They’re taking the Hobbits to Isengard! I saw them do it! A day spent around Queenstown, which masqueraded as Anduin, Bruinen, Rohan, Gondor and Mordor! It’s enough to blow anyone’s mind, and indeed, I finish the day with a ‘traveller moment' of enlightenment and another level-up.

Monday 07/04/08

(Writing on the 10th)

The guys had all decided to extend their Queenstown stays, and I had a realisation that if I left on Tuesday morning, I wouldn’t have ended up seeing much of Queenstown at all, due to my Te Anau and LOTR detours. So, I rang the office that morning and adjusted the trip accordingly. 

Waiting for the tour, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The tour info had said it was suited for small groups, which sounded good to me. I was waiting outside the hostel thinking that the bus was late, when a small minivan turned up, and a very enthusiastic fellow called John collected me.

We picked up a few more people until there were 5 women, John and myself. Seemed everyone was a massive LOTR film fan, and even though a lot of John’s stories were nabbed from the extended DVDs, he did have an awful lot of knowledge on the books as well as the films.

It was rather an odd day, and as I later found out, the sales pitch of “over 20 locations” turned out to mean “20 shots” but if I let that marketing ploy get to me, I won’t be able to make it stop. It was still worth it all in the end, to have one dedicated day of Ring-ness.

However, afterwards, the thought of doing the same type of thing again seemed silly. Writing this now in Christchurch, the idea of going to Mount Sunday and the Edoras location seems odd. Maybe doing a film tour was something that once experienced, was out of my system. Or perhaps it took some magic away from the films rather than adding to it. Guess I won’t know now until I watch the films again, but as of right now I am happy to leave Edoras where it is - in my imagination.

The first location that we hit was in a place called Arrowtown, which was used mainly for Isulder’s ambush at the Fords of Bruinen. Part of the river was used for the drowning of the Nazgul too. John had a portable DVD player which was handy, in order to play back certain scenes and refresh our memories of the films. We then headed up to the Kuawara Bungee bridge, as parts of the Kuawara had been used as the river Anduin. I think it’s the Anduin… for the part where The Fellowship encounter The Argonath.

Then we were whisked away to a picturesque lake stop which “isn’t from the films, but makes a good photo backdrop.” This was where he got out the weapons. All were replicas (still worth a bomb) except for an Elvish cloak, reckoned to be one of Sam’s originals, and worth a LOT of money.

Lunch was a rather posh (and therefore to me, inedible) finger buffet plus spare ribs. Then we headed up to Deer Park Heights. An ENORMOUS hill right next to, and overlooking, Queenstown itself. Owned by a farmer, he leases the land for films quite often, and charges $20 to drive up there in a car. However, no tours other than ours are officially allowed up.

Bizarrely, there is a replica North Korean prison-set left up on the hill, remaining intact from when an eighties Disney movie had been shot there. After filming, the farmer had asked the crew to leave it up there as a tourist attraction, but it quickly became an eyesore. Its existence is apparently part of the reason, and a case study in as to why, that New Zealand insists all film structures must be taken down after filming. Although apparently, a nail is still in place in the ground at Mount Sunday to mark the last post of Edoras set to be taken down.

The views of Queenstown were amazing by themselves, but even better once John started pointing out a lot of the shot locations. The Remarkables were used a lot (the mountain range next to Queenstown running North to South) but they were unfortunately covered in cloud most of the day. In the film, the lake at Queenstown itself had been ‘shrunk’ via camera and CGI trickery, to be used as the river in which the Pirates sail to begin their attack on Gondor. It was a shock, as the difference in scale between the real lake, and fake river it was used as, is huge. We then spent the afternoon spotting different rocks that match up to film shots, and doing select poses in a few, so it was all good fun.

After the tour, I was dropped off at the centre of Queenstown and went on the internet at the Base hostel where I bumped into the lads. They were heading to the Cinema and so we all went to see Juno. It was a great film, but the Mouldy Peaches soundtrack brought up some funny feelings… Ultimately, it made me miss Hazel a lot. I want to remind myself daily to not repeat my past attitude or mistakes, to treasure what I have with Hazel by not letting what we have become taken for granted, or any less special as time goes on.

Anyhow, after the film (oh yes, must remember, Laurence jumped out from behind a chair in the cinema and scared the SHIT out of me as I went to find my seat. Bastard!) Ozzy and Laurence jumped aboard my curry idea. Which was great at first, I thought I would have company, but then I realised they were both skint and wanted a take-out. So, we went with a cheaper takeout curry rather than a restaurant, and I had to try vindaloo as there were no other spicy dishes. It was the worst excuse for curry, or rather chicken, I had ever had the misfortune to pay for. I hope if I try Vindaloo elsewhere, it has nothing in connection with that one. Laurence and Oz both hated their Tikka Masalas equally, so I assume it was just an awful curry house.

Heading back for a quick shower, I met up with them again later on in Altitude bar to witness the Karaoke. Jimmy and mad Welsh-Neil were coming into Queenstown that night, but other than that, there was nothing to report because everyone other than Stephen and myself was off trying to pull.

