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Finish: San Francisco
Film Sites Visited: Rivendell, Anduin, Rohan
Other: Final thoughts and suggestions
Rivendell is my very favorite location in both books and film, so I couldnt leave Middle Earth without seeing it. It is on the Red Carpet Tour agenda, but the day we went to Stansborough, Fernside, Martinborough, Harcourt Park, and Winstone Aggregates Dry Creek Quarry, I think we were running behind schedule and had to get to the airport for our flight to Christchurch. Not a problem, I went there on my own after returning to Wellington from Queenstown.
The Rivendell sets were located in Kaitoke Regional Park north of Upper Hutt, about an hour north of Wellington by car. There are also a number of day tours from Wellington that go there check tourism.net.nz for a list. (if this link does not go direcly to it, you may have to navigate through from tourism.net/nz/wellington or type in by hand). I met a group from Flat Earth Tours while I was there, and the guide very kindly shared his set map and explained exactly where the sets and support tents had been.
There are signs to get to the location, and a large sign explaining where everything was. A set map is very handy though, or use Ian Brodies GPS coordinates in the location guide.
Standing in front of the informational sign, directly to the left you see the tree where the Orlando Bloom publicity stills were taken, of Legolas holding his bow and notching an arrow. Right behind you as you face the information sign was the porch for the Council of Elrond. On your way out at the end of the circular path, in the open area, on your left were the dressing rooms, and on the right, Frodos bedroom.
It is well worth taking the time to go to Rivendell and to linger there. Even though the sets are gone, the park itself, a beautiful temperate rainforest, is Rivendell come to life. I was there in the early morning, and as the sun rose and the forest warmed, the light patterns changed and I could see steam rising as dew evaporated. Its quiet yet alive, and it feels safe and protected by Elronds power. The leaves rustle in the wind and you can hear the river. Its easy to imagine there are elves nearby.
Heading back to Wellington from Kaitoke I stopped to see two Hutt River locations near Upper Hutt, the shore where Aragorn landed after going off the cliff and was revived by Brego, and yet another spot where elven boats sailed the Anduin (in the gallery but not easy to recognize).
As Sir Ian McKellen said, Middle Earth is a real place, and its New Zealand. Its not only possible to go there, its possible for YOU to go there, whatever your age or wherever you live.
There are lots of options: you can do a Lord of the Rings organized tour as I did, go totally on your own, or go partly on your own and partly with local day tours. Each has tradeoffs.
Looking back, for me one key reason for going with a specialty tour like Red Carpet was their passion for and knowledge of the trilogy, the fact that they had actually worked with the Alexander family in Matamata and encouraged them not to proceed with the removal of the rest of the Hobbiton set. So in a way, they actually helped save the Shire. Others were the opportunity to meet and talk with people actually involved with the production and whose lives and work had been changed by it, and the sense of fellowship that seems to be created, almost by magic, on each tour.
You will come as strangers to a distant land and part as a fellowship of companions who have shared a unique experience, exploring the length and breadth of the country that became Middle Earth. So predicts the Red Carpet website (redcarpet-tours.com), yet that was my experience and that of many people Ive heard from. The number of people repeating the tour a second, or even a third, time, and the reunion tours speak powerfully to that. You cant decide to sleep late one morning or wait til the light is just perfect for your shot, but thats part of the trade-offs.
You need never feel strange about being a Ringer in New Zealand. New Zealanders are proud of their countrys accomplishment and recognize the trilogys influence on decisions to visit. Bruce Lahood, Vice President for USA & Canada at Tourism New Zealand, notes, The Lord of the Rings and other successful recent films have helped position New Zealand on the world stage as a unique destination inspired by our diverse landscape, unique culture and the creativity of our people.
Figures from the Ministry of Tourism for the two years ending in March 2005 suggest that over 21,000 visitors were directly motivated (only or main reason) by The Lord of the Rings, and they spent over $100 million dollars on their visits, or more than $26 for each of New Zealands 3.8 million residents.
Not surprisingly, more than 75% of those influenced by the trilogy were inspired by the landscape of Middle Earth. Richard Taylor, who largely responsible for the inhabited Middle Earth we see on screen, has described it: There is still an innocence within the landscape, an untouched blessed feel this environment that feels as though mankind has not yet visited it.
Each person has different experiences and brings back different memories. My fellowship mate Robin summed it up well: Do you remember the scenes on the Anduin, each member of the fellowship drifting in his own sea of thought and impression? The days on the bus were like that, for me. We traveled together, but we were each insulated by our own experiences, every sense wide open, gathering in, holding onto the moments, stringing them together like pearls.
Indeed, as in the trilogy itself, the journey is about fellowship and about memory. Ill always have the map of our journey and my location guide, signed by Ian Brodie and decorated by Daniel Reeve, my bits of charcoal from Poolburn, my photos and stories, my memories of our weather goddess Suzanne, who blew away the fog at Edoras and brought us blue skies at Hobbiton, and our Sam, Robin, ready with her elven rope, her pencils, her bits of chocolate, her right answers for the trivia contests, and many others.
Fellowship mate Christie will always remember Edoras: The whole trip was magical, but especially so on that day we climbed the mountain in the mists. Part of the magic was the mists themselves, clinging to the hillsides and mountains as we journeyed from Christchurch out into the Southern Alps. Then hiking the high country sheep pastures and fording the cold wild mountain streams in order to reach Mt. Sunday .
And for Carmen it will be about facing challenges: if I had to choose, I would say that visiting Mt. Ruapehu on the second day is a memory I will always cherish. It was a site that I had to work for more than most given my fear of heights. Every step of the way, I was encouraged and literally given a helping-hand. Seeing what looked like an insurmountable stretch of snow and rocks, I convinced myself that I couldnt make it. But kind words from another tour member, and yet another helping hand, made me give it a try. I am forever grateful for the kindness of our tour group. It wasnt the only time during the two weeks that I was propelled along by their generosity and encouragement, but it was the first time I realized what a blessing it was for me to have been on this particular tour.
What will your memory be?
Where to go for more information? A search for Lord of the Rings and New Zealand yields 307,000 hits on Google. Here are some I found interesting that give information and photos of sites, and provide a good introduction to the country:
An older site, but featuring an interactive tour narrated by Karl Urban
This site has interactive version of Daniel Reeves map of New Zealand as Middle Earth
Others you might want to visit are:
Thanks to TORn for running this story, to the many readers whove written, to all the special guests who gave of their time, to our knowledgeable and courteous Oceania bus drivers, and especially to all my fellowship mates and the Red Carpet folk.
Questions or feedback? Email me!