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Mileage:131 K / 81 miles
Sites: Rohan (Poolburn)
Special Guest: Ian Brodie, author of The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook
After a hearty homemade breakfast at Olivers we headed out to our major site for the day, Bonspiel Station at Poolburn in the Ida Valley of Central Otago, where a number of Rohan sites for The Two Towers were filmed, passing by the gold mining town of Ophir on our way. Bonspiel Station is owned by Sue Falconer and her family (her husband Keith sadly passed away last year). The site was found by helicopter location scouts. (The term bonspiel, by the way, means good game or good play as used by the Scots, and the term is also for a curling tournament.)
Poolburn is Peter Jacksons favorite accessible location; his other favorite, Norwest Lakes near Te Anau, is reachable only by helicopter. In Ian Brodies location guide Peter notes that Poolburn had the epic scale needed for the plains of Rohan: It also had a sense of scale. Whenever you can put a camera down, and literally see 50 km in one direction, and have no power poles, no houses, no roads, its just expanse, it suddenly gives the film that kind of epic quality of tiny figures in this big landscape. (Extended Edition, page 16, with picture)
Sue Falconer was our guide, joining us in our bus as far as we could go before getting out and trekking, just like the Fellowship members and the orcs. She explained that filming at Poolburn started in early 2000. Crew came from Queenstown and Wanaka to build sets, disguise existing buildings with false fronts and thatch, and temporarily remove fences. Sues family did not work as extras but a number of locals were hired to be people of Rohan. Everyone in the area benefited from the film production, not just the extras but the many merchants who benefited from the money spent in the towns by the production company.
Walking through Poolburn, one of the first sites we visited was the Rohan village on the lake, where the orc attack took place and from which the refugees fled. The terrain and lake are very recognizable, and we could see the existing buildings that had been given false fronts and covered with thatch. The Rohan refugees fled through two burning huts in the foreground of the scenes, toward the camera. The huts were constructed and then burned on location. We could see many burned timbers, nails, and the foundations of the two huts still there, and several of us took tiny bits of charcoal as souvenirs – a small thing but something real from the production. Sue even helped us find charcoal and nails.
We also saw visited several sites that appear in the pursuit of the orcs by Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in their attempt to rescue Merry and Pippin all easily recognized. We saw Aragorns rock, where he listens for the orc troops movement, and where he found the Lothlorien brooch Merry dropped as a signal and says, Not lightly do the leaves of Lorien fall. From here we walked to the hollow where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli first hid, then came out to meet Eomer and the Rohirrim, and where the Rohirrim surrounded them. (see re-enactment photo where our Gimli challenges Eomer, surrounded by Rohirrim.)
Next we visited the Eastemnet Gullies where the orcs ran carrying Merry and Pippin, and re-enacted the scene in which one orc says, What do you smell? and the other answers, Manflesh. Seeing all these locations within a half-hours walk really made us feel like we were in an historical Rohan where these events had actually taken place.
Like many ranches, Bonspiel Station has diversified its businesses beyond raising sheep and cattle. The Falconers also raise pine trees commercially and have on the property an old gold miners tavern and cabins which can be rented.
A Visit with Ian Brodie
Heading back from Poolburn we had lunch in Alexandria before proceeding to Wanaka to meet Ian Brodie. We met Ian at the Wanaka Airport, home to the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum, of which he is Director. Ian Brodies book, The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook, has sold more than 275,000 copies and is one of the top 5 best selling books in New Zealand. Ian has written many books on aviation and explained to us that none had sold anywhere the number of copies as the location guide.
Ian talked to us about the research and writing of the book. He had met Peter Jackson, also a historic aviation enthusiast, at airshows throughout New Zealand. He spoke to the New Zealand Tourist Board, who were eager for someone to do a book on the Lord of the Rings locations, recognizing that increasing numbers of visitors from around the world would be inspired to visit New Zealand and would be interested in visiting the film locations.
Working January to June 2003 Ian identified 150 locations by word of mouth. Later, working with producer Barrie Osborne he got access to the call sheets to locate even more. Many locations are not in the book, because the owners didnt feel comfortable having their property included. Locations on private property cant be mentioned without specific permission. Ian used photos from the production and his own visits to all the locations to illustrate the book. He said he found it interesting that the book is shelved in different sections in different stores. Hes found it in travel, Tolkien studies, and film sections.
Ian explained that he was a fan long before the films were made. He first read the books in 1973 and even has t-shirts from the 1970s. His favorite location is Glenorchy, where the Wizards Vale was filmed, and said he was a regular visitor at www.theonering.net. He still keeps in touch with people from the production, noting that Barrie Osborne visited Wanaka in December. Following the success of the book, hes enjoyed lecturing about Tolkien and the films on cruise ships and at fan conferences including RingCon in Berlin. He is currently working on Cameras in Narnia which will cover The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
You can get an autographed copy of Ians book if you order through http://www.aotearoa.co.nz/lotr.htm
After leaving Ian, we had a chance to practice our archery skills at Have-A-Shot in Wanaka, which was great fun and gave us a renewed appreciation of Orlando Blooms archery skills.
Tomorrow: the Mavora Lakes region, including the edge of Fangorn Forest and the breaking of the fellowship, and the Redcliff Café.