Communion Of Dreams

Scenes from a trip: they’re taking the choir to Isengard!*
December 20, 2011, 12:48 pm
Filed under: movies, Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir, New Zealand, Tolkien, Travel, YouTube

Today is cloudy and a bit grim. No, I’m not talking about being in New Zealand. I’m talking about here, in mid-Missouri. The winter solstice is just a couple days away. And I think I have been putting off this last installment of our New Zealand adventure because I don’t really want it to be over. It was, after all, a far green country.

* * * * * * *

We had breakfast, then waited with other members of the group who were going on a bit of a private tour. No, nothing connected with the Choir. This was a LOTR tour.

Most of my friends and readers will understand exactly what that means. But just in case . . .

Lord Of The Rings was a three-movie adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s epic of the same name. Most people know that it was filmed in New Zealand by director Peter Jackson. And as a result, there is lots of LOTR-related tourism throughout the country. You can easily spend weeks in New Zealand, just doing that. There’s a great book on locations from the movies, if you’re interested.

We opted for occasional mentions from Helen, our Choir guide, combined with this 4 hour specific tour with Pure Glenorchy.

The vehicles rolled up. Four medium-sized SUVs. The drivers/guides were all pleasant, typical Kiwis. We had some laughs over the absurdity of our fandom for the movies/books. But hey, this was probably the only time we were going to make it to New Zealand, right? And where else would you get to:

Visit Lord of the Rings Locations and take a journey with us deep into Middle Earth. Explore Isengard, Wizards Vale, Lothlorien Forest, the Dead Marshes, The Misty Mountains, Ithilien and many more. Stories and secrets will be shared by guides who have a great insight into the filming.

* * * * * * *

We rolled down the highway, heading towards the hamlet of Glenorchy. This is a place about 45km from Queenstown, and is so small it has no police force, two pubs, and a “library” the size of a garden shed which is open two hours a week. When the weather is nice. No, I am not kidding. The Queenstown folk consider it something of a hippie retirement community.

It is also quite beautiful. Here’s a shot looking towards Glenorchy from the highway leading in:

* * * * * * *

As it happened, the driver of our SUV was Mark, the owner of the tour company. Young (late 20s/early 30s), outgoing, and well informed. He knew the locations and a lot of the history of the films quite well, and had fun telling us about related stories. How many people took time off from their regular jobs to go play extras in the films, since the pay was good, they were well fed, and got to be outdoors. How the caterers learned to feed the extras playing Orcs separately from the rest of the crew, since said extras tended to run roughshod over the food like the characters they portrayed. How the local rancher who owned a lot of the property where the filming was done managed to make a tidy profit off licensing his land for use, and so build quite the little odd mansion in the middle of nowhere. And so on.

We stopped first here:

From the best I can tell, we’re standing just about where the tower of Orthanc was in the movies.

And here’s a shot of the current filming for The Hobbit:

Yeah, you can’t really see much. Sorry. But you didn’t see it here first.

* * * * * * *

We next went into the Mount Aspiring National Park, a primeval red beech forest. The location is protected such that it is illegal to take anything out of the park, or to leave anything in it, for environmental reasons.

Which presented some real challenges for the film crews which filmed the scenes with the attack of the Uruk-hai and the death of Boromir, according to our guides. But we saw where Boromir died, then had a pleasant lunch.

Following that, it was back to Queenstown.

* * * * * * *

After dropping off things at the hotel room, Martha and I decided to go up the gondola and enjoy the sights. Here are some pictures:

* * * * * * *

After tromping around Queenstown just a bit following our trip up the gondola, we got back to the hotel in time to meet the rest of the group for our last adventure: taking the TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm.

The steam ship is about to celebrate its centenary, and is a delight to explore for anyone who appreciates old machinery. The trip across the lake was about just long enough to enjoy a pint of beer.

Dinner at the Walter Peak High Country Farm was quite enjoyable, and the view of Queenstown across the lake at sunset gorgeous. The display of “working” dogs and sheep sheering was of little interest to me. I’ve seen both done before, and better, and not at the end of a long trip when I was both tired but not really wanting to leave yet. I decided to forgo another beer on the return trip across the lake.

* * * * * * *

When we got back, there was a final gathering in the hotel dining room for all of us on the tour. A bittersweet farewell not just because the tour was coming to a close, but also because the Choir was going into a period of dormancy. It had a good 10-year run, but now many of the key participants wanted a break. There’s nothing wrong with honest sadness at the close of any adventure, and not all tears are an evil.

* * * * * * *

The trip home was uneventful, less unpleasant than it could have been, even though it was incredibly long. I think that Monday for us was some 42 or 43 hours altogether, until we finally made it in the door and back to life as we know it.

Jim Downey

* From this, of course. Which kept running through my head the whole time we were in that beautiful valley where Isengard was located:

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