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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

They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard: Rohan, (AKA the Ida Valley, New Zealand)

They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard: Rohan, (AKA the Ida Valley, New Zealand)

They took the hobbits to Isengard. The question was, would we find WHERE they took the hobbits to Isengard from?

Anytime I’m going off on the road, I like to take on some side quests.

This comes from years of playing games like Fallout and Zelda and can range from simple things like finding the world’s biggest ball of twine (that’s in Cawker City Kansas, also near the geographical “center” of the lower 48 states) to more off-the-beaten path stuff like the original Joshua Tree from the U2 album cover (hint: it’s NOT in Joshua Tree National Park).

It’s usually not about the actual items – I’m not much of a U2 fan and I really don’t care about twine – it’s about the challenge of finding odd things that are outside my usual comfort zone. And anyway, if your only goal is to simply get from point A to point B, that’s a really poor use of the time you are given, isn’t it?

A rock that looks like a rabbit. Luckily it's not a real rabbit or someone probably would have shot it by now.
A rock that looks like a rabbit. Luckily it’s not a real rabbit or someone probably would have shot it by now.

For our New Zealand trip, Ariel and I wanted to re-create the most famous of all Lord of the Rings memes. You know of what I speak…

THEY’RE TAKING THE HOBBITS TO ISENGARD

The trouble is, finding the precise film location(s) proved highly elusive and it appeared, shockingly, that no one had successfully recreated even a portion of the scene anywhere on the internet. After sifting through endless home recreations in random locations, as well as images from people’s trips on organized tours, it became clear that no one had managed to find the place.

This only hardened my resolved more. Now I turned to my old friends at theonering.net which I had last been to about 20 years ago. They recommended I purchase the Lord of the Rings location guidebook from Amazon. This was a great move because it gave us all kinds of other cool locations – and allowed us to at least pinpoint the general area we needed to head to. This book is a must for any fan of the movies going to New Zealand.


This is really a must-have for anyone on a Lord of the Rings adventure in New Zealand.
But it still didn’t give us the specific location of that scene.

So I took the next logical step and reached out to some really awesome bloggers who had been in the area. One of which, Amanda from dangerous-business.com (which is where I learned about how awesome the Edoras location was) recommended I reach out to a tour operator. The other one, Rikka from Deviating the Norm actually tried to reach out to people she knew from the area.

No luck either way.

At last, I just started reaching out to local hotel/motel owners. They too were unsure, but finally someone pointed me in the direction of the actual landowners where the shots were filmed. I reached out to them and…paydirt! Sharon Falconer, one of the landowners, not only knew the area but offered to take us there for a relatively small fee.

AWESOME.

But still, my semi-OCD about the whole thing (this had now become a huge challenge that I was determined to overcome) was gnawing at me during the whole lead up to the trip so I tried reaching out to others in order to get some kind of secondary confirmation.

No one was able to guarantee anything and I’m sure everyone I asked thought I was completely nuts. Even on our tour of the Wellington film locations our guide (who himself was obsessed with showing us exact spots used in exact screen caps) didn’t seem too confident about anything. Worse, he painstakingly showed the tour how often multiple locations were used in creating certain shots, sometimes from locations hundreds of miles apart.

Ugh.

The morning of our tour arrived and Sharon picked us up from where we were staying. Her confidence and encyclopedic knowledge about the movies and region in general was very encouraging right from the start. Still… this was literally our only chance at this and at this point it had nothing to do even with the movies… I just wanted to WIN.

Rohan, home of the horse lords. And lots of rocks.
Rohan, home of the horse lords. And lots of rocks.

As we crossed over onto her property though, that feeling quickly faded. The whole Ida Valley and specifically the Poolburn Reservoir/Bonspiel Station area is simply magic. More than anywhere else we went, the landscape is utterly fantastical. Nothing was changed for the movies, aside for a few road improvements and the removal of some fences. This was really Rohan, home of the horse lords, with the unique rocks sticking out of the ground in all kinds of crazy formations.

Like hundreds of other places in New Zealand, you don’t need to be a Lord of the Rings geek to appreciate the amazing landscape. Who cares about some stupid video clip when you’re surrounded by views like this? I mean, really.

