I understand this post is long overdue, but since I’ve been on a Lord of the Rings kick lately I figure now was as good of time as any to write about my trip to New Zealand, aka my honeymoon, seven years ago. I always meant to write about the trip, or at the very least scrapbook about the whole thing, but since I severely lack scrapbooking skills, that never happened. I wrote a small piece called “What Lord of the Rings Means to Me” back in 2006 for LiveJournal (remember that site?) where I briefly mention my trip, but I’ve never chronicled the whole experience like I plan on doing right now.
So yes, it was seven years ago this November that my husband and I traveled down to Middle Earth, even though it feels a lot more recent than that. When we were thinking of places we wanted to go to for our honeymoon, ideas like “Scandinavian Cruise” and “Northern England” came to mind, and we even got suggestions from people who told us to go to Hawaii because we could stay with family.
Because who doesn’t want to stay with family members while on their honeymoon?
But in the end the decision was easy. My husband and I aren’t beach people, we had already traveled to England, and a cruise around Scandinavia was outrageously expensive. But that’s not what made our decision to go to New Zealand easy. It was the fact that we were meant to go there. The Lord of the Rings movies were what brought my husband and I together in the first place, and since all the movies were made there, it made sense as the only place to go.
I connected with a company called Red Carpet Tours in Auckland, New Zealand, which specializes in LOTR tours, and booked a two-week tour of the North and South Island, hitting all the important and hard-to-get-to LOTR sites. And for anyone thinking of going on a LOTR tour, I highly recommend this tour. The people involved are awesome, and it’s the best – and easiest – way to see the county.
So on November 5, 2005 we departed the Los Angeles International Airport for Auckland, New Zealand where we endured an extremely long flight (13 hours) and lost a whole day in the process. I can’t sleep on planes, so when we arrived – in the morning, I might add – I was completely exhausted and looked, well, not pretty. But you know what? I didn’t care. I was in New Zealand, and that was all that mattered.
We spent the first night in Auckland, but since there are no LOTR sites in the capital city, we left the following morning for Matamata, aka The Shire. And when I say “we”, I mean our awesome tour group. There were about 20 of us with our guides from all over the world: California, Utah, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Maryland, England, Australia, and Finland. It’s funny to look think back on that first day and how none of us knew each other, to the last day after we had grown so close.
But as I said, Matamata was our first stop. This is where Peter Jackson and his amazing crew had built The Shire / Hobbiton / Bag End all from scratch. And when we were there, various Hobbit holes remained. Not because they were tourist attractions at that time, but because they knew…somewhere down the line…that they would need them for The Hobbit (seven years later).
Matamata was such a special place, not only because it’s Hobbiton, but because still seemed so untouched and peaceful, with its many sheep wandering in and out of hobbit holes. It had an innocence that perfectly matches the innocence of the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, and although it rained the entire time we were there, none of us cared at all. Because how often can one say that they actually stood in Bag End, or danced under the Party Tree?
From there we headed to Rotorua, which is best known for its large population of Maori tribes. That evening we went to an active Maori village where we saw a “haka” and ate some amazing food. It’s always interesting to see how other peoples live and to witness their traditions, especially when they’re so different from your own. It was obvious that New Zealanders (Kiwis) are very proud of their Maori people and heritage, and it’s just another thing that makes the country so special.
The next LOTR stop we made the following day was to Mount Ruapehu, which is where the beginning of The Two Towers was filmed with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, and also the location of Mount Doom. It was one of those moments where you’re sitting in the bus just looking outside at the flat lands and then suddenly you’re like, “Holy crap, it’s Mount Doom!” It just sort of appeared out of nowhere, which made it even more cool to look at.
And yes, there were some reinactments occuring at this location. Because we’re nerds, and we love LARPing. And what better place to do it than the actual site? Makes for much better reinactments.
Oh, and this is where we stayed that night. The cast also stayed here while filming, and we all got to stay in a room that a cast member stayed in. Since Sean and I were “The Honeymooners” on the trip, we got to stay in an extra-special suite…the one that Peter Jackson himself stayed in. And, um…yes…it was awesome.
The next day we drove over to the Powderhorn Chateau, another place where the cast and crew stayed many a night. The most exciting part of the day was an obnoxious picture us women all took on the bed Orlando Bloom slept in when he stayed there. Because we love our elves. And let’s face it. THAT’S AS CLOSE AS WE’RE GONNA GET.
We spent the rest of our time on the North Island in Wellington, the heart of New Zealand, and also the place where Peter Jackson’s Stone Street Studio and Weta Workshop reside. We saw some random sights in Wellington like the area where Rivendell was “created”, and the path where the Hobbits are walking in the first movie when they first see The Black Rider (“Get off the road!”).
