NewsWire: A journey through Hobbit Land - The Nation

A Journey through Hobbit Land
The Nation - March 8, 2003

A three-day trip to New Zealand offers some

amazing sights and puzzlingly familiar scenery - especially if you've watched `The Lord of The Rings'.

It's 7pm on Willis Street in Wellington. There is still enough light in the sky, but New Zealand's capital is completely deserted. No cars, no buses, no people. Nothing at all, but the empty street, silent tower-blocks with the lights turned on, and a strong chilly wind.

Welcome to `Windy Wellington', I muttered to myself, remembering the words of warning given to me by my friend Jaru before I left.

"You're going to be the most lonely person in the world's most lonely place," she had said with a pitying look.

"Four years ago, a few of us rented a car in Wellington and drove out of the city hoping to see more people," she recalled. "We failed, but we did meet plenty of sheep and cows."

But that was New Zealand four years ago - before Peter Jackson's magic touch. Born in Wellington, Jackson's "Lord of the Rings' is already part of movie history.

It has also done wonders for New Zealand's tourism industry and the Kiwis seem happy with country's new nickname `Middle-earth'. The remote landscapes, snow-capped mountains and the neat farms surrounded by green meadows have suddenly taken on a more mystical appearance.

One fan flew from England after watching the film "a 1,000 times", and spent months hopping around New Zealand visiting all the locations where the film was shot.

I have three days. Just long enough to drive across the heart of North Island from Wellington to Auckland.

Winkie Chau, my driver, picks me up early at the City Life Hotel and we head out of the city heading for Napier on the east coast, a seven-hour drive.

Just 30 minutes out of Wellington is Upper Hutt, a small valley where the diversity of landscape made it ideal for filming the River Anduin - the great river that runs across Middle Earth.

"If you saw `Fellowship of the Ring', you might recognise the scene where they are paddling along the river after they left Lothlorien. Jackson filmed it here along the Hutt River," says Winkie.

The landscape is stunning, especially when you come from a tropical country like Thailand, where flat paddy fields dominate much of the countryside. Here, there is a bit of everything; rugged hills, deep valleys and huge vistas.

We pass a mountain, the scene of Helm's Deep, and I peer up at the tracks that wind around the foothills, half expecting to see hobbits.

Then it's on to Kaitoke Regional Park nestled in the foothills of Tararua. The park contains some 2,800 hectares of native forest, and another location from the film - Rivendell.

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