The End of All Things

Mt Doom, as represented in the Lord of the Rings movies, was a computer generated image, not a real location – though it could have been, for New Zealand has no dearth of suitable volcanoes! The most likely candidate would have been Mt Ngauruhoe, one of the three active volcanoes on New Zealand’s Central Plateau, which form Tongariro National Park – the other two are Ruapehu and Tongariro.

Ngauruhoe is the smallest of the three – it is a subsidiary cone sitting on top of the much more massive and formless Tongariro – and it is the most perfectly shaped. No doubt the artists who created the concept art and matte paintings seen in the movies, derived much of their inspiration there!

Some of the best views of the mountains are from State Highway 1, “Desert Road”, which passes the volcanic plateau to the East. On the western side of the plateau, State Highway 4 passes through Ohakune, a skiing and holiday village with an access road to Mt Ruapehu, and National Park, where one can branch off for access to Whakapapa Village and Whakapapa ski field.

Whakapapa village consists mainly of the Chateau, an iconic hotel sitting at the very feet of the great volcano, and where one can sit and have a nice cup of coffee – or hot chocolate, if the weather is as evil as it was on a couple of my visits to the area! Suitable footwear and warm weatherproof clothing are recommended – and are absolutely mandatory if one wants to tackle one of the several hikes available in the area, for the weather changes swiftly and can turn very cold and nasty within a very short time.

Whakapapa ski field was the location for a number of the film shoots involving Frodo and Sam traveling though Mordor and the Emyn Muil, as well as the epic battle between Elves, Men, and the Dark Lord’s armies, which features in the very beginning of the first movie.

Whakapapa Ski Field Road offers some excellent views of Mt Ngauruhoe, and those who do not suffer overmuch from vertigo, can admire the view across the ravine which borders  the area where filming was done, at the bottom of the ski lifts. You can spot the very rocks where Frodo has his last drop of water, before the very final leg to reach the Mountain of Doom, and bring about the End of All Things.

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The Breaking of the Fellowship

The Mavora Lakes – North and South Mavora Lake, that is – are nestled between two mountain ranges just across the lake from Queenstown. To get there, however, one must first drive all the way around the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, then circle back from the main highway to Te Anau, via some 40 km of unsealed road.

One is well rewarded for braving the trip. Eventually, the road branches off to the right  – incidentally, this spot appears in “The Two Towers”, when Gandalf summons Shadowfax — yes, THAT scene!) — and enters one of the Southern Beech forests which are so typical for Fjordland. Passing South Mavora Lake, it eventually arrives at a DOC campsite at the southern tip of North Mavora Lake. Like all DOC campsites, the facilities are very basic, but the location!!! It is a popular spot for hiking enthusiasts, as well as the occasional school class.

The sunrises at Mavora are a very special spectacle. The location is nestled between two mountain ranges, and it takes the sun a while to climb on top of the mountain range to the east. If you are an early bird, you can watch dawn descend and wander down the mountain flank to the west, until the bright star appears and the light is switched on down on the ground.

The film location proper can be reached via a short walk up the hiking path on the eastern lake shore. As the walkway enters the forest, you can spot the location of the orc battle to your right. A little further on, there are still some traces left of heavy vehicles widening the walkway – down on the beach is the spot where the fellowship lands and sets up camp together for the last time, and where Frodo makes the tough decision to continue his way alone. Looking across, it is easy to recognize the “Eastern Shore” which Frodo and Sam are trying to reach in their boat – in actual matter of fact, it is the western shore of the lake, but such is artistic freedom. 😀

I have visited this location on three or four occasions – these photos were all taken on a two day visit in 2007, when amidst a rainy Fjordland autumn, we managed to catch a bright blue sun, and wind- and cloudless day. The last time I dropped by, however, I spent a day lying on my belly in my tent and reading a book (The Left Hand of Darkness – all of it) while the rain poured relentlessly down outside — no chance to take photos on that occasion!

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On the Paths of the Dead

One of the most stunning film locations is just round the corner from where I live: the Putangirua Pinnacles, less than an hour’s drive from my doorstep, down by the Wairarapa coast. The location can only be reached on foot – about half an hour’s walk up a rocky river bed, from the signposted parking space and DOC campsite off the Cape Palliser road.

The first set of photos was taken on a bright sunny day in February 2007 – I have to admit that I can’t recall the shoot, one of quite a number of visits I’ve made to this location, even before I shifted to the Wairarapa. It must have been hot – February, around here, is the height of summer.

