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Sites: Queenstown overview, the Argonath, Gladden Fields, Rohan, journey to Minas Tirith, exit from Paths of the Dead, Corsair Ships
Today was a free day in Queenstown. This allowed us to try a variety of local excursions on our own. Queenstown is a totally unique place. It has a population of about 11,000, a small town really, but it is the adventure capital of New Zealand. The streets are filled day and night with young people, and it seems like every shop in downtown is a place to book an adventure trip of some kind or to buy outdoor clothing or gear, if its not a restaurant or café. A new Starbucks was under construction.
Good thing we were focused on visiting Lord of the Rings locations, otherwise how would one choose among bungy jumping, hang-gliding, skiing, snow boarding, jet boating, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, trekking, sky diving, hot air ballooning, mountain biking, fishing, and river surfing? And thats just whats available in winter. There are also less strenuous pursuits such as visiting the areas wineries, cheese and dairy operations, or sampling its more than 100 restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs. You can get a good overview of all that Queenstown has to offer at queenstown-nz.co.nz or zqn.co.nz or everythingqueenstown.com
Nomad Safaris Excursion
My morning excursion was with Nomad Safaris, on their Safari of the Rings tour. Nomad Safaris, with 14 vehicles, has the largest fleet of Land Rovers in the Southern Hemisphere and has won numerous New Zealand tourism awards. Each vehicle had a personalized license plate mine was BILBOS, and driving around we also saw ELROND and ORCS. They have been doing Lord of the Rings safaris for four years, but have been in business for eight years prior to that. David Gatward-Ferguson, the head of Nomad Safaris, has met Peter Jackson.
We covered a lot of ground and a number of sites in our Land Rover. We re-visited Amon Hen and Ithilien outside Queenstown and the Ford of Bruinen in Arrowtown. Nomad Safaris can now drive right up Geary Lane into the Amon Hen site. In Arrowtown, they drive up the Arrow River to the site where the Ringwraiths stopped at the shores of the Ford of Bruinen.
Our guide Fran used to live in Masterton, where Peter Jacksons new house is located. She has worked as a bus and ambulance driver and a farmer in addition top being a tour guide and safari driver. Shes nearly died three times, in a car accident, by drowning, and by electrocution. Nothing fazes her.
Fran told us an interesting story about the Ford of Bruinen site, where Arwens confrontation with the Ringwraiths took place. According to Fran, a section in the river is known as Arwens Island. Frodos scale double did not want to do this scene, so the 10 year old daughter of a local resident played Frodo. Its the following scene, where Arwen conjures the flood which swept away the Ringwraiths, that was filmed at Skippers Canyon, on the Shotover River outside Arrowtown. We stopped for morning tea on the riverbank, where Fran unpacked a picnic basket of tea, coffee, chocolate, and a selection of cookies.
In Arrowtown, we also visited the Gladden Fields location where Isildur was attacked by orcs and went into the river. The overhanging trees on the path that curve to the left are the best reminder of the attack scene.
We continued to the access road to Coronet Peak Ski Fields lookout, driving up for a view of the Remarkables, which were used for the Misty Mountains, Mordor, and the digital background for Minas Tirith.
One of the safari highpoints was the site of the Pillars of the Argonath. This was filmed near Chard Farm on the road toward Wanaka. Look down from Chard Farm Road, and in the middle distance, where the river widens out slightly, you will see where the elven boats went through the Argonath and where the digital pillars were placed.
From our vantage point we could see across to A.J. Hacketts original bungy site, the first commercial bungy jump in the world, opened in 1988, on the Karawarau River. We saw someone jump but couldnt hear them from where we stood. (Orlando Bloom and other cast and crew members jumped from Nevis Highwire, another A.J. Hackett site, which is 440 feet high.)
We returned through Frankton, near the airport, and with stops for views of Queenstown, the Remarkables, and Lake Wakatipu from Goldfield Heights. This is just one of the Safaris of the Rings there is another half day tour that covers Glenorchy and Paradise, or you can do both in a full day.
