The Road to Mordor

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Wkakapapa ski field, on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in the center of New Zealand’s North Island, was used as location for several scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies: the epic battle at the very beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, Sam and Frodo’s journey through Mordor, and some of the scenes involving Frodo, Sam and Gollum’s travels through the “barren wasteland of razor-sharp rocks”, the Emyn Muil.

Wkakapapa Ski field can be accessed by road via Wkakapapa village – the access road branches off the main highway just a few km past National Park. The main film location is just a short walk from the main parking area at the end of the access road, at the bottom of the ski lifts – which are, of course, only operational during the ski season, so if one comes by in summer, there usually aren’t many people there (apart from a few Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, of course!)

State Highway One – the road connecting New Zealand from North to South, and from Auckland to Wellington – passes the volcanoes of the central plateau on their eastern side, and if one is so inclined, it is easy to take a detour via State Highway 4, on the mountain’s west. The access roads at Ohakune and National Park are on this side of the mountains. I have visited the location a few times, given that whenever I was driving north or south I would pass by in the neighborhood. The photos in this post were taken on two visits in April and November 2007 – the first in rather poor weather conditions, the second on a day of blazing blues skies and sun. I got there only an hour or so before sunset, and the evening light on those fantastical contorted volcanic rock formations is a thing well worth beholding! I’ve been able to identify one exact spot which appears in “Return of the King” – the gap between two rocks where Sam offers Frodo their very last drop of water. There is a steep gap behind that fringe of rocks, and in clear weather, the spot offers an excellent view of Mt Ngauruhoe, aka “Mount Doom”.


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.

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