station outside Twizel, where the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King was filmed. At the ranch we met owner Simon Cameron, his daughter Sarah, and her friend.
Twizel is still in Mackenzie Country, where many people from Scotland settled to establish sheep ranches. Simons ancestors came around 1860, and they have been raising sheep on Ben Ohau Station since 1897. After World War I, many soldiers settled in the area and the large stations were split up. The original property was 85,000 acres, and long precedes the development of the town of Twizel, which was established for people working on hydroelectric projects in the area in the 1960s. Currently the Camerons have over 14,000 acres where they raise very high quality merino sheep, known for their fine wool used for clothing. They have about 5000 merinos, who, to maintain their fine quality wool, receive a uniform diet and wear jackets over their fleece.
Simon explained that he had set up a website, primarily to promote their award winning super fine and ultrafine merino wool. The site also mentioned the beauty of the land as a film location, and it was from the website that the location scouts found the ranch.
The site negotiation process took over two years. An access road was put in so the support area with its many tents, trailers, and vehicles could be set up. The road was built record time – just 1 ½ days for the three miles and remains on the site.
Simon said he always dreamed of marrying a film star, and he finally got his wish. The only problem was that his wife Priscilla played an orc! (See photo of Sarah holding a picture of her mother in orc battle dress.) Among other celebrities, the family met Peter Jackson, Bernard Hill, and Kirin Shah, and Orlando Bloom gave Sarah tours of the set and staging areas.
Filming at the ranch took place over three weeks in September and October, and the days were long, with a 4AM call. The stars stayed in Twizel or arrived by helicopter.
Because rabbit holes would present a serious danger to horses and riders, senior citizens from the area were employed to walk the fields and fill in any rabbit holes. When Simons father, whod battled rabbits on the ranch for years, saw that, he said, Now Ive seen everything.
On the biggest day of filming there were over 1000 people on the site. Many extras who played Rohan riders came to the site with their horses and vans and stayed there, so it was very like an encampment. Often there were 250 horses on the site. Horsemen came from as far as the Calgary Stampede in Canada.
Simon mentioned that Peter Jackson had wanted to do a Nazgul-view shot of the battlefield requiring a helicopter but wasnt able to. Instead, cranes were brought from Dunedin and Queenstown and cameras mounted on them for the aerial shots.
Simon explained the complicated setup used for the battle scenes, with separate lanes for riders, and camera and crew to ensure safety, and showed us where Theoden and the Riders of Rohan entered, swept down from a rise of hills, and raced into the legions of orcs and other enemies. He described how the ground shook from the thunder of the horses hooves.
The land where the battle took place consists of rolling, open golden plains, with a few small hills, a perfect setting for Theodens charge. Framing it from behind are the snowcapped peaks of the Ohau Range, playing the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains between Rohan and Gondor. You can just see them a bit through the fog in the pictures.
Sarah continues to find souvenirs from the production on the ranch. They include numbered bridle tags used to identify the horses and also bits of fiberglass armor torn off by the extras because it made sitting the horses uncomfortable.
Two other scenes were filmed here: the scene of Gandalf riding out to repel the Nazgul from Faramir and his rangers, and the scene of Gandalf and Pippin crossing a stream on their way to Minas Tirith (this one is in the photo gallery.)
You can learn more about the Camerons and Ben Ohau Station at http://benohau.co.nz/index.html the website that led the location scouts to them!
After visiting Ben Ohau, we continued through Omarama, where we stopped for lunch, and on through the Lindes Pass toward Otago and the gold fields to reach Clyde.
Tarras The Great Chase (Arwen, Frodo, and Black Riders)
On the way we stopped at the area outside Tarras where the great chase in The Fellowship of the Ring was filmed. This land is not accessible to the public. However, from the road you can easily see the pine trees and the paths among them where Arwen and Frodo were chased by the Black Riders. Jane Abbott, Liv Tylers riding double, worked here for about three weeks, and Liv was on set for five days.
The OtagoValley growing region is a wine known for its Pinor Noir, which does well in the areas sandy, stony soil, dry climate, and hot weather. Our guides told us that Viggo Mortensens favorite was from the Mt. Difficulty vineyards in Bannockburn.
We stayed at Olivers in Clyde, an old gold mining town, where Billy Boyd had also stayed. At dinner we were entertained by a trio of local musicians, the Middle Earth Minstrels, playing music from Lord of the Rings. Our guide Anwen also morphed into Arwen, complete with wig and red and black dress! You can learn more about historic Olivers and see the property at http://www.olivers.co.nz/.
Tomorrow: Rohan (Poolburn locations) and Location Guide author Ian Brodie