I was thinking about doing Mustang Sally on the karaoke, but luckily I never followed through. I did see Koru for the last time though. He was chatting to the ladies of course, or was trying to anyhow, as he had lost his voice! He joked about having warned me about Te Anau being Deads-ville. Didn’t see him again until later as he was being dragged out the door by a lady. I gave him a quick hand shake, and he said that he would see me tomorrow, which I had to explain in just two seconds that he wouldn’t, as I had changed my travel dates. With a quick salute, he was gone. Legend.

Other than that, the only thing worth mentioning is that I think I had my “traveller enlightenment moment” once I was reunited with the gang, and a few drinks in me.

I just remember thinking that it was okay to oscillate between being on my own, trying to make new friends, and being in with a group with friends. This trip is taking me from one extreme to the other, rapidly. Thinking about it, even though I have done it almost my entire life, I should never pretend to anyone, myself included, to be anything except myself – and I think any pretence otherwise was finally gone as a result of this trip.

It’s very strange to be thinking of myself as “new” and I don’t have any ground-breaking revelation to share, it is just that now, I think I am aware of which direction I want to take. Or more accurately, the WAY in which I am going to move forward in life now. As me. As boldly as possible. Got to take what I know now, and do it my way.

All very profound, but this is stream of consciousness stuff is right out of my head, and straight onto the page without a filter, which never makes much sense to be honest. And if you are not me, but you are reading this, then it probably makes even less sense, so don’t worry about it. Just know that I am okay. Really.

I was sensible to sneak off again at 12-1 ish, and get to bed for a much-deserved lie-in.

SOUNDTRACK: “They’re Taking The Hobbits To Isengard” by some YouTube person. (Erwin Beekveld)


I have done a decent job of describing the Trails of Middle Earth tour above, and so I don’t believe I have anything to add here other than photographs. Looking back, I am ultimately glad I did the one LOTR tour, and this one was the best choice. Deer Park Heights is itself a gorgeous location, a gigantic ‘hill’ overlooking all of Queenstown. If you turn and put Queenstown at your back, you have the amazing mountains of the Remarkables filling your view.

Watching the films immediately after this trip probably did feel odd at first, but now I can balance the appreciation of the films and the voice in my head that says, “I’ve been there!”

I have a very personal introspection and admission at the end! It is, as described, pure stream of consciousness material, and it probably says an awful lot about my state of mind at the time.

If I had to try and describe it better now, looking back, I suppose any ‘enlightenment’ came from travelling and meeting a brand-new set of people each day. With that comes a choice – what version of yourself do you want to portray to these new people? These people have no assumptions about you, and you have the chance to either create a brand-new persona to ‘sell to them’ and to yourself, or (and this is the real revelation I suppose) you can actually just be yourself. Fancy that. I’d never felt comfortable doing that before, yet here I was, on the other side of the planet, being the irreducible me, day in, day out, and enjoying it.

I think that is the key to travelling, especially solo. In our day to day lives, which have their accumulated history and social hierarchies, we cannot help but follow the rules, even if they are of our own making. We can’t help acting a certain way, or indeed the way we expect we ‘should’ act due to repetition and momentum, even when we know that we want to change.

I am the quiet one in this social group, but I know I have a voice. I am the nerdy one in this social group, but I don’t know how to talk about the other stuff I like. I am the leader in this group, but it’s the group with the crappy jobs that nobody wants to do, so why am I left in charge? I could go on, but I hope you get the gist… All of this disappears when you go solo, and where you are in an environment that encourages everyone in that same situation to also leave behind all of their own assumptions and pretences.

This is all an incredibly long-winded way of saying, you are allowed to simply be yourself, in an environment where everyone else is also allowed to simply be themselves too. Travelling can provide that environment.

I introduced myself to everyone that I met as Colin. Camera-guy. Film-maker. BBC dude. Nerd Dude. Captain Col. Trekkie at Large. LOTR nut. Likes food. Likes Oasis. Likes playing guitar - badly. Likes beer. Likes laughter. Likes travelling. Likes being organised. Likes chilling out. Likes a bloody good book. Likes the cut of your jib. I spoke when I wanted to speak, I sat back when I wanted to sit back. I didn’t have to apologise for not doing this, or missing out on that. I never had to justify doing one thing, or having the aspiration to do another. That should have been how life was all along, but I never felt that I lived like that or embodied any of that - until this trip.

That night, I decided I wanted to be a Me free of worry, ego, expectation and self-confidence issues. One free of fake character layers, and instead just a core of myself, shaped by what the world would mould me to be.

All of this may read as making an erratic badly worded diary entry even worse. Or you may find it the only worthwhile part of this entire sorry travel-saga, as it provides a wonky look at the inner workings of someone’s head. Hopefully you are somewhere between these two extremes.

Either way, with the help of a few beers, I had my ‘traveller moment.’ Something shifted, something changed, something Transformed as a result of the whole trip up to this point.

It was one of the first things Hazel said to me when I got back. “You’ve changed. I like it.”

The implications of all of this would take a long time to play out, and some are still are being played out to this day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Roll out.