By this stage in the adventure our traversing of the North Island is soon coming to a close. So far we have seen many important locations to the Lord of the Rings story, such as Mordor, Mt Doom and Hobbiton. The last areas to visit on the North Island are in Wellington and its surrounds. This area was widely used due to its proximity to the main studio locations for Wingnut Films, Weta Workshop and Weta Digital, allowing Peter Jackson to quickly move large groups of people to and from filming locations as necessary.
Leaving the Shire
The next filming location is South of Waitarere near the town of Otaki. The Otaki Gorge road heading east into the mountains was used to portray the outer regions of The Shire as Frodo and Sam leave on their perilous quest to Mordor.
Heading East, away from the coast, I’ll return to the State Highway and follow it South through Levin, Ohau and Manakau before reaching Otaki. Any of these towns will be an ideal spot to stop for breakfast/lunch, depending on supplies at the time. I plan to stay in Otaki before making the journey towards the mountains up the Otaki Gorge Road.
This area is known for its many gardens and farming plots along the Otaki river and surrounding lands. Peter Jackson chose this area to portray the many farms and wilder regions of The Shire as it transitions to the Wilderness.
The Otaki Gorge Road heads roughly 20km east/south-east into the Tararua Forest Park before reaching a large camping ground. Considering I will need to trek all the way back to Otaki before heading South again, I have yet to decide whether I’ll travel the whole Otaki Gorge road. If I’ve been making good time up until this point it will be good to see the whole road, as the actual filming locations are not available to be visited.
The Pelennor Fields
The Pelennor Fields is the area between the city of Minas Tirith and Osgiliath in the land of Gondor. It is the location of the Battle for Minas Tirith where the combined forces of Gondor and Rohan overcame the forces of Sauron.
For the wide landscape shots of this battle an area near Twizel was used, however close ups were filmed in Queen Elizabeth Park near Paraparaumu, south of Otaki.
During the time of the above map being created it does not allow for trekking straight to Queen Elizabeth Park from Otaki. The distance from the Otaki Gorge Rd to QEP is ~33km and will most likely take somewhere between 6-7 hours to complete. Considering the time it may be a a good idea to stop in Paraparaumu for the night, otherwise I’ll continue South to QEP.
Queen Elizabeth Park was host to a few interesting set pieces such as a downed Mumakil (Giant Elephant) and Nazgul, and was also the place where Eowyn was filmed killing the Witch King of Angmar.
The areas surrounding Wellington were useful filming locations in close proximity to Peter Jackson’s main sets in Wellington. The areas used portrayed many of the rivers, forests and roads throughout Middle Earth, and can hardly be believed to be so close to civilisation.
The above map highlights the multiple filming locations I will be required to visit, the challenge of this stretch is the bottom location, the Putangirua Pinnacles and its distance from the rest of the sites. There is no easy way of getting back to Wellington from here, so I’ve decided to try follow the coast west around the mountains and then head North to the Lower Hutt site.
The Hutt River
Just as you enter the Hutt area there is a Quarry on Haywards Hill Road, just off the main road. This Quarry was used for the sets of Helms Deep and Minas Tirith, both of which are no longer standing.
The Hutt River starts in the Mountains, some distance South of the Otaki Gorge Rd Camping Site, heading South-West through Upper/Lower Hutt and eventually flowing into Wellington Harbour.
Different sections of this river was used to portray parts of the Anduin River where the fellowship rowed their Elven boats, and is also the river where Aragorn falls after their encounter with Warg Riders in the second film.
The Hutt river carves its way through heavy residential areas, but shooting with careful angles, Peter Jackson made it look like it was being filmed in the wilderness.
Following Queen Elizabeth Park head South through Pauatahanui, then turn left heading East through Judgeford, before reaching the Hutt River near Silverstream.
I’ll follow the river here for some time on the North Side before reaching Totara Park, near to the next destination of Harcourt Park, the filming spot for Isengard.
Isengard or ‘Iron Fortress’ was built around the tower of Orthanc on the banks of the Isen River in the North-West corner of Rohan. It was originally manned by the people of Gondor, but eventually fell into the hands of Saruman as is seen in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. After Saruman betrayed the people of Middle Earth, Isengard was besieged and eventually taken over by a large host of Tree-People or Ents, although Orthanc in its centre could not be breached.
The gardens of Isengard are portrayed by Harcourt Park, north of Upper Hutt. It is here where Gandalf is first seen meeting his old friend Saruman for council after discovering the location of the One Ring in Hobbiton. It is also where, after Saruman had betrayed Gandalf, trees were felled to fuel the fires of industry. Fake trees designed to fall apart and be easily put back together were erected to allow multiple takes.
None of the items used in filming remain, however the area is beautiful and I plan to stay in the nearby Holiday Park to enjoy the site thoroughly.
After Enjoying Harcourt Park, the next stage will be to head to Rivendell, built in the Kaitoke Regional Park, further up the Hutt River.