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Category: Reflections

Finding Edoras (AKA Mount Sunday In New Zealand)

Finding Edoras (AKA Mount Sunday In New Zealand)

As the days go down in the West, behind the hills and into shadow, I’m going to be reflecting (i.e. catching up) on some of Ariel and mine favorite travel memories from our adventures. I figured I’d start with what is probably our favorite hike together of all time, finding the filming location for Edoras from the Two Towers.

Right off the bat, know that you do NOT need to be a Lord of the Rings nerd to appreciate this incredible place. At just about two and half hours from Christchurch by car, this is not the most remote location I’ve ever visited. But it sure felt like it was…

Edoras is a great place to get lost
The realm of the horselords feels pretty far from everything. But it isn’t!

While planning our trip to New Zealand, Ariel and I had a list of places we really wanted to see, either because we really thought they were beautiful or because we wanted to re-create a scene from one of the films. Edoras fulfilled both of those items, but it was a bit out-of-the-way based on our planned travel route. Plus, the directions called for about an hour-long drive on a dirt road. Ugh. Ariel was a little skeptical, but I had come across an excellent article at the Dangerous Business blog that had me convinced it would be worth it.

First of all let’s talk location. “Edoras” is actually Mount Sunday, in the Ashburton Lakes region of New Zealand. Getting used to be something of a challenge due to poor signage, but if you just put the coordinates into Google Maps, you can follow turn-by-turn directions.

Our journey actually started for us, as most of our travel days do, about a five and a half hour car ride from our destination. We started our day at Lake Wanaka, which is surrounded the Southern Alps, AKA the Misty Mountains.

A tree grows out of Lake Wanaka
The lone tree of Lake Wanaka

After stops at the Mount Cook overlook and Twizel we continued on. Eventually we came to the turn off the highway that led to the dreaded gravel road. It was only about 20 kilometers or so, but the slow going was a great example of why you should always do a reality check before trusting time estimates on your GPS when going to remote places.

The unexpectedly-longer-than-expected drive meant that we arrived as the sun was beginning to come down out of the sky. This was a benefit and a detriment as it meant we had to be a little rushed, but also that we got some amazing lighting and atmosphere. We were also nearly completely alone, only occasionally running into a few hikers on their way out.

The Edoras film location from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Mount Sunday, AKA Edoras is a little hill that sits in an incredible valley surrounded by mountains.

After parking at the parking lot (believe me you really can’t miss it), we set off on a hike. This was a little tricky because the trail itself is not so clearly marked and you have to cross a few shallow streams without the benefit of bridges. I’m not sure if we veered off-course or not, but there were definitely some wet feet – so wear some waterproof hiking shoes if you have them.

The way to Edoras
The trail to Edoras. Be advised there can be shallow streams along this path that you have to cross without a bridge.

Eventually we did find our way back to the trail (assuming we were ever off it) and had the benefit of bridges for the last two, much larger streams.

Edoras rope bridge
Rope bridges are always cool.

About 20 minutes from the parking lot, we stood at the bottom of the hill.

Theoden? Grima?

While this was no Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we were still nursing our wounds (and bruised egos) from that fiasco, so it took a little bit of resolve to push up the last 10 minutes of the hike. And really it was no big deal. Just a little huffing and puffing, one little stop and we were there.

And wow… Immediately, this became one of my favorite places on the planet. Maybe it was the incredible 360 degree, uninterrupted majestic views. Maybe it was the fact that we were there completely alone. Maybe it was just relief that we didn’t chicken out at the last second. I can’t say for sure what it was, but I was overcome with a euphoric feeling, that I have only experienced in a few places in the world.

No pictures, no video, nothing could truly capture the feelings we experienced in this moment.

View from the top of Edoras AKA Mount Sunday
Gandalf? Legolas? You down there?

More than anywhere else we visited on this trip, this was the most fantastical experience we had. Even our amazing sidequest to Poolburn could not compare – mostly because of how isolated and unspoiled all the views were here. Everywhere else we went, from the Hobbiton on the North Island, to Milford Sound on the South Island, but either had distractions from other people or buildings that occasionally took you out of the moment. Not here. Even if you have never seen any of the films, read the books or have ever heard of Rohan, I assure you that you will have a spiritual moment here. Seriously, go here. Now.

No filters. We actually have this picture hanging in our dining room.

Of course, we had to (poorly) re-create our favorite Edoras scene while we were up there.

Look we weren’t going for realism here. But like, you travel 10,000 miles or so to get somewhere you might as well take advantage.

You think New Zealand embraces Tolkien tourism?
We’re not the only ones coming here for Middle Earth experiences…

Anyway, we only got to stay at the top for about 30 minutes because we still had another 2 hours in the car (including the aforementioned accursed gravel road). I could have stayed there for a year.

Do yourself a favor and click on these images to see them in full screen.
Every angle, every view, an inspiration.

After a quick descent and hike back, we were on our way to our final stop of the day at Lake Tekapo, where we got to see the Milky Way.

To sum it up, the movie set may not still be there anymore, but this is without a doubt one of the most “real” film locations out there. While the castle is gone, the surrounding landscape is identical to what you see in the movie.

And I tell you this, as someone who has been all over the world, there are few places as magical.

So go. Find Edoras. And share your experiences.

For more on our incredible trip to New Zealand check out our other posts!

They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard!
One does not simply walk into Mordor – The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Weathertop, Hobbiton, Mordor and Mount Doom
Adventures are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine
The Lonely Mountain, Rohan, Edoras and Pelennor Fields
Heading home…
The road goes over on and on
The best book to take on a trip to Middle Earth