Part 5: Queenstown to Christchurch … and onward to Rohan

Queenstown Harbor from Above

Our last full day in Queenstown was spent wandering around the city one last time. We went down to the beach and saw a lot of eye candy, which we both appreciated. Hey, just ’cause we’ve been married 30 years doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy looking! And then I saw something that made my eyes hurt. Let’s just say, the dude should not have been wearing a Speedo.

For our 30th anniversary dinner, we took a very steep gondola ride up to the Skyline Restaurant on top of Bob’s Peak, high above Queenstown. The view of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains was beautiful. We saw numerous paragliders take off and float above the city, and some very brave teens take flying leaps off the bungy platform. Somehow it was appropriate that we should also see some sheep on the hillside below the gondola’s cables.

We had a very nice dinner, then rode the gondola back down the mountain, well content with the day.

On Feb. third we said farewell to Queenstown and flew to Christchurch, the biggest city of New Zealand’s southern island.

The view out of our Christchurch hotel room

Christchurch is a very English-looking town, with some lovely old architecture. The Avon River runs through it, and if you’re inclined you can take a punt ride down the river. The world’s third largest in-city park is along the river. We never made it to the Botanical Gardens, but they are a draw for many people.

Having liked every city we’d visited so far, we were quite surprised not to be thrilled with Christchurch. It just seemed more crowded and dirty, and less friendly. We couldn’t find a decent restaurant within walking distance of our hotel that would serve us a fresh fruit salad, for example. Many of the shops and a couple of the smaller shopping centers closed by 6pm. Fortunately, we had a guided tour planned for one of our days there.

The next morning we got our tired butts out of bed and down to the hotel lobby for our tour. We boarded a 4WD bus and headed across the scenic Canterbury Plains to Mt. Torlesse Station, a 10,000 acre working sheep and
cattle farm in the foothills of the Southern Alps. We spent quite awhile bumping around the farm, gazing over the rolling hills and river valley. It was a beautiful place, very different from what we’re used to, but reminiscent of parts of eastern Washington.

Kathy and Leo in the Jet Boat

Next we headed out on a jetboat up the Waimakariri River Gorge. For about 45 minutes we traveled the river, and it was incredibly beautiful ride. We saw canyons and gorges, rock and forest. At times it seemed we were almost flying over the water. Our guide threw in a few 360 degree spins, just for fun, and we were all quite awake by the time we got back to our bus. It was really funny-one of the oldest folks on the trip said to our bus driver, “Next time tell him to go faster!” We could only agree. If we’d known how much fun the jetboat ride was going to be, we would have done it in Queenstown too!

After a tasty lunch (good thing it was after the jetboat ride!) we resumed our journey through the high country, stopping briefly at Pearson Lake and passing by one of the filming locations for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Eventually we reached Arthur’s Pass, where we boarded the famous TranzAlpine train for the return trip to Christchurch. It is recognized as one of the most scenic train rides in the world, and it was worth every minute. We passed above the river we’d jetboated over, from the Alps back down to the Canterbury Plains, and through small pastoral communities. The tour definitely made up for the lack of appeal Christchurch itself had for us. Halfway through the day, liking the tour we were on so much, we actually booked ourselves for a tour the next day with the same company.

We just couldn’t go to New Zealand and not do one Lord of the Rings tour. It would be sacrilegious. We headed out via another 4WD bus, and this time we weren’t the youngest people on it, yay! Not unexpectedly, there was a pair of young uber-geeks on board as well as several other young people.

South over the Plains we headed, stopping briefly in Methven to pick up another tour member. We stopped briefly to see the Rakaia River, one of New Zealand’s many braided rivers. As all the rest had been, it was clear, blue and beautiful. To our surprise and delight, when we stopped for morning tea at a little cafe seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, we came across the only corgi we saw on the whole trip. I don’t remember his name, but he was a charmer and made me miss my own dogs that much more.

Kathy and Leo with Edoras in the Background

On we traveled after tea, winding our way through the foothills and river valleys. We passed Lake Clearwater, and yes, it was. After much twisting and turning, the dirt road eventually came to Mt. Potts Station, location of a large cattle ranch, and home to “Edoras”, city of Rohan, in the LOTR trilogy.

We were surprised that “Edoras” had been built on private property, and that even now the owners allow not only tour groups, but private individuals, access. After bumping over and through several small streams and past grazing cattle, we were able to drive to the foot of Mt. Sunday, and walked a trail up it to the top, where “Edoras” had been built.

On screen, Edoras looks as if it sits on top of a huge mountain, but in truth Mt. Sunday is actually quite modest, sort of a mountainous speed bump in the middle of some plains, with larger mountains in the distance.

A Pose of a Pose

Of course, nothing of Edoras remains now. After filming was completed, Mt. Sunday was restored to its original condition, down to the level of individual plants being put back where they were before filming.

As it turns out, we were very lucky. Our bus driver and tour guide was a sound mixer for all three LOTR movies and often works on Peter Jackson’s films. In fact, he and his fellow sound mixers won an Oscar for the third movie. We were told many stories of the making of the movies that other folks just don’t get to hear.

Why was he driving a tour bus, you ask?? As he explained it, jobs in sound mixing are usually feast or famine, and he always has a mortgage to pay. He does a LOTR tour every couple of weeks to help make ends meet. That Oscar he won is cool, he said, but it came with no monetary reward.

The View from Edoras

But, I digress. It was very, very cool to stand on the top of Mt. Sunday and picture how it looked as Edoras. It was very cool to look out over the same landscapes as Eowyn had. It was funny to see the two uber-geeks play with the props brought along for photo-taking. It was especially funny to think about the movie while we were avoiding the cow pies littering the ground. Yep, the cattle are allowed to graze again on Edoras. Nothing is sacred.

After taking multiple photos and soaking up the atmosphere, we sadly left Mt. Sunday and enjoyed a champagne lunch on another part of the station.

Heading back towards civilization, we stopped again in Methven to drop off the tour member. Methven, we were told, is where the cast and crew stayed while filming at Mt. Sunday. It’s over an hour drive each way, which made for long days. Building the Edoras set took 8 months, and filming there took 11 days. Such are the ways of movie-making.