Far Over the Misty Mountains

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This is part five of a series of posts about winning the Hobbit Fan Contest, where I got to spend a week in New Zealand (Middle-earth!) with a group of some of the biggest Hobbit fans in the world. This all-expenses-paid VIP experience was such a dream come true, one I was able to share with my elf-partner, Adam. You can also read more about the contest and how I won here.

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After our big day in Rotorua and Matamata we would’ve loved a nice lie-in, but sleep could wait! It was a 5:30am start to get ready and breakfasted in time for our flight down to Queenstown, and despite the physical hell of queuing at the airport and subsequent state of motion-sickness-tablet-induced drowsiness, I was beyond excited to reach our destination. Especially for the fresh air! A day and half was enough to be a little grossed-out by the flatulent, sulfuric reek of Rotorua. 😛

On board our chartered flight (there were enough fans, media and staff to take up most of an aircraft) we were given a bit of special treatment with champagne and snacks. On the short flight down to the South Island I could just see a huge long mountain range through the window, still mostly capped with snow.

The Southern Alps form the backbone of the South Island. Stretching for over 550km from Blenheim in the north to Fiordland in the south, they contain every peak in the country over 3000 metres. The Alps were the obvious choice to portray The Misty Mountains because of their height and similar climatic effects on the landscape. – The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook, Ian Brodie

I only took photos of the Southern Alps on the return flight, but it was a view I could never tire of.

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And I was speechless coming out of the plane! What an airport! I had been looking forward to Queenstown probably the most (I am crazy about snow and mountains), but it exceeded my expectations immensely. I feel like our photos just don’t convey the size and atmosphere – but that’s probably true of most spectacular locations, which New Zealand has a bounty of. Down the south-east side of Australia we have an enormous mountain range, and a good number of the peaks over 1000m get annual snow, but it’s rare in the suburbs. Though most of the resorts and ski-fields are quite expensive to visit, I live at the foot of a mountain that gets a few weeks of intermittent snowfall if the conditions are right, so there is usually enough to satisfy snow cravings and play in, at least – though last year it was so heavy that the roads were closed several times! Anyway, my point is that Adam and I were hugely impressed by the alps on the South Island because we have never seen anything like it in person.

 

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We group-posed by the plane again for photos and footage (see the end of this post), and then were taken in small groups straight into a convoy of 4-wheel-drives, for a day of adventure with Nomad Safaris. The vehicles all had number-plate titles like “THORIN” and “BILBOS”, and each came with an enthusiastic guide (we got “Badger”) who would give information about the geography, snippets of filming lore, and point out any significant location. From what we could tell, all the guides are a cross between Tolkien fans and outdoor adventurers. 😛

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We were taken up 4-wheel-drive tracks to the top of Queenstown Hill. The Hill itself isn’t a film location but affords an incredible 360° view of all the mountains, the city, the Shotover river and delta.

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The hill in the middle (above) is Deer Park Heights, a Two Towers location. For a while you could visit the property, but I found an explanation over on this blog as to why you can’t now. A lot of the scenes for the flight of the Edoras refugees to Helm’s Deep were filmed here, including the warg/orc encounter and the cliff Aragorn was dragged over.

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The Remarkables Ranges, a spectacular mountain range which was used for numerous locations, including (I believe) the Ephel Dúath. High in the Remarkables is also the location for the Dimrill Dale scene (FotR).

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Movie screenshot comparison – Rohan refugees

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Though the hill we were viewing all this from wasn’t a film location, it was one of the exact locations used in Air New Zealand’s newest flight safety video!

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You can watch the video below: (we were shown it so many times on the trip, I never need to see it again 😛 )

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Though the pines around the high country of New Zealand look quite picturesque, a number of species have become very invasive and are a large threat to the environment – above, you can see a vast brown patch of dead standing trees.

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Shotover river delta

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After a short time appreciating all those majestic views, we were given lunch bags and piled back into the vehicles…

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Lake Wakatipu

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I had a lot of fun hogging the front seat of the 4-wheel drive and enjoyed the rough roads down!

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They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard!

Our next destination was Paradise, near Glenorchy. The road followed the shores of gorgeous Lake Wakatipu for much of the journey:

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The north-western slopes of Mt Earnslaw were used for Caradhras.

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After Glenorchy we left the main road and entered a huge private property and sheep farm called Arcadia Station, which sits in the Paradise region.

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The vehicles stopped here and we began a short walk to the edge of one side of the woods, about 100m from where the Beorn’s House set was built and filmed at. They set up a “Beorn’s picnic” afternoon tea for us and we sat on a hill just absorbing the magnificent view.

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Movie screenshot comparison

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Below, you can also see that this valley was used for Isengard and Nan Curunir, the Wizard’s Vale!

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Movie screenshot comparison

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The crew also organised a treasure hunt for us! The didn’t tell us what the magic object would be (though it wasn’t hard to guess), but we knew the prize: a seat next to Peter Jackson at the Battle of the Five Armies screening in two nights! 150 fans, all giddy with excitement, were let loose in the forest. A minute or so into the treasure hunt I heard a shout from about 10 metres away, and our group-mate and Belgian winner, Arwen, held up the Ring! Yay! It was well deserved, and she was swamped by media, cameras, and her Wizard comrades for the next while.

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The red beech forest below isn’t the exact location for Parth Galen (the Breaking of the Fellowship) as well as the Fellowship entering Lothlorien, but it was representative of a spot not far away which was used for that sequence. It would be epic to be able to explore it one day… I’m not sure why I didn’t take many photos here, but the other side of the valley view (behind us) looked mostly like this:

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Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

Can you guess where we visited next?!

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This is the Twelve Mile Delta, the location used for Frodo and Sam meeting the Rangers of Ithilien. We stopped here on the way back, about 8km from Queenstown.

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Movie screenshot comparison (I’m unsure if this is near the right spot, though):

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We took a short walk to discover the spot below, the exact site of the Oliphaunts/Haradrim scene:

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Movie screenshot comparison:

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This was such a beautiful day, so I used the opportunity to take more scenic photos.

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A Nomad Safaris tour guide pointing out where frames from the movie fit in the background.

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It’s hard to compare this day with our day at Hobbiton (which I thought couldn’t be topped), but we were just so impressed with the region.

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View from our hotel room’s window

After that great adventure, most of the group had dinner at the famous nearby bungy complex, and those who wanted to go bungy jumping or swinging across the canyon did so! However, we skipped this and had a rest in the hotel, then explored the town and got our own quiet dinner.

Finally, here’s another Real Middle-earth Hobbit Fan Contest video diary that summarizes our day:

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