Film-makers awakening to a new New Zealand

REMEMBER THE plain gold ring round the neck of a short guy with pointed ears and hairy feet? The film "Lord of the Rings", (LOTR), for all its knockout grandeur, is but the trailer, the preview of the country. Moreover, New Zealand doesn't need to be digitally enhanced; it has an orchestra replete with special effects all of its own. The land of the Kiwis is on a roll with Hobbit fever making it one of the hottest destinations of the century.

Film director Peter Jackson's "Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers", the first and second of a cinematic trilogy matching Tolkien's tales, are already being hailed as films that have changed cinematic history. The "Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" and next year's "The Return of the King", are going to do for New Zealand what Paul Hogan's "Crocodile Dundee" did for Australia in wizard-sized multiples. The spotlight on New Zealand, where the movies were filmed, couldn't have been timed better. Travellers with lingering wariness about Northern Hemisphere routes and those with war phobia, will be itching to travel to the perceived safe haven of a down under Middle Earth, following the footsteps of Elijah Wood and encountering a land of lush rainforests, rugged gorges, remote fjords, crystalline glaciers, spouting geysers, caves

sparkling with glow-worms and majestic mountains.

Matamata has already renamed itself Hobbiton, and more than a dozen other film locations are busy marketing themselves with energy and unity. The global film industry, too, is awakening to New Zealand's unique diversity of landscapes within a small area, close to accommodating cities and cheaper than anywhere else in the world. The LOTR film series has put New Zealand on the map in absolutely dreamlike dimensions. It seems like a tale almost as magical as Tolkien. Incidentally, the ramshackle seven bedroom former home of Tolkien at Oxford is for sale and is tipped to cost its buyer the Middle Earth. However, agents believe they will be inundated with offers from die-hard Tolkien fans. Tolkien's Middle Earth in the LOTR is a spectacular other world, a land of broad rivers and vast lakes, gentle valleys, dark forests and foreboding mountain ranges. On the page, it is so varied and spectacular that the books had long been considered unfilmable. But director Peter Jackson knew something Hollywood did not. However Jackson is a Kiwi and he knew that his home country was more than a match for the imaginative breadth of Tolkien's vision. The LOTR trilogy, filmed in New Zealand, truly blows the secret that there is simply no more spectacular place on earth. Many LOTR locations were dressed for their parts, buildings and facades were added to sites and trees were sprayed with silver paint. All that is long gone, but what is left is epic enough. Most of the filming was concentrated in two places - 13 locations at the southern end of the North Island and 10 in the highlands of the South Island.

"As soon as he set foot on the far bank of the Silverlode, a strange feeling came upon him," writes Tolkien of Frodo Baggins. This location - one you don't have to go to a mountaintop to see - comes complete with luxurious privacy. The banks of the Silverlode River are actually on the grounds of Fernside - a four-suite retreat fashioned from the 1920s country house in the Wairarapa wine region - which is a little more than an hour's drive north of Wellington. An old millstream and an ornamental lake in the gardens became a verdantly spooky piece of Middle Earth.

Some of the most memorable LOTR locations are those close to Queenstown: Glenorchy and Paradise, beyond the top end of Lake Wakatipu. Glenorchy is a beautiful hamlet with a tiny one-room building. The district library, which opens from 2-30 to 3-30 every Friday afternoon, dates from the 1890s. Books line the walls, floors and ceilings. There are about 20 members, who all

turn up when the Library Service van comes from Christchurch three times a year. To live here is to choose your place and abide in peace, far from the daily torments of a contentious world.

Film-makers awakening to a new New Zealand

According to Elijah Wood who played Frodo Baggins in the movie, "New Zealand is Middle Earth. It has every geological formation and geographical landscape you can imagine and some you can't." Rugged mountains, glaciers, active volcanoes, bubbling mud, soaring geysers, bucolic pastures, rolling hills, sandy beaches and magnificent fiords are just a few. Most of these

natural features have been relatively unimproved so you see them at their pristine best. Even better, you don't have to share them with enormous crowds of people. While New Zealand is remote to most of the world, once you get there, the diverse sights are never more than a day or so away by car or short flight.

Some of the key movie locations include Tongariro National Park in the North Island. This volcanic plateau, including Mountain Ruapehu, provided the spectacular scenery needed for Mordor, the slopes of Mountain Doom and the plains of Gorgoroth. In fact, the New Zealand Army was permitted to provide extras for the battle scenes filmed here. Wellington and its surroundings

provided many of the film's outdoor sets. The forces of good faced the forces of evil at the Citadel of Minas Tirith, right outside Wellington.

Moving on to the South Island, the haunting landscape of the Canterbury high country was used for the windy and deserted lands of Rohan. A sheep station called Ben Ohau, near Twizel, was the site for the battle of Pelennor, one of the most important clashes in the LOTR story. Here, it couldn't be too hard to imagine the pounding feet of hundreds of horses. The magical city of Rivendell was largely filmed around Queenstown, and the beech forests near Glenorchy were perfect for the sanctuary of Lothlorian. Nearby at Arrowtown, an old gold mining town is the site of the fording of Bruinen. This in brief is the whistle-stop tour of Middle Earth. Just how recognisable the locations will be to Tolkien fans is debatable, but the New Zealand tourism industry is banking on the fact that LOTR will whet the appetites of travellers worldwide for Kiwi holidays. Indeed if locations were to be awarded with Oscars, New Zealand would scoop the lot.

The best way to go to New Zealand is to fly Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then take the connecting CX flight to Auckland. The two international airports are Auckland in North Island and Christchurch in South Island. Travel time from India is approximately 20 hours. An airport departure tax of 22 dollars is payable on leaving the country. A visa is required.

New Zealand is a year-round destination. Just remember that during the blazing months of our Indian summer, it is winter out there and during our winter months, Kiwis enjoy spring and summer.

Look out for the "Little India" signs. There are eight of these restaurants in New Zealand.

A must buy is "The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook" by Ian Brodie. The book is an entertaining and charming read, enriched with an introduction from Peter Jackson and comments from the film cast throughout. There are many pictures of movie locations; each location is described in one or two pages. Brodie is very clear about whether a location is accessible to the

public or whether it requires a special tour or a stay at a private facility to get there. Obscure rural locations include small maps to help the reader find them. Perhaps the most useful part of the book for would-be discoverers of Middle Earth is the suggested itinerary at the back. In just 16 days,

Brodie reckons you can visit all the important film locations, taking in the best of New Zealand's diverse scenery along the way.

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