Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Exploring the Southern North Island

To those of you who suggested that I go on a tour of Lord of the Rings filming sites, I have followed your advice. Although not intentionally. Amanda, Julie and I were trying to figure out something to do for today (Sunday and also Amanda’s last day in Wellington). We were thinking of going a little outside of Wellington to Martinborough in the Waiparapa Valley, one of the North Island’s best wine regions. We weren’t sure how to get there, though, since none of us really felt comfortable driving on the left side of the road and the public transportation options to get there are terrible. We ended up deciding to take a tour. The tour wasn’t running because not enough people wanted to go and so we ended up taking a different (and much better) tour. We got to see a number of LOTR filming sites, seals, countryside and one winery. It was awesome! This truly is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

So, details… the pics are on my picasa site: http://picasaweb.google.com/hannah.kim.frank/FulbrightOrientationAndSouthernNorthIslandTour?authkey=Gv1sRgCOKapLHWle3OQg#
Be forewarned that I didn’t edit my pics before tossing them up there so some of them are likely quite bad. I’ll label them when I can.

Lord of the Rings sites: Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is basically nothing left of the LOTR movie sets. (They did shoot 10 years ago, after all.) Turns out the cast, crew and production staff were very conscientious about not damaging or permanently altering their filming locations. We saw four major locations that were used in the filming. The first is actually just a quarry on the side of the highway leading North out of Wellington in the Hutt Valley. It’s not much to look at but this is where they built Helm’s deep and also some of the stone courtyards of Minas Tirith. According to our tour guide, there was a 6m high fence in front of the quarry during shooting so sometimes people on the hill on the other side of the valley would gather on their decks to try to spy over. Also, the Hutt River, along which the highway runs, is where they filmed a lot of the canoeing scenes, including the scene where the elven boats set out in front of a cliff. (Said “cliff” is a rock face that’s about 30m high, above which there are a bunch of houses and powerlines.)

We also went to Harcourt park, home to the entrance to Isengard. They put in a gravel path which they replanted when they were done. Supposedly you could tell the location for a little bit because the grass on the strip was a slightly different color. The park was also home to the orc tree scene. There’s a scene in the movie in which the orcs are cutting down trees to feed their fire to make weapons. It was filmed in the middle of this pretty neighborhood park. In order to not cut down any trees in the park and be able to film the scene multiple times, the production staff actually transported two huge trees from another location, roots and all. They then “replanted” them, disassembled them and labeled the location of every branch and reassembled them so they could be “cut down” and put back up multiple times. Also the trees didn’t have enough leaves so the crew added some. On a completely unrelated note, a huge seismic fault runs through the middle of the park. There are signs about former riverbeds that are now part of the park since they were raised by seismic activity. There’s also a huge suspension bridge that spans the Hutt river which leads to some really nice views (up on picasa).

The last LOTR site we saw was Rivendell. This is in the middle of a regional park and is the only LOTR site that’s marked. Something like 30 crew members came months in advance to build Rivendell around the trees along this (very steep) river bank. They built all the buildings 6ft off the ground so they wouldn’t damage the small plants. There’s a sign at the site that shows a pic of the half built set, including the power line that lies on the ridge across the river. I also stood next to the tree where Legolas was guarding Rivendell. Probably as close as I’ll ever get to Orlando Bloom.

In coming up from the Hutt Valley we drove along the Rimutaka mountain range along a very twisty road with an extremely steep drop off. (Someone actually drove off the side fairly recently, fell 600ft and managed to survive!) I was very glad that we did not attempt to drive. Especially since we were driving to wine country. In the Waiparapa valley we saw a lot of farmland including some of the 6 million cattle in NZ and many many sheep. (It’s true. New Zealand has a lot of sheep.) A lot of the area is still owned by the descendants of the original settlers of that land. (They gave the government a bush reserve so they could keep the land.)

We then followed the road out towards the beach. According to our guide, the area was being surveyed when in 1855 there was a huge earthquake. Since the surveyors had already done really detailed measurements of the area before the earthquake, they were able to give one of the best accounts of seismic activity there’s ever been. (I think it raised the entire area about 20 ft out of the sea.) The seismic activity in the area is very apparent. Entire sections of the road we were driving on have only been there for 15 years. The original road is lying to the side, perfectly horizontal and 20ft below the current road where it slipped in the last major earthquake. There are also periodic signs for tsunami escape routes up the hills. Kind of insane.

We then went to Palliser Bay. On the road there, we encountered a small town which has a really rough black sand/ pebble beach. All the trailers to haul boats out of the ocean there are bulldozers so that they can handle the rough conditions of the beach. (Someone painted their bulldozer bright pink.) There’s a really pretty lighthouse at one end of the bay and it was so picturesque that Microsoft took the same pic that the touring company uses to sell Vista. I was interested in Palliser Bay mainly because it’s home to probably the only seal breeding colony on the North Island. Technically we need a permit to view marine mammals, but whatever. We saw some baby seals. They were adorable! We also saw a lot of beautiful adult seals. Palliser Bay also has rocks that are red because of the ferric oxide. (Maori legend says they’re red because the chief killed two guards by smashing their heads on the rocks after they fell asleep when they were supposed to be protecting his daughter from being kidnapped.)

After Palliser Bay it was on to Martinborough, the small town that has become the capital of the wine region (built in the shape of a Union Jack b/c John Martin was that loyal to the crown). There are a lot of vineyards, olive trees and lavender planted in the area, making it very beautiful. We did a wine tasting at one of the wineries in the area. There was a huge rooster that was hanging around the wine tasting. He was very pretty and a little intimidating. It was fun smelling and tasting all the different wines and especially helpful to have a guide sheet. I wish I had actually taken the wine seminar at Kirkland because I knew nothing. I especially didn’t know that I probably shouldn’t have swallowed all the wine they gave us. Made the 80 min drive down the windy road interesting… The other people on the tour taught me the rules of rugby on the way back to Wellington. We didn’t attempt to tackle cricket.

- I saw where they made (parts of) the Lord of the Rings trilogy! There’s nothing left but at least I can say I’ve been there. Also, Orlando Bloom and I are probably besties now.
- Cattle and sheep and seals, oh my! People weren’t lying. There are a lot of sheep in New Zealand. And cows.
- And bulldozers to drag boats up the beach. Including bright pink ones.
- And grapes. And wine bottles. And a very large rooster.
- I may never understand rugby.

1 comment:

  1. Hannah, these are wonderful! Keep it coming: long or short, technical or mundane, the writing is a pleasure to read.

    Looking forward to hearing more...

    Mr. W