But the best place BY FAR in Wellington was Weta Workshop, which is run by visual extraordinaire Richard Taylor. On the day we went down there, our guides weren’t sure if we could go in. Our best bet was to just see the lobby and that was it because they didn’t think Richard Taylor was there. But after checking it out and making us wait patiently on the bus, our guide returned with this: “We’re going in.”
But he didn’t just mean the lobby. No, we were going IN in the workshop. We were going to see where all the armor, costumes, etc. were created, and Richard Taylor was going to be our personal tour guide.
This was probably the geekiest moment of my entire life. We got to see the COOLEST things – things that were so top secret that we were told not to post any pictures of them on the internet (in 2005 this was not difficult to do), mostly pictures of props from the upcoming movies The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and King Kong.
We got to meet some of the artists who worked on the films, and of course got to hold some of the props, the coolest being King Theoden’s sword. I also got to hold one of the (many) Academy Awards that Weta won for the three movies, which was awesome.
Soon our journey took us to the South Island, a land consisting of mountains and sheep. Oh, and lots of filming locations from all three movies, plus an awesome new tour guide who was an extra in The Two Towers.
One of the coolest places we visited was the site which would become Edoras, the Rohan Kingdom in The Two Towers. Known as Mount Sunday in real life, this oddly-shaped landmass is very remote – you have to walk across a swiftly-moving stream and climb up to get there – and if you’re not careful, you could get carried off by the wind, which sometimes feels as though it’s moving at hurricane force.
But the views are definitely worth it, especially when you’re doing your best Eowyn impression. None of the Rohan village was there, of course, but it really did look like this when you stood there. Super cold, super windy, but super awesome.
A day or two into our South Island adventure, we stayed at a place called The Hermitage, which is a hotel in the middle of a range of glacial mountains. Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, was clearly visable from our hotel room. We also heard the cracking of falling glaciers during the night, a sound I highly recommend hearing some time in your life.
One of the reasons why I loved the South Island so much was because most of the landscape shots you see in LOTR were done on the South Island. And one of the reasons why I love watching The Two Towers so much is because I see the South Island everywhere. Despite the fact that I was extremely hungover from too much wine the night before (thank you to Oliver’s restaurant, which serves their wine in glasses so big they look like tankards), the day we spent at Poolburn (Rohan plains) was one of my favorite days. Lots of reinactments, and lots of “I recognize this!” and “I know this exact shot!” and “Oh my God, this is Aragorn’s rock!”
It was just so open, not a building in site for miles, and it was, simply, Rohan. In the flesh. I half expected Eomer and the Rohirrim to come riding by any second, or a group of Orcs to come running through, carrying two captured Hobbits on their backs.
Again, if you’re ever on the South Island, make sure you go to Poolburn, preferrably with a tour. I can’t imagine going on my own without getting completely lost.
One of my favorite scenes in Fellowship of the Ring is at the end when Frodo decides he needs to carry on this task alone, but before he can do anything, Sam comes running along, telling him that he’s coming with him. And I was lucky enough to be able to stand on those very same shores as he did (and do my own little reinactment, holding the ring and deciding my own fate). The location is near the AWESOME town of Queenstown, and it’s such a beautiful area, with the blue waters and the Remarkables mountain range taking up the background, and it’s a great place to picnic and enjoy some peace and quiet. Oh, and a great place to be a nerd and pretend you’re Frodo.
Speaking of reinactments, here are three more for you that took place on the South Island. In one some of us are Rohan refugees (we’re trying to look cold and miserable – at least we got the cold part down), and in the other I’m pretending to be falling off of the cliff that takes Aragorn and the warg rider off it’s edge. We even got another traveler who wasn’t with our group to join us in the reinactments, and he had so much fun that he wanted to ditch the people he was with and continue on the whole tour with us.
And finally here we are on Pelennor Fields, recreating the Ride of the Rohirrim, and looking mighty fierce, I might add. This location was pretty cool because if you were lucky, you might find a small prop like an arrow still lying on the ground. None of us did that day, but those fields are so spread out that you know there’s got to be something out there. And if you’re unlucky, you might just find one of the mines that the New Zealand Army has lying about. Just watch your step.
There are a lot more pictures I could add to this, but that would make this post way longer than I originally intended. And like I said, this post really has no significant purpose other than the fact that I finally got to write about some of my experiences that I’ve been too lazy to do over the past seven years. But even though seven years have passed and I’ve traveled to other places, I still hold a very special place in my heart for New Zealand. If you ask anyone who’s been there, they’ll tell you that the place changes you. There’s something about New Zealand that is unlike any other place on this earth. The people, the land, the air…it really feels like a magical place that shouldn’t exist in today’s world, but people who have been there are lucky because it does exist.