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The Lord of the Rings: Up Close and Personal

Orc Encounter. © Charles Love

Ten years after the Lord of the Rings was filmed, the orcs are still in New Zealand!  The one pictured above (that would be the guy on the left) responded to the traditional Maori nose-to-nose greeting, the hongi.

If you’re a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, a trip to New Zealand means an opportunity  to walk in the footsteps of Frodo and Gandalf. Getting to the movies’ approximate 100 remote locations isn’t so difficult, thanks to  New Zealand’s’s excellent opportunities for tourists. From Queenstown or Wellington, Tolkien enthusiasts can travel to Middle-earth via car, four-wheeler or helicopter.

Finding an interesting tour isn’t a problem.  For example, we visited  an atmospheric pine forest on the edge of Wellington where our enthusiastic guide (who worked as an extra in the trilogy) pointed out the very spot where Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam dropped off the road to hide from the evil  Nazgul. Our experience suggests that the best way to find a good tour is to book through a reputable agency and, then, to ask for a guide who both worked on the sets as an extra and has a passion for the craft of filmmaking. Our guide, Phil Mackie, fit the bill. In Wellington, be sure to book the Middle Earth tour through Flat Earth New Zealand Experiences (www.flatearth.co.nz ) and ask for Phil. Wellington (where the film industry is now dubbed “Wellywood”) is also the home of Academy Award-winning Weta Digital (www.wetanz.com), provider of creative post-production services for such movies as Avatar, King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Adventures of Tintin, in addition to The Lord of the Rings.

These days, director Peter Jackson is all over the North and South islands again filming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again, which will  be released in 2012 and 2013, respectively. We heard a new story everyday. For example, our guide in the small town of  Te Anau, gateway to New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, reported that the director and his entourage of “scouts”  had recently arrived in town—in five helicopters. At nearby Murrell’s B & B, an historic inn on Lake Manipouri, owner Robert Murrell welcomed us, then excused himself… Peter Jackson needed drivers in Queenstown and he was answering the call!

We asked Robert if he could recommend a good tour company for film locations near Queenstown. He suggested Nomad Safaris (www.nomadsafaris.co.nz ), a company also mentioned in The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook, published by Harper Collins, New Zealand.

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