MIDDLE EARTH WITH KIWI EXPERIENCE PART 2
ABLE TASMAN NATIONAL PARK
Our South Island Journey begins when we leave Picton for the Abel Tasman National Park. It’s not long before we cross the Pelorus Bridge, looking right you can picture the Dwarfs from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, floating down the River in Barrels. Unlike the wild Rapids we saw on the Waikato River used in the North Island, the river here flows more gently.
As we leave the Abel Tasman National Park the next day, we make way closer to the West Coast. It’s wild, untouched, rugged, and absolutely stunning. Kiwi Experience heads down the West Coast, where the already dramatic scenery just keeps out doing it self.
Soon our bus stops for us to spend a couple of nights in Franz Josef. Here there is a walk up towards the Glacier that offers views of Mount Gun, also known as Ered Nimrais, this is where the beacons that run from Gondor to Rohan along the White Mountains are lit. To save disappointment at not crossing this one off the bucket list though, it’s best to see it from above. The views are unbelievable, this is how the location scouts must have felt when searching out all these untouched places in Helicopters.
Leaving the West Coast our coach makes its way over a mountain pass that crosses the Alpine Fault line. We come off the Haast pass into what seems like yet another world. The Rain forest is behind us on the Western side, here on the East, its dryer, it’s all about the snow grasses covering the snow-capped mountains. No wonder Sir Peter Jackson thought this was the best country in the world to shoot these films.
Our Kiwi Experience bus has made its way through multiple locations and diverse landscapes to get us this far. Now we are heading to Queenstown. Our coach makes a stop at the famous AJ Hackett Bungy, where adventurous souls throw themselves off the historic bridge with a bungy cord around their ankles. We leave the Bungy Bridge and look right to get an idea of just how high that 43 metres was, but then quickly look left towards the confluence of two famous rivers, the Arrow and the Kawarau, to see the location for yet another scene. This is where the Fellowship are filmed paddling down the Anduin River past the Pillars of the Kings.
Queenstown has a lot to offer and it’s easy to see why a few nights were recommended here by Kiwi Experience. The drive into town takes us past a hill called Deer Park Heights, the location for a few scenes out of all three LOTR films. A lot of the locations were situated in remote areas, but you can just sit on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, and be staring straight at the Remarkable Mountains, an iconic mountain range used in both LOTR and The Hobbit. It’s from the Remarkables Sean Astin, Sam the hobbit, said
"I recall sitting in Queenstown against the mountain range aptly titled the Remarkables and feeling I was actually living the books. It was like Tolkien had walked across New Zealand."
No visit to New Zealand would be complete without a trip to Milford Sound, and Kiwi Experience is a great way to get there. The Kiwi Experience bus takes us through the Fiordland National Park, the country’s largest and another World Heritage site, into what is called the 8th Wonder of the World, Milford Sound. Although the National Park is home to more locations, the rugged and remoteness of it makes it near impossible to get to these. But standing in these giant glacial carved valleys, dwarfed by the towering mountains around you, it’s hard not to feel you have walked straight into one of the films.
Here we are greeted by more of that turquois blue glacial water. It’s too hard to resist another scenic flight. This makes its way over the Alps to the West Coast, above the West Coast glaciers, around Mount Cook, up Lake Pukaki, and back to Tekapo. It’s almost impossible not to get photos and video from the flight that the crew would themselves have got while the Hobbit was in production. Starring at the stars from the Tekapo Observatory there is time to think…is it even possible there a place as diverse and beautiful as this on our planet, let alone in our universe?