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

Jacangi is the new Bob

This is our new home… for a time at least. We’re now back in New Zealand and have moved from Bob into our new camper van ‘Jacangi’ for a few months to explore all that this beautiful country has to offer.

We arrived back at the end of February after spending a fabulous few months in Thailand with my parents. I didn’t have to wait too long to see family again, however, as just two weeks later my brother Tom and his girlfriend Sue flew out to join us for an epic fortnight exploring the North Island.

The two weeks before they arrived was spent frantically doing various jobs on Bob and Jacangi in preparation for their visit. Most jobs involved preparing Bob to be sailable and then to be left unattended for a few months (again!) whilst preparing Jacangi to be lived in for a few months. I did find some time, however, to make a few home improvements…

This is the galley just after I started working on it. You can see where the old wood has degraded, the counter top is very stained with various disused holes and the tap was starting to get a little corroded.

This is the galley after. Actually, it’s still a work in progress as it needs painting… but you get the idea. The taps were replaced, counter top was tiled and grouted, wood was sanded and varnished (4 times) and I even polished the sink and cooker!

Tom and Sue were only able to take 3 weeks off work to visit us. They spent at least 3 days of that time travelling on various flights, so it was VERY important to make the most of their visit and cram in as much exciting stuff as possible! I think we succeeded. It’s possible to see a lot of the North Island in just over two weeks when you put your mind to it, and it has a LOT to offer.

The Bay of Islands

The best place to sail in the whole of New Zealand is thought to be the stunning Bay of Islands with its tranquil warm waters (well, warm in comparison to the rest of the country) and impressive green islands protruding from the depths. The four of us spent a couple of nights on the boat and luckily had absolutely perfect weather for a few day sails around this spectacular group of Islands.

Sailing through the Bay of Islands on a lovely sunny day.

The group on Bob, minus photographer of course.

Tom was exhausted after our loooong 20 minute hike to the view point on the elaborately named island of Urupukapuka.

A home on wheels

We moved into our camper vans after the boat trip. Alex and I into Jacangi while Tom and Sue moved into their hired camper ‘Shadowfax’. Any Lord of the Rings fans will know the significance of that name as being the name of the horse belonging to Gandalf the wizard. What better way to explore the very land where Lord of the Rings was filmed than on Shadowfax! Although Tom quite rightly pointed out that perhaps the name was a little unfitting as Shadowfax is supposed to be the fastest horse in middle earth – their camper van on the other hand is about as fast as a tortoise on a treadmill. Just like the tortoise, however, we were able to take our time and enjoy some of the enchanting wilderness of this stunning country.

Shadowfax!

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take your home with you as you travel and enjoy many familiar comforts in unexplored territories. As with boats, motor homes also require a lot of upkeep and we had to be constantly aware of our water and power usage. Toilet breaks had to be properly planned and dumping of waste water in appropriate locations had to be considered. This particular aspect was something new for all of us and sometimes proved to be a bit of a challenge, as Tom demonstrated when he accidentally emptied the contents of the toilet all over his hand! Don’t worry Tom, a wise man once said that the most valuable lessons in life are usually the most challenging ones.

Freedom camping near Matamata at one of the Department of Conservation sites.

Camping and doing laundry in the Tongariro National Park

Hobbiton

As huge Lord of the Rings fans, Tom and Sue were finally able to fulfil their lifelong dreams of becoming hobbits. We of course were more than happy to join them in the fun as we visited the charming Hobbiton film set. The set is now a popular tourist attraction and the grounds are immaculately maintained. Very well done to the four gardeners who do a super-human job keeping the grounds looking vibrant and lush all year round.

A hobbit hole complete with its beautiful garden.

You ACTUALLY become a hobbit in this magical place.

Exploring the enchanted hobbit holes.

Enjoying a drink at The Green Dragon.

The wake up call of a thousand Scots

We spent a night camping by the lake in Rotorua, only to be abruptly woken up at about 7am to the sound of bagpipes! As time went on the more bagpipes started playing. Not able to ignore the sound any longer, we stuck our heads outside and to our amazement we could see at least 5 bagpipe bands (all fully kitted out in the proper Scottish attire) playing instruments in various streets and car parks in the vicinity. It turns out that the National Bagpipe Championships were being held in Rotorua that day and everyone was practising for the upcoming parade – what a wonderful and fortunate surprise!

