New Zealand: The Outskirts of Queenstown

11 04 2011

The stunning landscape you pass as you drive toward Queenstown is the perfect subject of a picture post.  For much of the approach to Queenstown, the Gibbston Highway follows the Kawarau River as it snakes through the mountains forming a dramatic gorge.  I had heard that Peter Jackson filmed Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings, in the Lord of the Rings film from a location you could view so I set out to find it.  We turned into a gorgeous vineyard set in the mountains and I snapped this shot.


Chard Farm Vineyard

Apparently, this was the correct location because we encountered a Lord of the Rings tour van on the way down.  The road we traveled on to view this location was incredibly scary, though.  It was a one lane dirt road with no rails that was on a cliff.  We should have known the road would be precarious when we saw this sign.  This the most warning we’ve ever seen in New Zealand, where basically you do anything at your own risk.


Funny Sign


Another View of the Kawarau River

On the other side of the highway is the famous AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge, the world’s first commercial bungy operation.  From the vineyard side, we were able to see  two bridges – the first one was the highway and the second one was the bungy bridge.  Alas, the AJ Hackett was closed when we went so we did not partake.  To be honest, we had no intention of bungy jumping anyway.


Bridges over Kawarau River

We did drive over and explore the bungy jumping center.  Even though it was closed, we were still able to walk to the staging area and jumping off point on the bridge.


View from AJ Hackett’s Bungy Jump

While we were on the bridge, we saw a jetboat zoom up the river.  I believe this was the Shotover river.


Kawarau River

Before we left, we saw this very confusing and contradictory setup.  We didn’t know if we should leave immediately or stay awhile and enjoy a picnic.


A Contradictory Message

A few miles down the road, we took the turn off for Arrowtown.  Arrowtown is a small, historic gold mining town located right outside of Queenstown.  We had heard that it was a well preserved and picturesque frontier town that was also a former Chinese mining settlement so we stopped to take a look.  Although I am aware that the Chinese have a long history of migrating overseas, the waves before the 20th century have always interested me.  Being an immigrant is not a piece of cake so I am always amazed at the Chinese pioneers from before the modern age and globalization.

After gold was discovered on the Arrow River in 1861, Arrowtown sprung into being to accommodate the flood of speculators.  By 1865, however, the population dipped when gold extraction slowed and richer gold fields elsewhere in New Zealand lured many miners away.  To remedy this economic recession, the Otago government invited Chinese miners to the area and they established a separate settlement in Arrowtown.  These miners remained in the area until 1928.

Modern day Arrowtown was as quaint as we imagined it.  The historic main street is called Buckingham Street and features well maintained buildings, equipment, and other objects.  According to the official website, Arrowtown has over 70 buildings, features, and monuments remaining from the gold rush era.


Post and Telegraph, Arrowtown


Buckingham Street

At the end of Buckingham Street is the site of the old Chinese settlement.  A path leads through a series of stone huts where the Chinese miners worked, socialized, and lived.  We only had time to enter one of the buildings, but it was very interesting.  The first thing I noticed was how dark everything was, even when it was bright sunlight outside.  We really take electric lights for granted.  The second thing I noticed was how low the ceilings and doorways were.  Even though I’m Chinese and not tall, I had to duck through some of these doors.


Stone house in the Chinese settlement at Arrowtown.

After seeing the Chinese settlement, we decided to explore the area around the Arrow River.  The riverbank is just behind the town.  We passed by a hiker’s sign, where I saw this incomprehensible request.  We assumed didymo meant trash until we looked it up.  Apparently, didymo (commonly known as rock snot) is an invasive species of algae.  This is why I love travel.  You learn something new every day!


Yo, No Didymo!

You didn’t think you could escape this post without another Lord of the Rings reference, could you?  One of the *ahem* main reasons I dragged my husband to see the river is because according to my LOTR location guidebook, this is where they filmed the scene where Arwen escapes the Nazguls on horseback by flooding the river (Ford of Bruinen).  And yep, we found it.


Site of Arwen’s Stand, Ford of Bruinen

The area around the Arrow River was really lovely, though.  How can a view of a shallow river threading through soft green woods against a backdrop of gorgeous mountains ever be bad?


Arrow River

As the sun set, we returned to the road for the last few miles to Queenstown, where we would stay for the next three nights.  Just before we reached the town, we saw a glorious view of the aptly named Remarkables mountain range.  The Remarkables surround Queenstown and is one of its most famous features.


