Kiwis refer to The Lord of the Rings fans as “Ringers.” My family is a rabid group of Ringers and we fed our hunger for all things Tolkienian (and my hunger for all things filmic) with a safari-style tour of Middle Earth shooting locations. We loaded up into a land cruiser piloted by the best tour guide ever, Jimpatrick (let me explain: His name is actually Jim. Earlier in our travels, my mother yelled out to a flight attendant, “THANK YOU, PATRICK!” And I was like, “…Mom, his name is Joseph.” Her comments throughout the rest of the trip were riddled with name-calling inaccuracies and so “Patrick” became the running inside joke. I arrived at the vehicle before my mum and asked Jim if he would introduce himself as Patrick. My mum got to the vehicle and Jim says, “You must be Rose. My name is Patrick, but you can call me Jim.” Mum is all “ohmygoshdidyouhearthathisnameisactuallyPATRICKKKKKK!!”).
We drove first to a hill overlooking Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. According to Maori legend, the lake – shaped like someone in the fetal position (now I’m going to try to work variations of “fetus” into every post) – is a giant’s impression. Maori warriors burnt the giant after he stole some virgin maidens (note to self: don’t steal virgin maidens), and the waves of the water emanate from the still beating heart of the giant (also know as Sheep island).
At the lookout point we also gazed the Remarkable mountain range (so named because the wife of some guy way back when saw the mountains and said, “Wow. Those are remarkable mountains.” Mountains here have very creative names… Mount Doom, etc.). The Remarkables served as the Mordor, Shadow, and Misty Mountains, and the privately owned hill in the foreground – Deer Park Heights – was where SPJ (Sir Peter Jackson) filmed Rohan’s evacuation. I’m going to have a cinematography-geek-out moment here for a second: To create the illusion that the pond was bigger and population larger, SPJ shot from a low angle and put full grown men and horses at the front of the line and children and donkeys at the back. Most of the extras were Queenstown residents. I lament that I wasn’t I born earlier and in Queenstown.
Next we traveled to the River of Kings…. During shooting at the gorge, Frodo & co. go down the river in Elvish/Weta-made boats with many safety and water-rescue officers on hand. Preparing for the shot, Legolas and Gimli’s boat began to run ahead of the others. In attempting to slow it down, the film crew accidentally capsized the boat. Orlando Bloom held on to the boat with one hand and Gimli’s fully-armored stunt double with another. 30 seconds until rescue came. That’s a pretty long time in “shit-I’m-about-to-die” seconds. Orlando might have lady bones, but he has also proven his strong life-saving abilities. I wish they’d gotten that bit on film and been able to use in the movie.
Sidenote: SPJ hid an Easter egg – a intended continuity error – in the River Anduin scene (and while we’re on the subject of Easter: Kiwis spend Easter rabbit-hunting. Hey kids, I shot the Easter Bunny!). When the fellowship is passing through the statues, both kings have their left hands raised. But, when the camera looks back after the boats have passed, one king is holding up his right hand and his fingers are parted, as if waving farewell.
On the other side of the cliff overlooking River Anduin is the world’s oldest commercial bungee-jumping station. It’s very safe. More people hurt themselves falling down the stairs at the bungee hospitality/store center than do bungee-ing. You can jump for free, but there’s a catch: You have to jump naked. Seems like a good deal.
Next we drove through Arrowtown, a town that dates back to the gold rush of the 1800s. People could put their hand in the river and pull out nuggets of gold. After fording a river (our car drove THROUGH the river… it had a little engine snorkel and everything), we did a little gold panning ourselves, but only found flakes that I deferentially bequeathed [back] to the river gods. The gods repayed me by sending a plague of sand flies. I’ve loved every part of New Zealand. Except the sand flies. I hate the sand flies. Wee blood-sucking misanthropes went after me like a pack of famished hyenas. I dislike all miniscule, biting creatures (but they seem to love me, or at least they love my blood). The attack left me a twitchy, PTSD mess, reminded of the mosquito days when my frail and allergic body used to develop five-inch swellings of pure itch. But the river was lovely. Yes. Positive thoughts. I stood in the same spot as Liv Tyler.
I forced Karli out into the river to be my white steed. Interesting fact: Many of the Nazgul in these shots are 16-year-old girls whose horses were borrowed for filming from Queenstown’s Pony Club.
Preparing to enter the road through the gorge. The view during the road drive is listed as one of the 20 most beautiful in the world. I am not surprised. My photos do not do the landscape justice.
The spectacle was breathtaking. My heart literally ached just looking at the tussocked hills and rock formations (granted, that ache could have been the result of indigestion and coffee overdose, but I believe that it stemmed from the beauty). It was a religious experience.
Update on my emotional well being: I’ve caught myself singing aloud quite often in recent days. Karli says this is a sign of happiness.