The drive from Wanaka to Queenstown was our first in a long while that didn’t involve some sort of seaside scenery in any shape or form. The lakes of the country between Wanaka and Queenstown were a welcome and striking change from the coastal roads that we had been following for the past few days.
Our hostel was situated alongside Lake Wanaka and thus our first mission for the day was to drive around its edge to reach Glendhu Bay. Across the bay we could see a hill that was used in The Fellowship of the Ring. Appearing in one of the scenes depicting the fellowship’s journey from Rivendell, the hill was endowed with digitally imposed ruins for the film. In our case, however, it was bare but, set against a backdrop of snow-peaked mountains, and with the Bay gleaming blue in front of it, it was quite a sight nonetheless.
From there we delved deeper into the wine country surrounding Queenstown and, indeed, our next stop was at a vineyard. We, however (and unfortunately), were not there for wine: below the vines lay the Kawarau River which was used as the part of the Anduin where, shortly before the close of The Fellowship of the Ring, the travellers pass between two gigantic statues (The Argonath) representing Aragorn’s kingly ancestors upon either side of the bank. Trampling through clumps of heather, we reached the cliff edges which were used for the imposition of the statues. Again, it was a spectacular sight even without the adornments from Middle Earth.
The locations near Arrowtown, however, were largely unchanged during their appearances in The Fellowship of the Ring. The town itself, naturally, did not appear in the films. However, the river just below the town was used to depict Arwen’s confrontation with the nazgul outside Rivendell (the Fords of Bruinen). This scene of course was a standoff across the river with Arwen on one bank and Sauron’s servants on the other, culminating in the nazgul being swept away by the river under elven enchantments. In the case of the Arrowtown setting, however, the part of the river there formed only half of the scene, the other being located in Skipper’s Canyon (an area that our car insurance did not cover because of the danger posed by landslides). Unable to visit Skipper’s Canyon to complete the scene, we took our fill of the side of the bank upon which the nazgul stand before making our way back into Arrowtown itself.
The history of Arrowtown is, like many such towns in NZ, based in the mining industry, However, what was unique about this town was that some of the original nineteenth-century wooden buildings still stood in the main street. In addition to this, there had been a Chinese community who had been invited over from their native country to aid the town’s ailing mining business. Met with severe racism from the locals, the Chinese miners had nonetheless established themselves in Arrowtown and, to mark this fact, many of their houses had been reconstructed for the benefit of tourists. While Jordan and I had to duck through the small doorways of these Chinese-sized houses, Tom (all 6’4 of him) had to veritably fold himself in two to get in and out of these dwellings. The houses all had information boards outside them which explained what the buildings had originally been used for, our favourite being the unfortunately-named ‘Tin Pan’s House’ which, we were assured was one of the miner’s names.
Moving on from Arrowtown, we arrived in Queenstown and, feeling that we had a lot more to give that day, looked out of the window of our hostel. Directly outside, and overlooking Queenstown, was Ben Lomond: a mountain up and down which gondolas made their way throughout the day. Deciding that the gondolas were too pedestrian for adventurous students like us, we took the decision to take the walk up to Bob’s Peak (where the gondolas finish their ascent), which we were told would take one hour. In reality, the walk was steep, cold and crossed with tracks for mountain bikers with a death wish. On top of this, the walk probably took at least an hour and a half (the upper slopes being slippery with ice and snow). Despite this, we reached the top from which we could see most of Queenstown laid out before us.
The next day, having recovered from the cold of the mountain walks, we set off to Glenorchy, a small town at the end of Lake Wakatipu. This was perhaps the most picturesque day of driving that we have had thus far. The majority of our time on the road was spent alongside the lake (the pictures certainly won’t do it justice). I know that I have described before how blue the lakes have been and how beautiful the mountains are at their edges. Lake Wakatipu, however, is practically a perfect sapphire blue while the mountains appear almost golden brown with alabaster white snow at the top.
A stone’s throw along the lake was Twelve Mile Delta where, after a short walk, we came across another Lord of the Rings location. The first scene to be filmed there was Gollum and Sam’s well-known altercation about the best way to eat rabbits and potatoes. Not far from that spot was the area where, creeping over the edge of a short drop, the hobbits gain their first glimpse of Oliphaunts as the Haradrim army marches to join Sauron’s forces (both of these scenes appear in The Return of the King).
Having eaten our lunch by Lake Wakatipu, we headed through Glenorchy and on towards Paradise. The road to Paradise was hardly what you’d expect from the name: a rough gravel track which wound through forest and then out into the open. At this point we were faced with several fords which barred our path. Having successfully negotiated the first ford, we noticed that all of the vehicles passing us were 4x4s and decided to press on on foot, thereby avoiding a watery death for our hitherto trusty rental car. Beside us as we walked was the scene, alongside the forest, where Gandalf rode towards Isengard. Above the forest were some of the mountains used to represent the Misty Mountains.
Our key destination, however, was a section of the forest 2km up the path that was used as the setting for the elven forest of Lothlorien. However, by this point the sun was setting and we didn’t want to face the gravel road in the dark. So, unfortunately, we could not reach the exact location used in the film. The forest areas that we did reach, however, were reminiscent enough of Lothlorien that we were content to return to the car, and to Queenstown.