NOTE: Click on any of the photos and then click again to see a much larger version. We think most of these are worth the clicks.

_MG_0928_smallYou can smell it in the air and see it in the water and there is just no disputing that Queenstown, New Zealand is a special place. The Hobbit Fan Contest winners left some pretty amazing experiences at Rotorua and especially Hobbiton Movie Set to climb on a plane at head to the south island of the two-island nation.

More than one fan wondered aloud, “How can they rest of the trip possibly live up to this?” And then Queenstown worked its charms. The area is heavily saturated with Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film lore. And while there was always tourism for the majestic Southern Alps and the Remarkables set around a ski resort town that also happens to be the gateway of the world, there will long be an impact there from the six episodes of Middle-earth Peter Jackson delivered.

_MG_0941_smallBy this point in the journey there were already strong bonds of fellowship formed, even among the journalists (our group code-named “Orcs” while the others were known as “Hobbits” and “Dwarves” and such). We exited one of the most beautiful runways in the world after touching down near Lake Wakatipu and loaded immediately into all-terrain vehicles in smaller groups. I had the very good fortunate to be with an excellent driver Graham, the driving leader from Nomad Safaris, Claudia from Tourism New Zealand and two journalists, one from Mexico (Sil Obregon) and another from Chile (Francisca González Castillo) and the five of us were friends for the day and likely far beyond. Mentioned only because I am confident the same was happening all over our caravan.

The Million Dollar View
The Million Dollar View
An no wonder as we were headed on one of the most remarkable drives I have ever witnessed with my own eyes. Many of the vehicles featured Middle-earth license plates so check the gallery below. Our drive along the lake included a distillation of knowledge from Graham and a stop at what is called the Million Dollar Viewpoint. Each day might be different with weather or light but on that day, it was pretty close to living up to its name. Because of the particles in the water, it reflects the color of the sky, making things particularly interesting. Our goal was to finally arrive where the exteriors for Beorn’s House once sat, where we could dine on honeycakes and marvel at how silly beautiful the area around Paradise is. It also served as the general area for Isengard and a short walk into the bush and it was easy to understand why a couple of mossy-tree shots from forests were captured for the rings films as well. Jackson understood the magic of the greater Queenstown area. (Continued after photo.)


After enjoying the drive it was on to snack past the braided rivers and into a tiny pocket of farm on land surrounded by incredible Mt Aspiring National Park and Mt Earnslaw close behind — and more on that in its own article about Middle-earth mountains from the air. At last, driving just slightly past the spot where the outdoor set of Beorn’s house once set, the group parked and exited for chats, photos and snacks, most having eaten a boxed lunch already provided on the way. It was here that one lucky fan found an over-sized treasure hunt ring and earned the right to sit next to Peter Jackson at the premiere of the film days following in Wellington.

_MG_1052_smallPacking up and heading back to Queenstown, Nomad divided fans between the famed 12 Mile Delta, Ithilien in LOTR, and Queenstown Hill. Our group did the latter and it offered absolutely shocking views of Queenstown and the lake and the mountains and recently served as the backdrop of the Air New Zealand safety video. Graham told us about the battle with the non-native pines that are absolutely unstoppable in the area. Good luck New foresters!

If the day wasn’t full enough, we finally caught a whiff of our hotel but just in time to head directly to the Hackett Bungy area, where the world’s first commercial bungee area opened. It was suggested to media that not many fans were going to be eager jumpers and we better be prepared to step in. That notion soon proved to be impossible. The fans (the reason for the trip in the first place) were more than eager to participate and there wasn’t room for journalists until the next day. While I want to tell you that took the plunge — where by request you can hit the water with your hand, your arm or the full plunge — I was sad to miss it but was off on other adventures that day.

_MG_1116_smallPeter Jackson later told us at the “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” screening that the bridge (before media was asked to leave) bungee experience was a favorite of Orlando Bloom’s during Rings days, and they just couldn’t keep him away from the 43 meter (141 foot) drop off the bridge. Consolation for the media was a zip line and a fantastic dinner of lots of lead ups to either fish and chips or delicious lamb. Jumpers were played live at a giant big screen inside for everybody to enjoy. Post jump, participants were lowered in an inflatable raft. For some, it was the highlight of the trip. Finally it was time for sleep. Fans were at the great Novotel in Queenstown while media was at the Hotel St. Maritz, with which I fell absolutely in love and it was so great, I don’t mind saying so in print.

The following day was pretty diverse for fans and media alike. Tourism New Zealand was spread thin as they sent groups on:
Jet Boat and Canyon Swing Adventure (perhaps more intense than the bungee!)
Cycle Trail Experience
Boat Cruise & Sheep Farm Experience

By the evening the fans were free while the media had a dinner function. however did none of those things pursing Middle-earth mountains instead, which is a tale for another day. Please enjoy the photo gallery.

Other Hobbit Fan Contest content:
Fans welcomed by Smaug at Wellington Airport
Hobbit Fan Contest winners dispersing all over the world
Video: Hobbit Movie Set casts its magic over Hobbit fan contest winners
A magical day at Hobbiton Movie Set features new ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ trailer
New Zealand gives Hobbit winners a grand cultural welcome
Hobbit Contest winners converge in Auckland