The Remarkables

Next: Queenstown

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New Zealand: Scenic Drive along the Southern Alps

27 03 2011

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is arguably one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand.  It certainly is the best looking drive on a major roadway, in my opinion.  On this approximately six hour drive, the landscape transforms from green hilly pastures and meadows dotted with wildflowers to vast plains and glacial lakes and finally to mountainous wilderness, all nestled against the backdrop of the magnificent Southern Alps.

View Larger Map

We began in the Canterbury grasslands outside of Christchurch, where pastures full of cows and sheep abounded.  This area still had the feel of cultivated countryside to it.

As we turned the car towards the Southern Alps, we were rewarded with a view of the large mountain range.  From this distance, it’s hard to gauge the size of these mountains because they are still very far away.  The vastness of the sky and the flat lands leading up to the mountains form an optimal illusion.

Once you reach Lake Tekapo, the scenery changes dramatically. From here on, the road hugs the Southern Alps, the ground becomes more hilly, and impossibly blue glacial lakes loom invitingly.

We thought the view of Lake Tekapo from the road was beautiful until we saw Lake Pukaki. There was no question we were stopping the car to take a look, and our curiosity was rewarded. This is some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in my life.  My photos simply cannot do the scenery justice.

From Lake Pukaki, you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand at 12,316 feet. We were literally bowled over by the natural beauty.

A view of Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki.

A short distance later, we came upon Twizel, an area that served as the backdrop for Minas Tirith, the capital city of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings.  It certainly was not hard to imagine Gandalf riding towards Minas Tirith when faced with this scenery.  I was a dork and kept telling my husband that we were in Gondor.

There were mountains surrounding us everywhere we looked now.

As we neared Arrowtown and Queenstown, we joined up with the Kawarau River, which served as the River Anduin in the LOTR movies.  We didn’t think it was possible, but the scenery became even more dramatic and picturesque.

Next: Arrowtown, Queenstown, and more gorgeous scenery.





Finding Middle Earth in Erehwon, New Zealand

2 09 2009

Although I like to think of myself as an adventurous, independent traveler, sometimes I just want to be a tourist.  I am not afraid to admit it.  One of the reasons that I wanted to fly across the world to New Zealand was to go to Middle Earth.  It is widely known that Peter Jackson’s Academy Award winning Lord of the Rings movies (LOTR) were filmed all over New Zealand.    Thus, one of my stipulations in coming to New Zealand was that I would go on a full-on Lord of the Rings tour.


Visiting Edoras on top of Mt. Sunday.  New Zealand is Middle Earth.

While growing up in New Zealand, Peter Jackson imagined the landscapes of his home to be part of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  As a result, bringing Tolkien’s literary works to life through his films in his native NZ was a particularly special experience for Jackson, although it was no easy feat.  Many of the film locations were in remote areas that are hard to access.  This, along with the plan to make all three movies in the trilogy at once, made things particularly challenging.  However, Jackson has remarked that these challenges also had the positive effect of making the actors more able to empathize with their characters.

Since there was so much to see in New Zealand outside of LOTR, Charles and I decided we would only take one guided LOTR tour.  We ultimately went with a tour of Edoras, the capital of Rohan (the horse people), because it was one of the most spectacular natural locations in the movie and you can only visit it on a tour since it’s on private property.  We wanted to fully immerse ourselves in Middle Earth, and I can say with absolute confidence that we achieved this goal.  Edoras was filmed on Mt. Sunday, near Mt. Potts sheep station, which is located about 2 hours southwest of Christchurch. Ironically, the land of Rohan was filmed in the area known as Erehwon, New Zealand. Erehwon was the name of a fictitious country in a book by Samuel Butler, and is also Nowhere spelled backwards. How fitting.

When we arrived at the edge of Mt. Potts, it was clear that we had entered Middle Earth. Peering over the edge of a hill, we saw Edoras on a rocky plateau in the middle of flat plains surrounded by mountains with a silver stream running through. It is just as Tolkien described Edoras in Lord of the Rings.


The kingdom of Rohan spread out before us in Erehwon, NZ.

You can see Mt. Sunday/Edoras in this photo if you look closely. It is the big rock about halfway up and to the right in this photo.

