Back in 1862 thousands of hopeful miners flocked to the Arrow River searching for their own ‘one ring’ gold nugget. Today you will find a quaint, tidy, tourist friendly township perched on the edge of the Arrow River. If you park on the street closest to the river, and make your way to the riverside, you can look upstream towards the Ford of Bruinen. Here Arwen was once mounted on her trusty steed Asfaloth, with Frodo at her front clinging to dear life, as the Nazgul charged menacingly towards them. In reality the scene was actually accomplished using a stunt double on the horse in the river facing off against nine hot and sweaty hood wearing stunt riders on black horses. If you want to stand in the exact shadow of Asfaloth and channel an elvish spirit put on your Wellies and tread upstream for about 200 metres and feel the magic.
About 20 mins from Queenstown along SH6A then SH6 is the Kawarau Suspension Bridge - famous as the home for the world’s first commercial bungy jump. Bungy jumping is still big business at the bridge, but if you drive a bit further upstream on SH6 and take the turn off to Chard Farm Winery onto Gibbston Highway you will find the site for Argonath. Here on the cliff sides rising out of the Kawarau River were the Pillars of the Kings …. in the film. You won’t find the Pillars here now, because they were only ever chiseled by digital artists in darkened rooms at Weta Digital, but it’s easy to see where they were placed. You way also wish to imagine the Fellowship paddling through this gorge (again the river Anduin) in dainty elven canoes.
Deer Park Heights is a farm on top of the Kelvin Heights peninsular approx 20 min drive from Queenstown. This was once a popular tourist destination, where you could feed animals whilst taking in the 360 degree view, but this attraction has been closed to the public since 2009. You can’t drive up to the farm to just take a look but you can still walk up there to see the lake. Foot access is via Peninsula Road then take the turn off just before Balmoral Drive.
There are were a bunch of moments shot up here but the most memorable is the Rohan refugees ambling dejectedly between Edoras and Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. There is a lake nearby and the Remarkables in the background. Aragorn also had a brief incident with a warg here and Gimli was tossed dramatically from his horse.
If a walk sounds too strenuous, and you feel like taking the nap option, you could opt to settle in for some luxury camping in a yurt Glam Camping Queenstown. Taking in the 360 degree views over the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau, and Queenstown from a teepee while being served wine and dinner is more than a bucket list can hope for. The added bonus is you will have all day to take your scenic LOTR selfies and can take a nap in between set ups.
There are two routes from Queenstown to Wanaka. If you take the longer through Cromwell (approx 90 mins) you can swing by the location for The Great East Road where Arwen and Frodo fled on horseback through a pine forest from the Nazgul. From Cromwell you carry on towards Tarras and take a left onto Maori Point Road. The location you are looking for is on private land but you can easily get the gist from the roadside. 2 km down Maori Point Road, which is unsealed, you will see a pine forest and galloping amongst the trees are the ghosts of the crew and stunties who filmed this complex sequence over 11 days.
Sitting beside Lake Wanaka in this quaint and idyllic resort town you literally feel like you are in a movie. Wanaka was also the home to the LOTR second unit for several weeks. During this time, an apocalyptic amount of rain decided to fall, sending the crew scrambling from the set on Maori Point Road back to their accommodation all over Wanaka. They were advised to hold emergency water in their basins and baths and when the water levels outside their rooms rose they joined the locals in sandbagging to fight potential flooding of the town. The battle was unfortunately lost and the town, shops and restaurants were flooded … but the pubs were full.
From Queenstown if you take the scenic drive towards Glenorchy around Lake Wakatipu you will come to Twelve Mile Delta, coincidentally around 12 miles from Queenstown. This area is managed by the Department of Conservation and is perfect for a picnic or somewhere to dip your toes in the chilly Wakatipu. For those looking to channel the Fellowship’s ‘sleeping in nature’ spirit, for a small fee you can pitch a tent and roll out your sleep mat. There is a camp host on site and the fee will not only get you a patch of grass but a shared long drop loo as well. This beautiful spot was the location for the culinary discussion between Gollum and Sam about coonery cookery. It is also where Gollum, Sam and Frodo watch the Rangers of Gondor and the men of Harad have a bit of a skirmish and spot the magical Oliphants for the first time. Check out the scene here.
Glenorchy is about 30 minutes from 12 Mile Delta on the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. The town is a great place to grab a flat white, contemplate the aqua colour of the lake, and marvel at the high count of tramping boots on tourists before jumping back in the car and heading towards Paradise. This area is literally paradise but the name was actually inherited from the local duck the paradise duck. 15 km along the Glenorchy-Paradise Road you will pass the Acadia Guest House on the left then another five km’s along on the left you will find a large green field, this is known as Dan’s paddock. If you take a snap of the paddock with Mt Earnslaw in the background, delete the sheep and grass, and add in Isengard and the tower of Orthanc you will basically have where Gandalf approaches Isengard.
If you haven’t grown tired of beautiful lakes and don’t mind a bit of a drive through beautiful verdant landscape, there is a ‘two for one lake’ deal you can take. Starting with the two-hour drive from Queenstown to Te Anau, The Mavora Lakes are a 90 min drive along SH94 from Te Anau. There are two turn-off points between Mossburn and Te Anau, either at Centre Hill or Burwood Station, then you jump on a gravel road for about 40km. Again the beauty is astounding, you can camp and fish and hike whilst providing sustenance for the prolific mosquito population. A bunch of filming was down around these lakes over many days but bear in mind your imagination will get a good work out.
About 4km before the turn off to Mavora Lakes there is a gate on the left hand side of the road. Across the road from the gate is the spot that served as the edge of Fangorn Forest. Some 250m northwest from here Eomer and his horse friends built an Orc bonfire.
After this roadside stop jump back in the car and drive to the lakes. The Northern Lake or Nen Hithoel, according to the film, marks the end of the Fellowship’s journey down the Anduin River. It was here that large prosthetic feet shuffled around the shoreline and hairy toes were dipped in the cool water as the Fellowship jumped from their Elven vessels for multiple takes. Also on the shoreline was a Fellowship campfire and where Frodo and Sam jumped back into boats to cross to Mordor.
At South end of this lake near the loo, head into the forest. It gets a little needle and haystack at this point but if you are lucky you will discover a tree stump 150m in, on a ridge. Around here a bunch of Ringsie stuff happened. Merry and Pippin hid from Orcs, Frodo hid from Uruk-Hai and Lurzt and his gang of henchmen ran around madly. Again imagination is required to really make the most of this moment or maybe just break out a chocolate bar and have a little moment.
Meanwhile over at South Mavora Lake more filming took place near where the swing bridge crosses the entrance to the Mararoa River. Here the Mararoa is the Silverlode River and the Fellowship leave Lothlorien.
Banner Photo Credit: Department Of Conservation