Celefinniel's Trip to Middle Earth Pages

The Trip to Middle Earth ~ 2003 ~ Chapter 2 ~ When Mordor Freezes Over

To conserve space these photos are small. Mail me if you want the hi-rez image.

Noro Lim, Asfaloth! Up at the crack of dawn and on our way to Hobbiton at last. The Gondor Two bus takes the two of us back through some of the same countryside we had already driven through on the way back from Hamilton, but today it is not raining (yet!) Once we leave Auckland and its suburbs the countryside is pastoral and again full of sheep. Our stop at Hobbiton near Matamata is great. The village is a bit the worse for wear, but still perfectly recognizable, and the party tree is all we could have hoped for.

In addition, Gondor Two had Russell Alexander as our guide and he told us wonderful stories about watching the filming during his visits to his father's farm. His brother showed us how to shear a sheep, which was something I'd never seen before, though I'd read about it. Not to mention that we were among the first to have a chance at the adorable 'hobbit-style' WC.

After eats and souvenir shopping (lots of Hobbiton logo hats), it was back on the bus to head out for Rotorua. The group split up once we hit the hotel. Some went to the thermal reserve, others went shopping, and some just explored the town. We took the opportunity to get over to the ticket office to pick up our information and tickets for the Tamaki Village Hangi before the crowd arrived, and then went photo seeking.

Tamaki Maori Village was begun in 1990 by Mike and Doug Tamaki to offer an in-depth Maori cultural experience and Hangi feast outside the hotel and city environment. The journey into the past began when our coach turned imaginatively into a Maori canoe (waka) and everyone on board paddled toward the village, we selected Dom Kincaid as our chief, to accept the challenge of the proud Maori warrior. We had a great dinner, complete with cranberry sauce for the Americans, who were celebrating Thanksgiving, and then the concert. The haka impressed quite a lot of our group, who had not previously seen it. Even though we have seen it before, it is still a powerful experience to witness.

The next day was a very full schedule. We needed to be in Wellington in time for the party and premiere events so needed to stay on track. Huka Falls was an impressive stop. I can't recall that it was anything to do with the film, but worth the visit. Our 'real' objective was Morrrdorrrr aka Tongariro National Park. While exploring the wasteland of Emyn Muil, it began to rain and then to snow! Yes indeed, it is possible for Mordor, or at least Whakapapa, to freeze over.

Back on the bus in our inadequate jackets for a ride back down the mountain and a picnic lunch. It wasn't much warmer at the bottom, but hot coffee and cocoa put us back together pretty quickly. Then it was time for a look at the park gifts and The Grand Chateau Hotel, where the cast and crew stayed while filming.

Our final stop of the day was the stream where Gollum chases the fish. Mangawhero Falls was familiar to almost everyone, as it has appeared in specials about how the Gollum character was filmed. After our snow experience, we could all sympathize with Andy Serkis. Even when there is no snow on the ground, the water in that stream is cold. Some of the more stoic Gondorians tried it out anyway.

Evening at the Powderhorn Lodge for some of us. Ohakune is just a movie site to some, but for me it is also another connection with Ngiao Marsh and her mystery novels. Its changed some since she mentioned it, though. Big excitement as we try to find out whose room everybody has, and get a look at the memorabilia left behind by the cast and crew. Lots of fun checking out the bulletin board in the bar for photos of hobbits and elves.

Saturday November 29th - Today we will finally arrive in Wellington at last. But first a visit to the Cavallo Ranch stables near Waikanae where the 'Head Black Rider', Chris Rutter, with his horse Bob and Arwen's riding double, Jane Abbott and her horse Florian, demonstrated the training that the horses had for the film. We got to fire off champagne poppers to help get the horses ready for the Premiere Parade. We were also treated to a dressage exhibition by Jane and Florian before being turned loose to make friends with their equine partners. Little did we know that while we were rubbing noses with the horses, Aragorn was out riding Uraeus (Brego). Here's my big "star" moment with Viggo's other horse Kenny (Hasufel). Poor fellow was getting ignored because nobody recognized him. Thanks Robert, for telling me who I was flirting with!

On to Wellington at last. Our hotel is just up the street from the Embassy, and we get a first look at everything as we run out to collect our tickets for the grandstand. Luckily for us, our New NZ friends Phillip & Felicity have the rest of the tickets so no need to worry. We let them know we have arrived, and set up a meeting place for the poetry reading and concert. The poetry was fantastic, three New Zealand poets including Bill Manhire, and Viggo Mortensen. There was a variety of themes and types of poetry and a traditional Maori greeting to begin the session.

The New Zealanders were well prepared and presented with elan. Hinemoana Baker, a singer-songwriter went first with five poems (Fenua, Rangiatea, Tangihanga, Cup 'o Tea, and Sound Check). Cliff Fell read Curtains, two sections of his long poem Ophelia (pt.2: The Price & pt.5: Tricks), Gold, His Knowing, and Shakespeare's Horse. At this point we got an extra surprise as host poet, Bill Manhire, took the podium to read The Next 1000, a poem he had written about possible futures. He was followed by relative newcomer Tusiata Avia, who is a world traveler and writes very vigorous, earthy poems from a feminine perspective. She performed My Dog, Three Reasons for Sleeping with a White Man, Sistena: in praise of sluts, and Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. The first three photos here are from other events. Cliff Fell is not pictured.