As our four wheel drive vehicle drove towards the rocky plateau on which Edoras once stood in the filming, I was filled with anticipation.  The kingdom of Rohan was the most stunning part of the movie, in my opinion, so my expectations were high.  I need not have worried.  Seeing it in real life was even better.


Mt. Sunday, home of Edoras.


Photo of Edoras from the filming of the movie (from Hassle Free Tours).

My photos have not captured a fraction of the scale of this setting. Imagine seeing this while being surrounded by miles of flat, grassy lands that are surrounded by mountains. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever set my eyes on.

To get to Mt. Sunday, our SUV had to traverse a beautiful river and then drive up a steep gravel road, which only went halfway up. From then on, we walked right into Edoras.


The most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Mt. Sunday.

Once we got to the top, we had a 360 degree view of Rohan. It was simply breathtaking.  From Edoras, we could see the Misty Mountains and Helm’s Deep.  It was also very very very windy.  Click on any of these photos for a closer view.


Panoramic view from the top of Mt. Sunday.


View of the Misty Mountains from Edoras.


View of Helm’s Deep (top left quadrant of photo).

At this point, the tour participants were allowed to indulge their LOTR fantasies.  Our tourguide showed us pictures from the movie so that we could better picture the set.  The movie set took months to construct, but they only filmed for about a week.  After filming ended, per their contract, the film company had to restore everything, including the exact location of every tussolk (bush), back to its original condition and location.


Me on Edoras/Mt. Sunday pretending to be Eowyn.


Eowyn in front of Meduseld, Edoras.

Note: Image copyrighted by New Line Cinema.  The use of the above image is for informational purposes only and qualifies as fair use.  The inclusion of this photo in this post adds significantly to the post because it shows Edoras in its full glory.  Source: Google Images.


Our wonderful tourguide kindly indulged us and put up the flag of Rohan.

Following our hike up to Edoras, we reluctantly left and had lunch (provided by the tour company).  On the car ride back, the tourguide played the behind the scenes shows from the LOTR DVD box set, which was a perfect way to end our tour of Middle Earth.

Even if you are not a LOTR fan, Erehwon is a place worth visiting.  The scenery was epic and truly stunning.  It was… dare I say it…LEGENDARY.   It is one of those places where when you go, you figure a place this beautiful is sure to be easy to photograph.  But after taking some shots, you get depressed because the photos just cannot capture a fraction of what it really looks like.  I will remember this day and this beauty the rest of my life.

TIPS:  If you are at all interested in seeing any of the LOTR movie locations in New Zealand, I recommend purchasing “The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook” by Ian Brodie.  It lists all of the movie locations by region and includes GPS coordinates and photos.  While I found it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the locations much of the time, it is the only source out there for this subject matter.  There are two versions of this book – the small compact version and the huge coffee table version.  I bought the small version so it would be easy to carry with me.  Although this book is difficult to obtain outside of NZ, rest assured that it is available in every bookstore in NZ.

DETAILS on the TOUR:

We toured Edoras with Hassle Free Tours.  We were picked up in Christchurch at around 9 AM from our B&B and dropped off around 6 PM.  We had a fantastic experience with this company from booking to the tour itself.  They provide a well informed tourguide/driver, lunch, interesting commentary, and of course access to Mt. Sunday, which is on private property.  On the way to Mt. Sunday, the tour provides a rest stop, including rest rooms.  There are also rest rooms where you eat lunch.  Overall, we were completely satisfied with this tour.  Great service and stunning scenery!

For more information, see Hassle Free Tours’ website:

http://www.hasslefree.co.nz/pages/18/lord-of-the-rings-tour.htm





Postcard from Middle Earth

7 03 2009

Charles and I are still in New Zealand, but I thought I would send a postcard to give you a taste of what is to come. Despite some uncooperative weather, New Zealand has been amazing so far. The scenery is even more dramatic and unspoiled than we expected, and the people have been among the friendliest and warmest we have met.

From New Zealand

A view from Edoras, Capital of Rohan (Mt. Sunday, Erehwon).

Click on the link above for a few more teaser shots. Unfortunately, our internet access is not fast enough for me to upload more photographs. But don’t worry, I will get them up eventually!  I will also take this moment to introduce my new camera, the Canon Rebel Xsi (450D).  This is my first SLR camera, and I am loving it so far!








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