Literary Pilgrimages: Visiting Middle-Earth (Part 1)

 Earlier this year, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand. My primary reason for doing so? Exploring locations starring as Middle-earth in Peter Jackson’s films, of course! Come along as I revisit what will likely remain my most extensive ‘literary’ pilgrimage’.

 Welcome to the first in a four post series about my Middle-Earth related expeditions around New Zealand. Although these locations all stem from the films, I consider this trip a literary pilgrimage because of how the filmmakers’ vision intersects with my love for the books. I saw the movies long before I read The Lord of the Rings. I cannot divorce the movie sets from the locations I imagine while reading – and I’m quite happy with that! I get just as much a thrill from visiting a location I know so well from the movies as I do from imagining that I really am walking in a place described in the books.

I could have spent a couple weeks running around the country to see all the Middle-earth sites I wished to see. I wanted to take the time to really enjoy what NZ has to offer, so I expanded the trip to three months and spent the majority of my time WWOOFing. *cue WWOOF spiel* WWOOF stands for ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’. It’s an international home stay volunteer program, where volunteers work for 4-6 hours at organic farming (loosely defined). I first WWOOFed in 2013 for two months in Ireland. I highly recommend WWOOFing if you want to get to know a place and its people better than if you were just holidaying for a few weeks. It’s a great way to stretch your vacation time and budget, as a month WWOOFing costs virtually nothing. Plus, I enjoy learning about and contributing to sustainable lifestyle.*end WWOOF spiel*

My first post features Rohan. The two specific locations I visited are Edoras (Mt. Sunday, Mackenzie) and the lakeside village that orcs attack (near Alexandra, Central Otago).


Screenshot from The Two Towers (Edoras)
Screenshot from The Two Towers (Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn approach Edoras)

Edoras has long been my favourite set from the movies. Even though the crew had to remove the town site, I still felt it would be an impressive to visit. I was not disappointed. I highly recommend making the trip to Mt. Sunday, whether or not you are a fan. The isolated location has a very peaceful air about it, with stunning views and hikes to explore. I drove from Christchurch (~2.5hrs) and stayed over night for two days at Mt. Potts Lodge. I did a lovely hike from the lodge that gave me a great view of Mt. Sunday. Then I spent another day actually at Mt. Sunday, soaking up the location and views, taking photos, listening to the movie soundtrack, and reading The Two Towers.

The isolated Mt. Sunday a distinct look and is easily recognizable from the films even without the set (unlike some other locations!)
Approaching Mt. Sunday for the hike to the top. There is a path that heads to the left of the photo. You can hike up the ridge from the ‘left’ to ‘right’.


I had a surreal experience reading and photographing The Two Towers from the top of Edoras, in the exact location of Meduseld.
The top of Mt. Sunday is a great spot for panoramas.


Rohan plains village

I stayed on a lifestyle block near Alexandra for one month. I spent a lot of time enjoying the landscape. One specific filming location I visited is the lakeside village attacked by orcs in The Towers. My host drove me up one night at sunset. My only wish was that I wasn’t such an amateur photographer, so that I could capture the beautiful scene better! The lake is a reservoir popular for fishing. There was no one else around when we went. Another wonderful place, even without the feeling of having teleported to Rohan.

These pillars are all that remain from the ‘set’ – they burnt the hut that they built hear.
The shacks you can spot in this photo were dressed up for the movies.
Sunset blazing down beyond the ‘village’

I think that’s enough photos for one post! The next post will cover Pelennor Fields (home of the final great battle) and a variety of locations around Queenstown. Are there are any movie filming locations you’d love to visit?