GLENORCHY, NEW ZEALAND — Without question, Queenstown is a wonder. It is so beautiful that it is on the verge of being absurd. It is grand with lakes, mountains and forests and deserves every accolade it receives.
But it isn’t Paradise — or Glenorchy for that matter.
If Lake Wakatipu is shaped like a Harry Potter scar, Queenstown sits at the horizontal point just before the final descending line. If you climb in your car and drive across that horizontal bar and up to the top point of the lighting bolt, you will arrive at Glenorchy. (After a stunning drive on some roads that demand real courage.)
As you navigate the roundabout to get into town, a few signs point out accommodations and if you look you might catch site of the Glenorchy Golf Club where I am told the toughest thing about the course is finding somebody to play with.
With a population of around 500, depending on the season, it supports a lodge or two and some cafes.
Horse treks start from the area or prepared visitors can begin on the Routeburn, Caples, Greenstone, Rees and Dart Valley walking tracks. Or, you can find the Dart River Jet Safaris and hire the company to take you on a jet boat adventure ride that displays some jaw-dropping mountains with glaciers constantly feeding the ever-changing rivers that feed into the lake.
So, nice views. And honestly, after being gobsmacked by Queenstown, turns out it was just a warm-up.
For Lord of the Rings fans, there is an added bonus to all this: Paradise was the filming location for a bunch of places in the movie trilogy and a gaggle of other films as well. Boromir took his final breath here. Sauron’s tower was nestled amongst the trees here and the Fellowship (minus Gandalf) entered Lothlorien, all from Paradise
The Hobbit is here as well, or it was recently. (Yes, buried that nugget all the way down here in the story) With a set that caught the attention of travelers, newspapers and websites, that is part of the tour now too but how long it stands is anybody’s guess. After it is gone physically, it will grow into another feature on the tour for the guide to talk about.
Representatives explain the plague of rabbits, possums and stoats here to visitors. They show the paradise duck for which the region was likely named. They give lessons on the three kinds of beech trees. They point out landmarks like lover’s leap and they elaborate on the many Merino sheep but poor grazing ground but they know a good number of people want every Lord of the Rings tidbit possible.
Guide Rod, who drove us through Paradise (the set is on the way to the jet boats) knew his movie locations. Locals said we missed some filming by a single day involving horses and riders with hoods. The equine actors are important to the region’s tourism trade and were in full display for the tour along with Hobbit production tents and port-a-johns. Not exciting internet fodder but in 2013 when all has been revealed, guides will point to the hill on such tours and list whatever moments from The Hobbit take place there.
The jet boating was fun too. Really fun. But I couldn’t keep my eyes off the scenery and I would have been just as pleased going slowly and soaking up all the visuals.
But, it must be said, a fair number in the tour were talking about LOTR scenes before the guide said so much as a single word about it. It was the focus for some but it was of interest to nearly all. The Hobbit will presumably renew interest for a slew of fans and bring in a whole new group.
But, the real star of the tour was the visuals. My heart may belong to Queenstown but my eyes were taken by Paradise.