The second set was taken last November, on my “new” (not so new any more!) Sony Alpha DSLR camera. This shoot I do remember quite clearly: I’d been planning to go down to the coast, but the day dawned rainy and not very promising. Toward afternoon, it looked like it was clearing up a little, so on a hunch, I decided to go anyway: either it would be a complete waste of time, or I might be in for some spectacular light effects! Lucky for me, the second was the case: after walking up to the site in drifting rain, by the time I arrived, the sun did break through, and the play of light and shade made you well believe that there was an entry into a realm of the dead, somewhere up at the head of the ravine.

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The Road to Edoras

The location where the film set for “Edoras” was built – which features in “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” – is a remote river valley in Central Canterbury, c 3 hour drive from Christchurch, 45 minutes of unsealed road inland from Mt Somers, near Methven.

It is an impressive drive through highland pastures framed by the outer ranges of the Southern Alps, and one can well imagine being in Rohan. The road roughly follows the course of the Rangitata River, and delves down into the river valley a short ride past Lake Clearwater, where there is a settlement of summer houses (usually deserted, except in the holiday season around Christmas), and a campsite with *very* basic facilities.

Coming down into the valley, it is easy to spot the elevation where the “Edoras” set was built, and which seems to go by the name “Mt Sunday”. It is a smallish rocky hillock, rising from between the meandering arms of the Rangitata river, which flows through a wide open pebbly flat at this place, and is framed by high mountain ranges on all sides.

I have visited the location on three occasions: when I first arrived in New Zealand in 2003, in autumn 2007, and again in early summer 2008, as part of a three and a half week tour of the South Island.

On that last occasion, I drove my car over a piece of scrap metal which wrecked my tyre, on the way out. For some strange reason, in all my many years of driving, I had never had to change a tyre, so here was an opportunity to learn that skill quick – as it was verging toward evening, and there was little chance that anyone would still come by, on this little frequented road, so late in the day! Consequently, I arrived at the location a good hour later than I had planned, and just managed to find myself a sheltered spot to pull up the car, for an improvised campsite. I was rewarded with a very Tolkienesque experience of camping under a sky of blazing stars, and fetching my water from the spring rain-filled little brook that was gushing past my camp.

The sunrise photos were taken on my second visit in 2007. I am not usually a morning person (*at all*), but if there is one thing that can lure me out of bed in the early morning hours, it’s the prospect of shooting morning moods in an out-of-the-world gorgeous location like this one. For some reason, I’ve never found it very hard to get up early for that purpose!

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A Day in The Shire

Back in 2007, I had the opportunity to spend a whole day on the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata. I’d taken the tour the previous day, with my mother, who was over on a visit. I’d done the tour before, but it is worth doing a second time!

At the time, I was working on developing my drawing skills, and took every opportunity I could to make sketches of New Zealand landscape. Of course it tickled me mightily to try and do a sketch of The Real Bag End! So I’d  taken my sketch pad, and while the rest of the tour was busy clambering about, I found myself a quiet spot and sketched away.

In the short time, I wasn’t able to produce anything I was happy with (I have gotten much faster since!) – so on the way back, I gathered my courage and asked the friendly lady who had taken the tour, if it might be possible to get permission to spend a bit more time on the set in order to do a sketch? She spotted the owner of the farm (and the tour business) on the road, jumped out the bus and asked him.

So the next morning (after I’d stocked up on a set of new pencils) – they took me in with the first tour, and let me stay, largely unsupervised, until the end of the last tour. Plenty of time to do a pretty decent sketch, AND wander about with my photo camera to take  as many shots of Bag End and surroundings, as my heart delighted in: in the sun, in the rain, with the shadows getting longer toward evening … I even unobtrusively strolled off, between tours, to the bits where they don’t take the visitors – the location where Frodo’s first meeting with Gandalf was shot. Which satisfied my curiosity — but there really wasn’t anything much worth shooting there, I can assure you! 🙂

The set has since been renovated, to serve again for the upcoming film version of “The Hobbit”. Unfortunately, that also means they can’t be so generous about having people take photos any more: from what I’ve heard, visitors who do the tour now must sign a non-disclosure agreement. The good news is, apparently the plan is now to leave the set in it’s movie-ready state: at the time the “Lord of the Rings” movies were shot, no one could predict what a major tourist attraction it was going to be, and the plan had been to demolish the set after filming. It’s only thanks to some rains setting in early, that it is still there at all! (well —— at least, that’s the official version) 😉

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