QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND — Queenstown is the kind of place where people come and never leave. In fact, talk to a few dozen folks in town and chances are good a few of them wandered into the place and never found their way out.
If it isn’t already, get it on your bucket list.
The mark of the Lord of the Rings films are still indelibly written here and to a degree that might surprise. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu with majestic mountains on either side, this busy adventure town looks a good bit like cinematic Middle-earth because many times this regions served as such in Peter Jackson’s films. In fact, the list is too long to include comprehensively here.
With a town big enough to have good food, amenities and lodging suitable for stars, it is also on the frontier and a gateway to much of the South Island. But, cultural and financial residue from the LOTR films is still readily apparent and especially to a writer who wears a “One Ring” jersey around town.
But lets start with arriving. The Queenstown Airport, among the very most scenic places you can land anywhere, features two versions and plenty of copies of Ian Brodie’s Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook in a prominent, eye-level display.
You can also hop in a taxi and have a driver called Tim, who during the first Middle-earth filming period, played an extra at nearby Deer Park Heights. (Sadly now closed to visitors.) He charged CGI wargs but lost money when he cancelled taxi days to play an extra only to have those days postponed, and then never watched The Two Towers to see if he made it into the film! (He did see and enjoy the other two films of the cinematic trilogy.) How he was as an extra is unknown but he was an ace driver. But it isn’t all about the past.
The name “Orlando Bloom” is seemingly on every wagging tongue in town, particularly when The Hobbit is mentioned and it serves as a headline marketing strategy to sell newspapers as well, showing up prominently in street edition teasing headlines only to contain a paragraph or two and a mugshot inside. It is hard to realize that the last time this circus came to town, Bloom was an absolute unknown who could walk the town at his leisure without any difficulty from fans.
One helpful merchant recommended a spot to catch the city’s favorite adopted son for breakfast but it seems it is the worst secret in town. (Apparently everybody eats breakfast there now and Vudu Cafe & Larder has excellent eggs benedict.)
Martin Freeman was rumored to have eaten at a gourmet pizza destination Winnies three nights in a row. Ian McKellen went to the cinema in town to see the latest Twilight movie.
A careful glance at brochures at the Mantra Marina (a highly recommended place to stay just outside of Queenstown) tell even more of the story. At least half a dozen Middle-earth tours have brochures from there trying to lure visitors into signing up for excursions of all descriptions; Horse tours or jeep tours or air tours or combination tours of all kinds are available. One, Nomad Safaris, has its own prominent storefront in town filled with LOTR swag in the window. The brochure promises “A journey through Middle-earth” (and they were smart enough to lower case ‘earth’ as J.R.R. Tolkien would appreciate) with two trip options.
(Why nobody is marketing bungee jumping to experience Gandalf’s plunge into Moria is beyond me. Hey . . . Hmmm. With the right investor, perhaps there will soon be TheOneRing.net bungee experience. If I do make it to a jump, I will surely be telling anybody watching, “Fly you fools!”)
None of this takes into account the tours with a bigger scope, such as TORn friends Red Carpet Tours that visit the whole of New Zealand with Queenstown playing only a small but significant part.
In the city a high-end jeweler boasts a LOTR advertisement notice in all three of its windows, right alongside watches, gold and diamonds. LOTR remains important to the local economy and culture. While there is so much more to this island nation than a few movies where it represents Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the reach of the films definitely extends beyond the cinema and is still connecting with people from everywhere who find themselves here.
Spectacular Queenstown, quaint Queenstown, hip-but-relaxed Queenstown, has plenty of Middle-earth around the edges and next summer, after The Hobbit hits theaters world wide, folks enjoying the January summer, will have a whole new group of tourists and renewed enthusiasm from existing fans for this lovely little corner of the world.
Many will come and some will never leave.