The Nomad shop in Queenstown is well worth a visit for its wide range of Lord of the Rings collectibles, including statues, books, jewelry, stamps and coins, and numerous other items. The arrows in the display case were collected at the Ithilien site at 12 Mile Delta, after the battle between Faramirs rangers and the Haradrim. Learn more about Nomad Safaris at nomadsafaris.co.nz.
Deer Park Heights Excursion
Following a quick lunch break, I set out on my second excursion, to Deer Park Heights.
Deer Park Scenic Tours is currently the only operator able to take buses to DPH, although the park is open to the public. To reach Deer Park Heights, head out of Queenstown toward Frankton to the access road toward Kelvin Heights, crossing the Karawarau River. The tour also stops at Goldfield Heights for photos on the way. Yes, this retraces the way Nomad Safaris returned us to Queenstown.
Deer Park Heights is a nearly 2000 acre working farm which raises red deer. There are many animals in addition to the deer in the park, and we encountered them as we drove through. They include yaks, bison, Romney sheep, goats, small fallow deer and Himalayan thar. Most are quite acclimated to visitors and usually approach the van for food, especially when the food tin is rattled. Deer Park Heights was a film set as long ago as 1986, when the Walt Disney film The Rescue was filmed there. The prison set from this film remains at the top of the hill near the East Lookout.
Deer Park Heights is a Lord of the Rings location hunters paradise. Ian Brodie calls it one giant movie set. A significant number of scenes were filmed here, representing Rohan, travel to Minas Tirith, the exit from the Paths of the Dead, and the view of the Corsair ships, among others, in a relatively small area. The locations are well marked with signposts, and each visitor received an identifying map at the entrance. More info at thedeerpark.co.nz.
At our first stop, at the East Summit Lookout facing the Remarkables, we saw where several publicity shots of Gandalf were taken.
One easily recognizable scene filmed here is that of the Rohan refugees walking past the lake. This is the larger of two tarns (mountain lakes excavated by glaciers) on Deer Park Heights. Also filmed near this tarn were some scenes of Gandalf riding to Minas Tirith in Fellowship and again with Pippin in The Return of the King. Nearby is the mountain wall where Aragorn exited the Paths of the Dead.
If youve seen the Rohan rider publicity photo from The Two Towers, that scene was filmed here as well, identifiable from the small thorny bush in the lower right of the photo. It was near here that Eowyn, Aragorn, and Gimli discussed Dwarvish women, and Gimlis horse bolted. Gimli fell to the ground at the second, smaller tarn.
The rock where Aragorn sat when Eowyn brought him the bad tasting stew is nearby, somewhat harder to recognize (see gallery). Other Rohan scenes filmed here were the Warg attack and where Legolas vaulted up on his horse The hill from which the wargs attacked slopes to the right, but was reversed in the film. The orcs themselves were filmed against a blue screen in Queenstown, riding barrels. The spot where Aragorn was dragged off the cliff is here as well (though where he landed is up on North Island, near Upper Hutt.)
From the West Summit Lookout we saw the most spectacular and obvious location: Where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli see the corsair ships sailing up the Anduin. This shot was taken looking back towards Queenstown over Lake Wakatipu.
Our guide told us that Peter Jackson owns other land in the Queenstown area, near Arthurs Point and Gorge Road. Look for a small white house on the left, heading north from Queenstown, with a sheep paddock on the other side of the road. He owns land on both sides of the road. Apparently there is an arrangement whereby the two people presently living there can remain for the rest of their lives.
There are many, many excellent Queenstown area excursions that visit the film locations or combine a locations visit with other activities, covering Queenstown, Arrowtown, Skippers Canyon, Glenorchy, and Paradise. You can visit the sites on horseback, by jet boat, in a canoe, on a mountain bike, by 4-wheel drive, or in a helicopter. The Everything Queenstown website at everythingqueenstown.com has a full page of Lord of the Rings excursions and I am sure there are many more.
Our Red Carpet group tour came to an end with a farewell dinner at the Skyline restaurant atop Bobs Peak in Queenstown, which we reached by cable car gondola. From the observation deck we viewed Jupiter near occultation with the moon. Learn more about the Skyline complex at: skyline.co.nz/index.cfm.
Questions or feedback? Email me!
Tomorrow: Back to Wellington for Rivendell and Final Thoughts