The Road to Lorien

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Middle Earth New Zealand 2013 photo calendar now available

The main location for the “Lorien” scenes in Fellowship of the Ring is located along Paradise Road, out of Glenorchy, at the Western tip of Lake Wakatipu, a 50 km curvy drive from Queenstown. The landscape is stunningly beautiful even for New Zealand, where there is stunning beauty round every corner. The area also sports plenty of the ancient Southern beech forest which is such a good approximation of the mallorn trees of the magic elven realm.

I’ve been able to visit this location on three occasions so far. These photos are from an evening excursion in March 2007:  I was travelling with my parents, it had been a rainy, stormy day, and we arrived in Glenorchy only in the late afternoon. But we needed to travel on the next day, and I had set my heart on going up Paradise Road, so I convinced them that we should drive up there no matter what the weather, or the time. And were we ever amply rewarded: halfway down the road, the weather began to clear up and we were gifted with a gorgeous solid rainbow shimmering in the late afternoon light.

As we were approaching the actual location, we were  flagged down by a lady guarding an orange traffic cone: somewhat unexpectedly, since Paradise Road is really one of the remotest and least trafficked unsealed backcountry roads imaginable! We were asked to stop for a few minutes, because there was a film shoot in progress… For a moment there, I thought we had fallen through a wormhole back in time, to when they were shooting Lord of the Rings. But no: when I asked what movie, I was told it was for the Narnia series, and given the timing, it must have been Prince Caspian. The location also appears  in X-Men – Wolverine: There is no mistaking the shape of that one mountain in the background behind the hut of the old couple who find the protagonist running around in the nude and take him in, and suffer a violent cruel death for their efforts!

By the time we got to the actual location, the sun had set and it was beginning to rain again, which made for some very stunning light effects! I don’t have too many landscape photos where pink is the predominant color. Given the lack of light, some of the photos of the woodland turned out a bit shaky. But when I was sorting through my old photos earlier on, selecting them for my online gallery, I found those fuzzy photos actually represent the magic of the elven woodland realm better than a technically perfect shot could have done! Just call them Art. 😀



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I have to apologize (to the small and select group of people who have so far subscribed to this blog) for taking a lengthy break: I do intend to continue! Indeed, I have a backlog of nearly a decade of photos to work my way through … so I won’t run out of topics any time soon.

I had to move my website to a different server, though, which has been a bit of a hassle, so I haven’t gotten around to updating it with new photo galleries in a little while. I won’t be able to keep up the pace of once a week in the near future, either, but for now, will do a blog post once a month, until perhaps one day my workload will look a bit smaller! :Yeah right… :

The location where the sets for “Rivendell”, in Peter Jackson’s film version of “Lord of the Rings”, were built, is not far from my home – Kaitoke Regional Park, nestled into the Rimutaka hills, which I have to cross on my way to Wellington. The park can be reached via Waterworks Road, off State Highway 2. The location is signposted, a small area next to the river, a 1 minute stroll from the parking space.

I used to visit the park quite regularly while I lived in Wellington, but now that I live in the country, there has been no need to get out of the city, so I hadn’t been there in a little while when, one sunny day last May, I decided on a spur to go on a photo shoot and get some new images for next year’s edition of my Middle Earth New Zealand calendar.

Given that Rivendell will undoubtedly appear again in “The Hobbit”, I was curious to see if the same location was going to be used again to build the sets. But I could discover no traces of recent film shoots. The area had been planted up after the devastation wrought by the film crews: this is now quite a few years ago, and by now the area is pleasantly overgrown, and showed no signs of having been recently disturbed.

The only change I noted is a little platform by the steep drop down to the river on one side of the former filming area, which is where the main set building had stood. There is a very remarkable old twisted tree root there: I am pretty sure I have spotted it in the movie! One or two of the tree trunks look a bit familiar, too.

Continuing to walk from the film set area, I followed a walk looping back to the parking lot, through some gorgeous ancient rimu forest – it was going toward sundown, and the play of the tree shadows and the evening sun on the mountainside was well worth a few shots!

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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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) 😉

View more photos on my web page: ** prints availlable on Artflakes ** or on  DeviantArt