A magical road trip through Middle Earth

When Lord of the Rings fans think about visiting New Zealand they remember the films and imagine travelling through the breath-taking landscapes of Middle Earth. Many places, in both the North and South Island, were used when filming the Lord of the Rings and its prequel The Hobbit. New Zealand really does have all this, from the mind blowing grandeur of snow capped mountains to the charming beauty of rolling green hills – and all this is surprisingly accessible when you see the country by land.

We wanted to really immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of New Zealand – to have the freedom to visit distant corners of the country and to stay in these places for as long as we desired. It’s for these reasons we decided to travel by self-contained campervan so we could have the freedom to travel and camp as we liked.

This is our self-contained camper van ‘Jacangi’ at one of many glorious destinations in Middle Earth.

 

My brother Tom and his girlfriend Sue explored the North Island of New Zealand in their camper van, aptly named ‘Shadowfax’ after Gandalf’s horse and supposedly the fastest horse in Middle Earth. You can hardly tell the difference.

Our last blog post painted quite a negative picture of freedom camping in New Zealand and we had many messages from family and friends wanting to give advice and show their concern. For this we are extremely grateful. We want to reassure everyone that while this negative aspect is very real, it represents only a very small portion of our overall experience here and on the whole 99% of our road trip was absolutely amazing. Just like Middle Earth, New Zealand is stunningly beautiful and most of the people here are friendly and welcoming. Also like Middle Earth, there are dangers and difficulties. In our case we faced the Orcs of Mordor in the form of the ‘camper van haters’ and faced perilous dangers dealing with extreme weather conditions.

This is a dramatic representation of one of the camper van haters we experienced outside of Christchurch. I hope his face didn’t freeze like this.

This is a dramatic representation of Alex one morning after waking up in our camper van after a particularly cold night near Milford Sound.

Luckily the negative aspects of our journey were sparse and overall our experience was filled with immense enjoyment and adventure. Here are some of the highlights from our road trip through Middle Earth:

1. The Shire – Hobbiton, Waikato

The Hobbiton film set is a must-see for any Lord of the Rings fans. The drive through Waikato to get to Hobbiton puts you in the middle of rolling green hills and lush farmland. You feel like you’re in The Shire before you’ve even arrived. Once at the film set you can visit the 44 hobbit holes and their delightful gardens and veggie patches. You can also see Bag End, the mill, the Party Tree, have a drink at the Green Dragon Pub and use costumes/props to transform yourself into a character from the film.

   Alex is enjoying some respite at the Green Dragon pub. He really reminds me of someone…

 

 The wise wizard greets a young hobbit outside his home to offer some wizardly wisdom.

 

 Young hobbits of The Shire resting by a horse cart.

 

2. Mordor – Tongariro National Park

Tongariro national park and Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) in all its splendour.

This 80,000 hectare national park is one of the most spectacular areas in New Zealand, perhaps even the world. The area encompasses meadows, lakes, alpine landscapes, rocky plateaus and jagged ravines. It is home to natural hot springs as well as three volcanoes Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (better known as the infamous Mount Doom). This is one of the most beautiful and majestic places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The film crew did a great job bringing out the menacing characteristics of the landscape and it’s very easy to imagine Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their perilous journey through the lands of Mordor with the almighty ring.

 “We wants it. We needs it. We must have… the PRECIOUS!”

 

 Mount Ngauruhoe during a fiery sunset. There’s no need to stretch your imagination for this one – the fires of Mordor are blazing.

3. Rivendell – Kaitoke Regional Park and Fiordland

We had our pointy-ears at the ready and immersed ourselves in the home of the elves – Rivendell – or Kaitoke Region Park as it’s better known to the locals. Although the film stage has been long since removed, it’s very easy to imagine yourself in Rivendell thanks to the helpful information boards and replica elvish archway installed here.

The replica elvish archway in Kaitoke Regional Park.

 

 “Call me Legolas. Come, I will protect you.”

The magnificent backdrop to Rivendell with the immense waterfalls was filmed in Fiordland National Park and is one of the reasons why tourists flock to this area of New Zealand every year.

The magic of Rivendell can be felt at Milford Sound in Fiordland. Huge glaciers carved this fiord out of the mountains leaving behind this vast chasm, surrounded by snow covered peaks and glistening, thundering waterfalls.

