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


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.


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:

Chicago: Public Enemies Filming at Night

16 06 2008

A few weeks ago, my neighbor and I decided to try to catch actual filming of the Public Enemies movie at night. We couldn’t get very close to the action, but I did snag some interesting shots. People involved with the film told us that Christian Bale and Johnny Depp were there, but we were unable to catch a glimpse.

Click on the photo for a closer view of the Biograph Theater.

The film crew filmed a few days at this location. We were there on May 29. I am guessing that they were filming the scene when John Dillinger gets shot.

For a daytime view of this street all set up for the filming, see my previous post on Public Enemies.

We were able to see some of the props from the movie, though, including several of these beautiful period automobiles.

I was even able to take a short video of the filming. In this clip, you can see the period cars driving around and around the block in order to simulate a busy street at night.

Alas, we were unable to get closer to the actual filming, which was taking place about a block away. I guess they really wanted to keep the screaming fans away from Johnny and Christian.

Chicago: Public Enemies Movie Set

29 05 2008

This May, Hollywood once again descended on the city of Chicago with the filming of Public Enemies. Directed by Michael Mann, this feature film is about the FBI’s take down of notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and and Pretty Boy Floyd during the 1930s. Johnny Depp is playing John Dillinger while Christian Bale is playing Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent on his case as Public Enemy #1.

Above: Photo of John Dillinger
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation

It’s always exciting when Chicago is featured in Hollywood movies, but this movie takes the cake in terms of using the Windy City as a backdrop. As you may know, John Dillinger was shot to death by the FBI in the alley by the Biograph Theater in Chicago. The FBI’s website has a fantastic summary of what happened with John Dillinger, which you can access here. The movie is being filmed at this actual location. Talk about an authentic reenactment!

Above: Biograph Theater circa 1930s
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Biograph Theater is located in the heart of Lincoln Park on Lincoln Avenue just north of Fullerton. What the director has done is transform the entire block into 1930s Chicago. The movie crew has laid cobblestones in the middle of the street and recreated storefronts from that era.

Well, enough talk – below are the movie set pictures!

The moviemakers have recreated every detail, including what movie was playing the very night Dillinger was shot on July 22, 1934. Ironically, Manhattan Melodrama was a movie about a gangster.

Through the magic of Google Maps Street View, we can see what the Biograph Theater and the surrounding street usually look like. The theater was recently restored, so there actually weren’t any major changes. Click on the little man when the map pops up for the Street View.

Click Here to View Map

Here are closeups of some of the storefronts. I love all the details.

The picture below is a view from the other side of the Biograph Theater.

This is the liquor store right next to the theater.

In today’s time, this supermarket is a Qdoba Mexican Grill.

And here is the infamous alley where John Dillinger was shot by the FBI. Notice the modern condo building behind it.

On the other side of the alley is a Chinese takeout place and a jeweler.

Across the street is the Red Lion, which funny enough they didn’t need to change very much for the movie set.

Below is a picture of The Red Lion in modern times.

Photo by Chris A from Yelp

Here are some more stores across the street from the Biograph.

A. Zito Bakery

What a fantastic transformation of this street – it was like going back in time. I just love that the director decided to film that scene at the actual location of the historical event, and I love seeing this recreation of 1930s Chicago. The great thing is that many of these buildings only required small changes. I suppose there are little bits of history everywhere if you only know where to look!

More Batman Pictures

25 08 2007

I was alerted by Charles that they were filming a scene from Batman yesterday, so I headed over to see the hubbub and for lunch just north of the Chicago Board of Trade on LaSalle St. This is what I found: a movie scene set up for a policeman’s funeral. There were GPD (Gotham Police Department) vehicles, a stage with very nice flowers, and tons of GPD officers. A GPD Swat team also stood nearby.

The scene was set up right in front of the CBOT and next to the Chicago Federal Reserve building.

GPD vehicles

It started raining, so they had to cover up the seats. Notice the bagpipers sitting on stage.

Funeral stage

Since this was such a big funeral set up, and this was before Gordon becomes commissioner, I am guessing that this is Gordon’s predecessor’s funeral.

And no, I did not see Christian Bale. Or Morgan Freeman.

If you haven’t seen my previous pics from the filming of Batman: The Dark Knight, scroll down a couple of posts or click on the word “Batman” in the tag cloud on the right side of the page.

Batman Pictures

20 08 2007

The Dark Knight, the new batman flick, has been filming in Chicago the entire summer. The film has mostly been filmed in the Loop, Chicago’s business district, and the old Post Office building just south of the Loop. Since I work in the Loop and love Batman, I have been trying to get glimpses of the filming all summer. After hearing about all the sightings in the area, I finally dragged my husband around one weekend and took a bunch of pictures of some Batman sets. These props from the movie are just lying out in plain sight all around Chicago.

Gotham Police Car

Gotham Police Car

A Burned Out Helicopter Shell Under the “L” tracks

Burned Out Helicopter

The Old Post Office Building, aka Gotham Bank

Old Post Office Bldg

An Overturned Truck


A close-up… it’s a circus truck. How interesting…

Joker's Truck?

Seeing the movie filmed in Chicago is so exciting – I can’t WAIT until this movie comes out. The only bad thing is that I haven’t seen Christian Bale yet. THAT would totally make my day!!

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