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Start: Te Anau
Mileage: 232 KM / 144 miles
Film Sites Visited: Ithilien, Amon Hen, the Ford of Brunien
This morning we drove from Te Anau back to Arrowtown, an old gold mining town well worth a visit. We visited a site on the river, where the Ringwraiths on horseback gathering at the Ford of Brunien (the Arrow River) were filmed You can recognize it from the shoreline and the rivers pathway. Our visit was in the morning, after an overnight frost. All the trees were covered with ice, making the setting look like a vision from the witchs kingdom in The Chronicles of Narnia (see gallery).
In Arrowtown, we had lunch at Saffron, a lovely restaurant visited by Elijah Wood. (http://www.saffronrestaurant.co.nz/) By lunchtime it was warm enough to east outside. Near the restaurant is a small theater, Dorothy Browns Cinema, featuring a wine and cheese bar, a fireplace, a bookstore, and a wonderful collectibles shop inside, well stocked with Lord of the Rings merchandise. Read a feature on this wonderful little cinema from Air New Zealands Panorama magazine at: http://www.dorothybrowns.com/dorothywho.php. An amazing place in a town with less than 2000 people. Sam Neill, one of the pioneers of the New Zealand film industry as actor, director, and screenwriter, lives outside Arrowtown.
Arrowtown is definitely a place to linger (which sadly, we couldnt do). The town developed almost overnight in the 1862 gold rush. A few years later, many Chinese people also came to mine gold. Today, the old main street has been restored, with lovely old buildings (post office, jail, miners cottages, Chinese settlement), a museum, cafes, and very much an old mining town feel. Read more at: atoz-nz.com or arrowtown.org.nz/.
After lunch we drove to Queenstown, about 25 minutes away, to visit the locations of Amon Hen and Ithilien. Amon Hen, the Site of Seeing, where Frodo and Aragorn spoke and where Aragorn battled the orcs at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, is in the neighborhood of Closeburn, just outside Queenstown.
We walked up Geary Lane from the Queenstown Road to reach the site. Amon Hen was one of the first big battle scenes filmed, late in 1999. It was very hot then, being summer in New Zealand, and the orcs and uruk-hai in their heavy costumes were weary after so many battle takes. You can easily identify the rock formation where the Amon Hen set stood, the mountains behind it, and the larch tree to the left of the set. Look also for the trees on the hill behind where the orcs entered, from the right, to engage Aragorn in combat after he waves Frodo to run away.
Interestingly, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh now own the land where the Amon Hen battle was filmed. It seems appropriate in some way that the Site of Seeing should be owned by the people who have created these astounding films, and enabled Tolkien fans around the world to see the world of the books.
From Amon Hen, we proceeded a little further out of Queenstown to the Twelve Mile Delta area, where a number of scenes representing Ithilien were filmed. Most easily recognized is the small plain where Faramir and his rangers battled the Haradrim. Many extras played Ithilien rangers one day and Haradrim the next! Many prop arrows made by Weta Workshop were collected from these fields you can see some in the Nomad Safaris shop in Queenstown! Also in this area are the ledge where Sam, Frodo, and Gollum looked down on the oliphants, and where Sam and Gollum argued about recipes for coneys.
We passed the Coronet Peak Lodge: The Cirith Ungol scene where Frodo says, Go home, Sam. was filmed on its squash courts. The scene was actually completed with Sean Astin filmed a year later, but the hotel allowed the set to remain on the squash court. We also drove by the elegant Blanket Bay Lodge where Sir Ian McKellen stayed. No, we didnt stay there, as rooms start at $NZ 1290.00, plus tax, but you can live vicariously at www.blanketbay.com.
On a stroll through the small downtown, we passed Wine Deli.com, where Viggo Mortensen bought wine for himself and chocolate for the hobbits.Cast and crew spent a lot of time in Queenstown, as filming spread over 14 months. The town was badly flooded in November 1999, just after filming began. Apparently, you could row a boat through downtown. Cast and crew helped out with both time and money during this difficult time.
Tomorrow: Queenstown excursions with Nomad Safaris and a visit to Deer Park Heights