Today was our last day in New Zealand – for the time being. The second trip, whenever that is, is already looking like a full itinerary. Aoteraroa is the original name of this land and it’s where the phrase Land of the Long White Cloud comes from. I’ve liked how bilingual many things are in this country. The Maori culture and language certainly seems to be far more embedded into everyday use than the equivalent back home, I’m not sure why that is but I have some speculations.
We’ve driven the length of the North Island since arriving last Friday and of the three places we’ve stayed – Wellington was definitely my favourite. It also gets referred to as Welly Wood thanks to the massive influence of one Wellingtonian – Peter Jackson. It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many lives that one man has changed. He’s spent millions in Wellington and all over New Zealand. He’s restored many locations back to former glory even in a better state than they were prior to the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit movies. Whole career paths have been forged and entire families have seen the benefits of his vision and passion. Doing the tours in Wellington and then in Matamata has certainly captured my imagination and had me thinking about that whole process of bringing such a classic story to life. I have always had and will continue to have a huge passion for good story telling and that’s why the movies and the tv shows will always have a huge place in my life. A well told, well written, well produced story always leaves me feeling like I’ve just been given a special gift. Like the person (or in the case of shows and movies – people) who brought me that story has kindly shared a piece of themselves with me in the form of a story. It’s like an enthusiastic tour guide, passionate about their guiding showing you their special places on the earth.
Our guide in Wellington for the full day tour was named Laura. She was in high school when the first LoTR movie hit the screens in 1999…and she has now been guiding people on location tours for the last seven years in a van she has fondly dubbed Aragorn with a level of fervor that is quite infectious. She really did know the answer to 99.9 percent of questions about LoTR. She could tell you where a single 30 second scene took place (for just about every scene in the films), broken down into five different locations, at what angles the cameras were, what the actors had eaten for breakfast on that day and how many takes it took. I find that kind of attention to detail nothing but inspiring and fascinating.
The great River Anduin
She took us out to several locations and gave detailed behind the scenes recounts of the kinds of challenges the cast and crew faced – who knew Boromir played by Sean Bean was so absolutely useless at rowing a boat up river? Or that the little people who portrayed the hobbits for the capturing of forced perspective had such an aversion to being in a boat on water? Or that Aragorn’s anguished scream of despair for the supposed death of two of the fellowship was actually the result of Viggo Mortensen’s pain when he quite literally broke two of his toes kicking a helmet of armour across a scene? I never would have known that whenever we see Gandalf on a horse it’s actually his stunt double as Ian McKellan had a close friend be killed whilst riding a horse and made a vow never to sit on one again. He was apparently an accomplished rider prior to this. Liv Tyler who played Aragorn’s love interest and Elf Arwen was apparently so nervous around the horses she was banned from going within 20 feet of any of them as she made them skittish. David Wenham discovered that the horses get very attuned to the verbal cues to the point where they could no longer yell Action! because the horses would just bolt as they had quickly come to associate that word with the riders being in a bit of a hurry. They had to replace the word Action! with something innocuous such as Christmas Trees! No one had apprised poor David of this slight alteration and when one of his horses was around someone talking rather excitedly with the word Action interspersed his horse bolted for hundreds of meters. Luckily Viggo Mortensen – a talented rider – was able to chase his horse down and save the day. Go Aragorn! We traipsed over the paths of the Elves of Rivendell, stood in Frodo’s bedroom and beheld the very tree that Gandalf and Saruman walked beneath during their conversation. I found out that Christopher Lee had actually been given permission by Tolkein himself to play the role of Gandalf should the movie ever be made. Peter Jackson decided against that and now I can’t imagine anyone other than Christopher Lee in the role of Saruman. In Rivendell it was meant to be Autumn so Peter Jackson had 250 thousand yellow and red leaves imported in from Thailand and each one of these leaves was individually wired to all the trees that were, or might possibly be, in the scenes shot there. The attention and extreme lengths that were gone to in order to make the story come alive and be as close as possible to the picture created in Tolkein’s books are quite astounding. Now I’d like to go back and rewatch these movies all over again with my new found knowledge and much better appreciation of the cinematography and the settings.
A rather unhelpful Uruk-Hai shop assistant
The woods on the path to Bree where the Nazgul chase the Hobbits
Panoramic shot of Wellington – last stop of the tour
The next day we drove off to Rotorua – the biggest natural thermal city in the world apparently. Well the fairly repugnant scent of sulphur that hit us as we drove in certainly attested to this claim to fame. We didn’t get to the Mineral spring baths sadly but perhaps that can be added to the list. However we did have some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted and you can probably see the pictures for that on Tim’s blog. Rotorua for the most part was our base for the night as a stepping stone to Matamata and the Hobbiton tour we had booked. More Lord of The Rings and now The Hobbit movies sets to explore. Once again the attention and efforts blew me away. It takes about 3 months to create one of these Hobbit holes and that usually just the front door and exterior! There were 12 acres of Hobbiton full of around 42 Hobbit holes, a lake, a massive tree and a party field. The Green Dragon pub also took up some of that room and that was a fully functioning beautifully laid out tavern complete with the round doors and archways and dark wood finish. The tours are incredibly popular. Leaving in big groups of 20 to 40 people EVERY 15 minutes from 9.30am to 3.30pm. The Alexanders who bought the farm in 1978 must think their dreams have come true!
“I’m going on an adventure!”
That same spot on our tour.
It was raining and pretty overcast as we went on our tour but that actually worked in our favour in terms of the fact that we didn’t have many people in our group (16) and also the lighting was great for photo taking. Tim took lots of lovely shots.
After the tour and a second breakfast at the cafe we headed off to Auckland. Auckland…Auckland is a lot like Perth. Which is to say when people come visit us in Western Australia – I would say the majority of time would be spent outside of Perth. However the food choices are fantastic and the walking very good for the legs given it’s mostly up and down hills. We had a fabulously delicious meal last night at Tony’s Lord Nelson restaurant, everything there was pretty much flawless. So now it’s home again. We’ve been there and now to do the back again part. I’m looking forward to getting home to the puppies, my own bed and bracing myself for the acclimatisation that is going to be needed when we hit the Perth heat. Goodbye New Zealand – you’ve reached my top 3 of favourite places in the world and we will definitely, without a doubt, be back!