Practising in the streets of Rotorua.

Here are a few snaps during the parade. I know Scottish music isn’t renowned for it prowess but I promise you they all sounded and looked amazing! I guess they were the best in the country.

Getting hot and steamy in Rotorua & Taupo

Some of New Zealand’s active volcanoes are located in the region around Rotorua and Taupo and have led to some truly amazing natural wonders. Scalding hot water, bubbling mud pools, serene hot springs and explosive geysers are all products of volcanic activity deep beneath the earth’s surface.

Having a dip in the natural hot waters of a hot spring near Taupo. The temperature is about 40 degrees Celsius – perfect bath water temperature.

A mud splat at the bubbling mud pool near Rotorua. There was an entire pond like this – just amazing!

A hot water beach with a man bathing in the apparently ‘scalding’ water. It was a bit chilly at the time so I was quite envious of him.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been voted as one of the best day-hikes in the world. It spans the oldest National Park in New Zealand and crosses adjacent to the peak of Mt Ngauruhoe – an active volcano better known as ‘Mount Doom’ from Lord of the Rings. The track covers rare alpine landscapes, babbling streams, luminous turquoise mineral ponds and violently boiling pools of sulphurous water. These natural wonders are combined with amazing views of awe-inspiring scenery. Who knew Mordor was so pretty?!

Tom and Sue on the climb to the summit of the crossing. You can see Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe) in the background. Unfortunately, I stupidly had my camera on the wrong settings so these photos are not so good. Tom took some better ones which I’m hoping he’ll share with me soon.

The turquoise mineral pools of the crossing. You can also see the steam from the boiling pools to the right of the photo.

After four hours of uphill hiking we finally made it to the top! Hurrah!

Ohakune Old Coach Road cycle track

We decided to do a bike ride over the Old Coach track in Ohakune. This trail covers areas of historical significance and passes over some wonderful old viaducts, bridges and tunnels as well as through beautiful native bush with stunning views. The locals have done a fantastic job at restoring this trail and have installed a lot of information boards along the way. It also has the bonus of being mainly downhill. Unfortunately this only served to highlight my unfitness as I still spent most of my time struggling to haul myself and my bike through the uneven terrain. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.

Admiring the lovely stream while having another quick rest during the bike ride.

The old viaduct on the Old Coach Road cycle track. It’s a lot higher than it looks! In fact, it was one of the first places in New Zealand to bungee jump from – until killjoys… erm… I mean ‘health & safety legislation’ put a stop to it.

Another old viaduct on the journey. There are three in total.

There were a number of other highlights along the way which of course added to the whole experience. We enjoyed the sun filled afternoons in the outdoors with cold beers and board games. The Milky Way was prominent on clear nights, it’s vastness never ceasing to amaze. There were also treetop adventures at Adrenaline Forest, which is like GoApe but even more intense. Tom and Sue (being a little more flush than us at the time) also splashed out on a white water rafting experience and a cave tour to see some glow worms. Oh and I can’t forget about The Big Carrot – one of New Zealand’s finest attractions.

One of the easier obstacles at Adrenaline Forest in the Bay of Plenty. I’m told the views were wonderful, but I was too scared for my life to notice.

We weren’t able to watch Tom and Sue on their white water rafting adventure as we were busy doing laundry. We did, however, get another opportunity to watch some brave people fall down a waterfall in a bright yellow inflatable tube. This is what they looked like and how I see Tom and Sue in my minds eye during their experience.

The photo of these glow worms were actually taken near our friends house (Alexa who we originally met in Niue and her boyfriend Blair) after Tom and Sue had already left, but it’s similar to what they must have seen on their tour.

It’s a big carrot!


Tom and Sue flew back to the UK at the end of March while Alex and I have continued to drive south to visit friends and explore more of New Zealand. It’s always heartbreaking to say goodbye to those you love, not knowing when you’ll next see them again. Hopefully next time won’t be quite as long. It reminded me of just how many people I care about who I’ve not seen in far too long. We still have the rest of April to enjoy our road trip, so there’s still time if anyone else would like to join us! Anyone tempted….?