Follow a road long enough and it’ll lead you somewhere interesting.
Occasionally those roads might be adorned with “Do Not Enter” signage, but, uh, perhaps sometimes one might think of such signs as “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules” (thank you, Captain Barbossa, for inspiring a new generation of little rebels). In New Zealand, it is a common practice for someone to enter an expansive patch of private property, knock on the owner’s door, and request permission to hike/fish/dance in the moonlight on the land. And, according to my source, 99% of the time the owner will acquiesce. Then there’s me: the person who can be hiking on public land, wander down some intriguing trails, and suddenly have the sneaking suspicion that you’re on private property – an unwitting trespasser with no notion of how to find the owner in order to even request permission. I felt like a little criminal. Doesn’t take much to make me feel naughty (I realize now that sounds dirty, but it’s really not meant to). This is how it all went down:
As it were, after hearing about the last bits of Hobbit filming, I was spontaneously inspired to spend my last week in Wellington. I stayed with a kind and wonderful family, an old high school friend of my aunt’s who had moved to New Zealand years ago (we connected through Facebook – let’s take a moment to appreciate how amazing social networking can be). The day after my arrival, I thought to myself, “Hows about we go try to hunt down a glimpse of the Hobbit set today, Linds?” I needed to be a bit more informal in my pursuit of Tolkien magic after my last-minute “apply to be a hobbit extra” plan came not to fruition (I’m sure they desperately wanted to hire me after seeing “making pterodactyl noises” on my extensive and impressive list of skills – but they were unable to do so due to my being blessed – though now it seems more like “cursed” – with above-average height). I discovered that the set was built near Wellington’s currently unoccupied prison on Mt. Crawford (Over the course of this trip, I’ve become both impressed and disturbed by my obsession-driven detective skills. I vow to use them for good). The area around the prison boasted numerous hiking trails (I know, when I go for nature walks, I tend to choose the place closest to the hive of hardened criminals) and I figured I could have a nice day of hiking while I kept my eyes open for film related miscellanea.
I took a bus to the prison. Not knowing the exact stop, I flashed my pearly whites and asked the bus driver (because I always tend to meet the best, most helpful bus drivers) to drop me at the stop closest to the top of Mt. Crawford and the prison. At first he seemed confused, then he was all “Oh no problem!” and after he got lost, I accompanied him on another round on the bus route carousel. During his break, he offered me a cigarette. I felt pretty cool. I mean, I didn’t actually take the cig, but A BUS DRIVER WANTED ME TO JOIN HIM FOR A SMOKE! Thank you, Mr. Bus Driver, thanks but no thanks.
So, I finally make it to the prison and one of the first things I see is this fence covered in signs: “Do not Enter,” “Active Film Site,” “DEFENCE AREA,” “Simply Security Site,” “No Admission Except on Business” (on that last one, I desperately wanted to scrawl in “party”). Well, that was easy to find the entrance, but not to see the actual set. Too bad about the clearly explicit fence signs – no ambiguity to provide any wiggle-room for exploration. And I do not enter into clearly criminal acts lightly.
Deciding to respect the concept of private property, I spent my time trekking around the prison and surrounding trails. Drawn in by my own personal “secret garden,” I discovered one trail that, I later realized, had led me around the first fence and into a second fence (that’s where part of the accidental trespassing thing came in). It was a foggy, rainy day and the hills were covered in thick, dark greenery. I was soon soaked to the bone, but warm and happy with all my walking and exploration (I also somehow dyed – died, really – my pretty Smartwool socks the strange orange color of my moccasins. Now they are not so pretty). I soon found a rather obscure trail that seemed to get smaller and smaller. Less and less like a real trail. I started using tree roots to climb small hills and dirtying my pants as I slid down others. I also saw something that looked suspiciously like bear scat. Though it could’ve been Yeti or Warg. Part of me was excited about being Sacajawea, but my more responsible side whispered, “Remember that guy who had to cut of his arm because he went hiking and neglected to tell anyone? You always look at the people in movies who go off on their own into the woods and say that they get what’s coming to them, being stupid and whatnot. Well, now you’re being the stupid one.” At that point I figured I should tell someone of my exact location, just in case I went missing, fell down a hill and broke my leg, or was abducted and mauled by a bear. Naturally, I text my mother who is halfway across the world. She has not heard from me in a few days. Then she receives this: “Dear mommy. If I go missing, tell people to look on the small, disused trail down the road from the main entrance of the prison.” About 5 seconds later I get her response: “WHAT THE HECK?!” And I’m all, “Don’t e’en worry ‘bout it. Just taking precautionary measures.” Turns out I survived the hike, just significantly more drenched and bedraggled than when I started.