4. The Anduin River – Kawarau Gorge

This is the location of a scene in the first film where the Fellowship of the Ring paddles down the Anduin River, which at one point is straddled by a pair of enormous stone statues representing the Kings of Old. The stone statues were added using CGI but the Kawarau Gorge is breathtaking nonetheless. You can see the gorge from its most striking angle by doing a bungee jump from the Kawarau Bridge, which Alex did on his birthday recently as mentioned in a previous post.

 Kawarau Gorge is the location for the scene of The Argonath and Anduin River.

5. The Dead Marshes – Kepler Mire, Te Anau

Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes and past the haunted souls of the dead who lie under the surface of the water. It’s easy to imagine Kepler Mire as the eerie home of the dead, especially if you were to visit on a foggy evening under nothing but candle light for a truly haunting effect.

 “There are dead faces in the water!”

6. Fangorn Forest – Snowdon Forest, Fiordlands

The Snowdon Forest near Te Anau is the location of Fangorn Forest – home of the Ents and where Aragon, Legolas and Gimli first meet Gandalf the White. You have to stretch your imagination here to really imagine yourself in the forbidden forest of the films but it’s a beautiful location nonetheless.

 Snowdon (aka Fangorn) Forest. Is that Treebeard I see in the distance?

After two glorious months our road trip through Middle Earth has finally come to an end. We’re now back on the boat and spending most of our days doing various jobs in preparation for leaving in the coming weeks. We have some major rigging work to undertake and we’re hoping it won’t be too long before we’re able to set sail for Vanuatu. Autumn is now coming to an end in New Zealand, winter is coming and we’re both very keen to head to warmer climes. I’ve come to realise that my body is not built for the cold and Bob in particular is not the easiest place to heat up in a cold spell. At least we can move her to somewhere toastier.

Image credits from top to bottom

  • Shadowfax the horse – image from YouTube uploaded by Screen Themes
  • Orc of Mordor – image from lotr.wikia.com
  • Gimli covered in snow – image from www.theargonath.cc
  • Gandalf the Grey – image from zeldadungeon.net
  • Gandalf with Bilbo – image by Kelly McMorris downloaded from kellybean86.deviantart.com
  • Hobbits by horse cart – image from 8tracks.com from Concerning Hobbits playlist
  • Tongariro National Park – photo by Tom Brooks
  • Gollum with ring – image from maybeshesthatgirl.blogspot.co.nz
  • Fires of Mordor – image from jrrtolkien.wikia.com
  • Legolas – image from lots.wikia.com
  • The Argonath/ Anduin River – image from www.queenstown.net.nz
  • Gollum in Dead Marshes – image is screenshot from film
  • Fantasy Forest – image by Daniel Pilla downloaded from danielpillaart.deviantart.com

The Darker Side of New Zealand

 

No parking….. why on Earth not?! It’s a minor public road. No one and nothing is being negatively impacted by us being there. So why is it illegal?

 

It would be so easy to write light-hearted, happy blogs all the time. Palm trees and beaches. Or in the case of New Zealand mountains and rivers. But I think it’s important for us to take off the smile once in a while and write about some of the less savoury things. After all, life is about the bad as well as the good.

New Zealand is a spectacularly beautiful place. Some of the anchorages we have visited over the last year and a half have been very beautiful too, but none have been grand. That’s what New Zealand offers. But, when we envisaged what this place would be like (based largely on the reports of those who had come before us) we had also naively imagined a first-world country whose citizens were free.

Perhaps the most stifling aspect of so-called ‘developed’ countries that I struggle with is the lack of what I would call basic freedoms. At the top of this list is the freedom to take responsibility for oneself. To make decisions and live by the consequences, good or bad. That is how we learn, and how we grow as people. But most of us live in a world where we are denied this freedom, even in cases where our actions and decisions would have no impact on anyone else one way or the other. In my view, this is severely detrimental to the personal development of individuals and by extension society itself. Our world is moving day by day towards a situation where no-one is willing to accept responsibility for anything, especially themselves and especially where personal safety can be construed to be at risk. We even make big business out of buying and selling other people’s ‘risk’! For me the ability to get away from this is a major attraction of offshore sailing.

