This Christmas the third instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit closes the series started by The Fellowship of the Ring –first film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy– back in 2001. This is a nostalgic moment for all Tolkien fans –among which I am included since I first read the books when I was 14.
The Middle Earth bids adieu on the big screen. Elves, hobbits, wizards, men and orcs will not come back for Christmas next year… Do they? Indeed, there is a place in our Earth where their magic might be still alive. Gandalf keeps setting off fireworks to entertain hobbit children and Legolas’ bow abilities are revered by everyone. If you want to know where this happens, keep on reading.
Peter Jackson was amazed by New Zealand since he was young. The English countryside and the South African landscape inspired JRR Tolkien, but Peter Jackson’s place of birth was even better to let the imagination run free.
I have toured New Zealand twice and I would do it a thousand more. In its two islands you’ll come across smooth hills covered by green grass, jungles of tree ferns, swift rivers perfect for rafting, volcanic wastelands, glaciers, fjords, lakes, mountain ranges of up to 3,700m high and much more. This is the perfect scenery to recreate the Middle Earth, and also a paradise to any nature lover.
When I got to Auckland I was able to put my hands on a small Lord of the Rings location guidebook showcasing the principal movie-set locations of Peter Jackson’s films. I’ve been in many of these spots and I’ll tell you about the ones I found most impressive.
The Shire: Hobbits live in Matamata
Upon my arrival to Matamata, a small town located two hours South of Auckland, I found a sign hanging over the door of a school downtown that read: Hobbits wanted. A little further a statue of Gollum stares the beholder next to a green sign with golden letters: Welcome to Hobbiton. We had reached the Shire.
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I headed off right to the Hobbiton Movie Set Tours office, first to buy the tour ticket –it was NZD 66 in 2011 but now it’s about 75 to 80 NZD– and also to ask if they still needed hobbits as extras for the shooting of the first movie of The Hobbit, that would start in a few weeks. The woman looked up to me, chucking and said: “I’m sorry you must be under 5 feet to take part in the casting”. I had never wished so badly to be smaller.
After my rejection for a hobbit role, I still looked forward to discover the place where my beloved hobbits lead their quiet lives.
The green and wavy lands of the Alexanders’ farm called the attention of Peter Jackson while he flied over the area in a small plane. And right there he created the Shire, with 36 hobbit holes, the mill, the famous Green Dragon Tavern and everything else. Once the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was over, all the settings needed to be taken down due to copyright requirements. The demolition works in the Alexander’s farm were suspended for weeks due to constant heavy rainfall. And I’m sure they were the effect of a Gandalf spell.
Meanwhile, the first film –The Fellowship of the Ring– was released in cinemas all over the world and some locals spotted the farm in the mountains featured on the background of some scenes. No matter how nerd you are, there will be always someone outdoing you.
When the news spread, visitors from all over the country arrived to visit. The Alexanders saw an opportunity and signed an agreement for two years with the producer New Line Cinema. The result is that I was able to see the set ready for the impending shooting of the first part of The Hobbit.
It was so exciting to see the house of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, the birthday tree, the Sam’s house, the inn, the firewood bundles next to the holes’ doors… Everything was ready for Jackson to shout action! and Gandalf to make his entrance driving the carriage full of artwoods. Nothing would have delighted me more.
Mordor: Tongariro National Park.
Tongariro National Park –the oldest in the country– is located in the centre of the North Island. This area of grey, volcanic land has small spots of vegetation in the plainest areas and is surrounded by emerald lakes, become one of the landmarks of New Zealand.
This is not only the perfect re-creation of Mordor –home to the evil Sauron– but also the ideal spot to do Alpine Crossing trekking, one of the most beautiful one-day walks you can do.
The trekking is completely free and you need no guide. At the Youth Hostel where we were lodged in the neighbour town of National Park we were offered to make a guided tour. But if you really want to feel that you’re walking down the real Mordor, you should better do it on your own, or maybe just with your couple or a few friends.
We started off our route at 9am in a crisp, sunny winter morning. During the walk our constant visual reference was the snowy top of Ngauruhoe volcano. This volcano, almost 2,300 m above sea level, is the well-known Mount Doom where Frodo threw the ring away to destroy the power of Sauron.
We were able to make it through the path taking to the volcanoes without any orc attack. Temperature started to drop as we got nearer until a bitter cold started to settle down when we reached 1,650 m, close to the Red Crater. We found a plain of around 500 m long, with no vegetation at all and covered by a dense, cold fog constantly moving that did not allow to see further than ten metres. This is it. We were in Mordor.
At that point you either go up to the snowy Ngauruhoe or keep forward to the Red Crater ridge, 1,880 m above sea level. As we didn’t have climbing gear or special clothing for the cold we started to feel, we chose the second option. We had a rough ride ahead – 230 m of climbing up to the ridge with a fierce wind that wanted to push us right to the claws of Sauron’s servants.
But when we finally made it to the top to the red land of the ridge we felt truly fulfilled. Volcanic lagoons of different colours spattered across the slope, offering a very beautiful colour contrast.
We had our lunch up there and then we climb back down to our motorhome. The whole trekking takes 6 or 7 hours and crosses the park from side to side. If you have your own car, you’ll have to get to the start point by hitch-hiking. There are huts available to sleep or rest. You should book first from the Department of Conservation.
We left Mordor when the Sun was setting down. Apparently, Frodo did a good job because Sauron didn’t bother us on our trip.
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