The Lord of the Rings
Queenstown is known as the adventure capitol of the world and that is evident as you walk down the main street. For blocks on either side of the road and even down the side streets, storefronts offer everything you can imagine: Bungy jumping, skydiving, parasailing, hang gliding, Shotover jet boat trips, 4WD rentals, skiing, heli-skiing, heli-boating, helicopter and plane tours over the fiordlands, canyon swinging and more. My new friend Gareth almost had me convinced that I desperately needed to Bungy jump, that it would change my life. There is not enough beer in all of New Zealand to convince me to Bungy jump so I sadly declined his challenge.
There are adventures you could have here that I’ve never even heard of but all I wanted out of Queenstown was a Lord of the Rings tour. The cast and crew lived in Queenstown for months filming many of the outdoor scenes in this area. Much of the fiordlands can only be accessed by helicopter, as the mountains are so steep, but a lot of the scenes were filmed in places that could be accessed by 4WD vehicles. I had the apartment to myself this morning, so I took a few hours to pay some bills online, do some laundry and other “housekeeping” chores. It was nice to have some time to gather myself before I went off on my afternoon adventure.
My driver on the tour was Hamish, from a small farm somewhere “200 km away from here (hair)” but had been in Queenstown for a few years, “living the dream” as he said. There was also a newlywed couple from California on the tour who had just flown in to Queenstown the night before. It was a delightful afternoon, spent on paved roads, dirt roads, fording streams (The Landcruiser had a snorkel) and even going up into the mountains on snow covered roads which required chains on the tires. The views were outstanding and I never would have seen these places on my own. We stopped frequently for photo ops and with every stop he would tell us which portion of the film was shot there. Then we would get back in the truck and he would play the scene from the movie on his IPad and point out what we had just seen outside. Of course, as Hollywood does, the shot would begin in our location but the background or next scene would be in an entirely different place, the editing magic they talk of I guess.
We drove across the ford where Arwen “drowns” the Black Riders and I saw the cliff that Aragorn was dragged off of by the warg. I liked this place because the river where he lands is actually 50 miles away. They just used the cliff for the beginning of the fall. Very dramatic. Hamish told us that he drove a truck hauling movie equipment for a few days when it didn’t conflict with his other three part time jobs. The process he described was massive in its organization. He said it took about 100 trucks to move people and equipment and they would roll through town at 4am in a long line. Every truck and bus driver had to sign extensive confidentiality agreements. They would be texted a code the night before the move and had to confirm the code by text then delete the text. They were not told where they were going. There were signs posted along the road and the drivers followed the signs with their code on it. As soon as all the trucks passed, someone came along and picked up all the little coded signs. It boggles my mind how they even thought up this system. No wonder movies cost gajillions of dollars to make.
I also saw the place where (I think) the original bungy jump occurred and got pictures of someone jumping. He screamed like a girl and I knew for sure that I would not be doing that.
In my travels through the Southland, before I arrived in Queenstown, I had noticed large herds of deer right out in the open in daylight, and I thought, “How very brave of them to just be out in the open, in some farmer’s field. They must have no fear of people.” As we passed a large herd of deer in a field, Hamish explained that deer were treated like cattle here, raised for their meat. That explains the fearless deer…
I couldn’t get the LOTR tour that I really wanted, the one to Glenorchy, a town farther south on the lake, so I bought a book about where scenes in the film were shot and decided to do my own tour. What an awesome idea on my part. I may not have seen the exact locations or heard the great stories but it was a magical day. The scenery was once again stunning. According to the guide book, I was supposedly driving by the sites where they filmed the Isengard scenes, the Fangorn Forest, and the woods of Lothlorien. It looked like those places but I couldn’t be 100% sure. All I know is that I had a blast. I went down miles of rutted, muddy dirt roads and even forded a small stream in my trusty little Toyota. I almost met with a small disaster though. I had just passed through the tiny lakeside town of Glenorchy. I was heading off the paved road, up into the hills. I got about a mile up and just happened to glance at my gauges. My gas light was on, I was on E. I had no idea how long the light had been on, I had been through some spectacular scenery and was lucky I had my eyes on the road, much less on my gauges.
“Holy SHIT!! I do NOT want to run out of gas up here, please let me make it back to town…” I turned around as soon as I was able which was about another half mile up the road. These are narrow tracks really. I thought about coasting down to save gas but gunned it instead so I would get closer faster! I did make it to the one gas station with the one pump. When I undid the gas cap, air whooshed out. I think that means I was on fumes?
I found a lodge with a restaurant, Kinloch Lodge, about a 30 minute drive into the wilderness past Glenorchy which is about 45 minutes into the wilderness past Queenstown. It’s incredible to me that most of the time when I’m driving here, except for the actual road, much of what I see looks untouched by man and then I come across a fabulous lodge or home that fits perfectly into the landscape. The restaurant had the best leek and potato soup I’ve ever had and I would definitely stay there the next time I come to New Zealand. There were dozens of hiking trails all throughout the area, so much to see. During my lunch, I met a man named Paul who works at the Queenstown airport, but every chance he gets, he kayaks on Lake Wakatipu and camps on shore, or in the summer, takes bike treks hundreds of miles long, all over the South Island. He tried to convince me not to even go to the North Island.
“It’s not necessary, you don’t need to see anything there.”
He confirmed my observation that most people that go to Queenstown, go for the adventure stuff, the skiing, the fancy restaurants and the bars, when the most beautiful things here are free.