We had hoped that New Zealand would be a rare example of a first-world country whose citizens still had these basic freedoms. Where victimless crimes are not considered crimes at all. Alas, such is not the case. Unfortunately, like so many other countries, New Zealand is slowly suffocating itself with bureaucracy. It’s nowhere near as bad as the U.K. yet, but every day new laws and bylaws are being written restricting the freedoms of minorities while none are being rescinded and no laws guaranteeing freedoms are being written. The problem is that everyone belongs to some minority or other, so everyone gets hit in the end. Everywhere we go we see signs banning one thing or another and threatening huge fines for non-compliance. No parking. No dogs. No smoking. No camping. No access. No swimming. No walking. Trail closed. No boating. The list could go on for a very long time. No camping. Now that is one that we see many, many times a day and it’s such a shame because it’s going to destroy the freedom to do trips like the one we’re doing. With it will go a whole chunk of the tourism industry and whole communities will suffer. One inconsiderate camper leaves a bag of trash lying around and the next thing you know a ‘no camping’ sign appears. The result? More and more camper vans crammed into smaller and smaller spaces, looking unsightly and undesirable. One more bag of trash and whoops, there goes another camping site. But it all stems back to legislation.

New Zealand waste management really sucks, largely as a result of legislation. I had to drive 40km to drop off one gallon of waste oil at an ‘approved facility’ because nowhere else had the appropriate licenses for handling ‘hazardous materials’. Tell me – if a petrol station is not licensed to handle hazardous materials who is?! The result? People don’t bother. They dump it on the ground. No license required for that so long as nobody catches you. The same goes for batteries. In fact, the same goes for all trash. The reason that that inconsiderate camper dumped that bag of trash in the first place is because everything you buy in the shops is over-packaged and there is literally no-where else to put it. We routinely carry trash around for more than a week before we can find somewhere to dispose of it properly. There are very, very few public bins (none outside the three largest supermarkets in the town we were in yesterday) and the ones that are there have a deliberately tiny opening and a sign threatening a $400 fine for anyone caught using it for disposing of domestic waste.

Unfortunately all is not well in the land of camper vans. Especially in the South Island there is widespread and growing animosity towards people in camper vans not dissimilar to the way that gypsies in the U.K. are viewed, except that a good 30% of the vans here are flash motor homes with six-figure price tags and 40% are shiny rentals whose occupants are paying at least $150 per day for the privilege. We’ve had a man ride a scooter up and down the road past the camper vans screaming obscene abuse at us. People routinely honk their horns aggressively to wake us up if they spot us by the side of a road as they are driving to work, or go out of their way to visit the approved camping spots just so that they can abuse and harass the campers. As I write this we’re sitting in the van on the outskirts of Christchurch with 26 other vans because this is the only legal place to camp within 30 kilometres. It’s half past midnight and there’s been a local car treating the area as a racetrack and doing doughnuts for the last two hours. No-one will say anything because the last time someone confronted the angry locals here they had beer bottles hurled at them. One van even had fireworks lit underneath it as a not-very-gentle message that they were not welcome here. But we have no choice. We’re not allowed to camp anywhere else.

We had initially hoped to perhaps seek work here for a year before sailing on. Maybe we’d even fall in love with the place. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened. The South Pacific Cyclone Season is ending now. We have at least a month of work to do on Bob before she’ll be ready to sail and a long way to go next year. I’m antsy to get back up North and start work. Of course, that also means confronting the residents of Kerikeri once again, none of whom likes our campervan. We park it outside one person’s house until they complain and then park it outside someone else’s, trying to remain polite, compliant, sympathetic and friendly throughout in spite of the way that we are approached about it. The problem is there’s just nowhere to park that isn’t outside someone’s house (well, outside their wall/hedge really. All of them are bordered by impenetrable privacy barriers and the only time they need to see our van is when they turn in or out of their driveways). I’ve even thought of selling the van once we get up north and buying a car instead, just so that people would hate us a little less.

Good night.

Update the following morning: sure enough we received our wake-up call bright and early as a local motorist went out of their way to visit the camping area and thoroughly test their horn. At least we have the luxury of moving somewhere else when we’re not welcome. The town of Lyttleton will not be benefitting from our custom, nor, I suspect, the considerable custom of the occupants of all the other campers that are here.