Viggo Mortensen finished the program. As seems usual, he came up to the podium with pile of books stuffed with scraps of paper and apologized for being so disorganized. Seems he can never choose in advance what to read, but wants to be inspired by the moment. He talked about how he came to be giving the reading. "To be sharing a stage with these four poets is more than an honour, it's like a dream really." "One of the most pleasant surprises I had during my time in New Zealand . . . was finding how much poetry there was here relative to the size of the population." He said he had taken boxes of New Zealand poetry back to the U.S., and now includes one or two New Zealand poems whenever he does readings. True to his words, he started with Manhire's poem, How to Take Off Your Clothes at the Picnic, which seems to be one of his favorites.

During his half-hour appearance, he read about a dozen poems, including some penned while he was in New Zealand, and others in Danish and Spanish; he speaks both languages fluently. The audience hung on every word ~ even those they could not understand. (Home, Ontario, Lullaby (in Danish), Back to Babylon, Halloween, La Tristeza (in Spanish ~ by Mario Benedetti), Marta, Lullaby (again ~ this time in English), Fatherman, En Suelo (in Spanish), Hillside, Clear, Castro's (about a Wellington restaurant), Letter from Nebraska (requested by Cliff Fell or Bill Manhire ~ I forget which), and First Light). We spotted Alan Lee and Richard Taylor in the audience. The benefit was for the International Institute of Modern Letters. Thanks to a generous matching grant by the IIMLís founding patron Glenn Schaeffer, over $50,000 was raised towards a scholarship endowment fund for future students. No photos were allowed during the readings, but they didn't say anything about afterwards.

Then it was on to the concert, where oddly enough photos were permitted. The crush was amazing. Phil and I are not very tall so we couldn't tell who was arriving other than by sheer decible level of the screams. Our friends suggested going on up to our seats instead. As a result we stood around upstairs and drank champagne in relative peace and quiet along with some of the less recognizable celebrities. We also got excellent seats for the concert, on the left side of the director, slightly above his head. Howard Shore is a remarkable conductor. To watch him guide the symphony, soloists, and the assistant conductors for the massed choirs (we were able to see them also) was amazing. He deserved the 10+ minute standing ovation and all the curtain calls, as did all those who participated. No one wanted to see it end. It was a truly magical evening. After a late pizza with our new friends, and plans to meet at their house the next day when the tour pulled in after sightseeing, we turned in.

Blurry photos, but you probably recognize some of these folk.

Up bright and early the next morning for sightseeing. We pile on the coaches only to be driven a couple of blocks and pointed up a hill. Good thing we live in the Bay Area. This little beauty made Nob Hill or the Coit Tower climb look like a piece 'o cake. I finally crossed the street so I could get some speed up. I can do hills, but not slowly, I have to be able to take them at the charge. Forth Eorlingas! Need more time on the stairmaster and less on the elliptical trainer, I suppose.

Finally at the top, we are in Victoria Park site of the "get off the road" scene. Where one of our tour hobbits obligingly ran away down the road for us chased by 'black riders' on bicycles! Then on to Stone Street Studios (a car park), where the only sign of anything, was in fact, a warning sign. And Weta Workshop (another car park). We later heard from fellow Gondorians that Weta is primarly fueled by KFC and McDonalds. I suspect some caffeine also plays a role. Robert left us here to go be with the press corps. Here is a rare shot of the man himself with his magic passes.

Now the excitement really kicks in as we head for Harcourt Park, home of Isengard Gardens, where we were greeted by Peter Hasholt and his buddies Morgan, Rhys and Shane for a bit of stuntwork demonstrations and film swordplay. Since I am contemplating taking up fencing for my 50th b-day and have had one preliminary lesson back in May, I was anxious to see whether anything stuck. It hadn't much. But we had great fun anyway! Derek and I re-enacted Gandalf and Saruman walking in the gardens. The first of my many roles on the trip, but not the last. I just love to playact. Derek kept saying "You wouldn't part an old man from his GPS, would you?"

Saying farewell to the stunt actors, we head out to Lothlorien. Fernside house, near Featherston, is simply beautiful even without the set dressing, and the ground there actually was covered in little yellow 'elanor' flowers. Phil was in his usual "I'll run ahead and get a photo with no people in it" mood, but that simply meant that while the rest were photographing the lake, we were back in the empty rose garden and the house. About this time we realize we will not be back in Wellington in time for a meeting with Phillip and Felicity before the party. Bummer! Now we'll have to come back again to visit them. Isn't that too bad. As if either of us really needs an excuse to do that.

On the way back we pause at the "Helm's Deep / Minas Tirith" site, Dry Creek Quarry. Anwen, guide for Gondor One, shares her memories of a visit to the set when it was re-dressed for Minas Tirith.

That night we briefly spotted Phillip and Felicity at the "Return of the Ringers" party but lost them in the mad crush, and I found out what it was like to have a trophy husband. I swear there were as many people chasing Phil (Theoden) for photos as there were chasing Bruce Hopkins. He was even on channel-3 TV. After this, only the premiere could be better, right mate? Stay tuned for Chapter 3 ~ Knock Yourselves Out.



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