Poolburn Reservoir in the Ida Valley. Like walking into a movie. In real life.
Poolburn Reservoir in the Ida Valley. Like walking into a movie. In real life.

And Sharon proved to be an excellent guide. She took us to specific locations used in the filming and shared with us all kinds of interesting stories, not just about the movies, but about life in the Ida Valley in general. It was really cool.

It also didn’t take long for her to deliver on her confidence. One of our first stops was one of the exact spots where Legolas uses his “elf eyes” to see.

The original "taking the hobbits to isengard" scene.
The original “taking the hobbits to isengard” scene.

There was no doubt about it – we were there. This is where they freakin’ took the hobbits to Isengard.

Where WE took the hobbits to Isengard.
Where WE took the hobbits to Isengard.

The other locations in the clip were really just random rocks on the property, so we just picked a few that looked like them and did the rest there. Here’s the finished product:

Note: we weren’t exactly going for an exact representation (we didn’t use props or try to stay in character or anything). This was just for laughs. The point of the exercise was finding an elusive place. We’ll leave it to the true fans to go back there and do a proper recreation.

Sharon also took us into a few other shooting locations, which were maybe even cooler. We went to the canyon where Pippin drops his leaf pin and Aragorn does his whole “listening to the rock” routine. We did some more videos there, with Sharon’s help.

Leaf Brooch Canyon, where Pippin did not "idly" drop his leaf.
Leaf Brooch Canyon, where Pippin did not “idly” drop his leaf.

NOT IDLY DO THE LEAVES OF LORIEN FALL YOU GUYS

Finally we went out to the Poolburn reservoir itself for another cool movie location. This was also precisely as it looked in the movies and a beautiful place in and of itself. Of course by this point it was starting to rain so it was time to pack it in for the day and move on.

The "Rohan Village" which was burned down by Saruman's jerk people. Fun fact, it was ACTUALLY burned down by the effects people.
The “Rohan Village” which was burned down by Saruman’s jerk people. Fun fact, it was ACTUALLY burned down by the effects people.

In the end, I was really happy with the day and the tour itself. We ended up being with Sharon for over two hours and she was really cool, taking pictures and video of us even without us needing to ask. She also knows EVERYTHING about the region. She also apparently got questions from every tour guide and hotel/motel operator in the neighborhood about the location… since everyone I asked had to ask her… since it’s her property…

Oof.

Well whatever, at least I can save you the trouble if you’re going to the neighborhood without a tour and want to find this most elusive of meme locations.

Side quest: COMPLETED.

And while it didn’t help us find the place they took the hobbits to Isengard…the Lord of the Rings location guidebook did help us find tons of other really awesome places. Must-buy for anyone going to New Zealand who has ever seen the movies.

They’re taking the Kapoanos to Isengard… AKA back home to New Jersey

They’re taking the Kapoanos to Isengard… AKA back home to New Jersey

Well, I’m sitting here now at the lovely Emperor Club at the Auckland Airport. We had a three hour drive today followed by a 90 minute flight from Queenstown to here. Now we begin the real journey home, via California.

Since our last update, we’ve continued having some really wild experiences.

As I alluded to in the last post, on Wednesday morning we had our tour of “Rohan” AKA the Poolburn Reservoir area in the Otago region. This place was unreal. Moreso even than Hobbiton or Togariro, this was without a doubt the most Middle Earth-like area we found. They changed basically nothing for the movie. You just drive out there (with the local land owner) and BOOM you’re in a movie. We’ll have a full review of the area, including a bunch of pretty hilarious videos we got of us clowning around as Aragorn and Legolas. Really great experience.

From Poolburn we continued on to Queenstown. On the way we made a stop at the Kawariko Gorge suspension bridge which was where they shot my favorite scene in the entire series – the Great River, which is the only time in the movies where you hear the full “ring” theme in its entirety.

The River Anduin…

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on what you’re into), the bridge is the site of a bungee jump facility. This is not our thing. However, a lot of people really love it and if you are into bungee jumping good on ya. For me though, the blasting electronic dance music didn’t exactly evoke the kind of mood I was hoping for. Oh well!

Queenstown is a great city – I wish we could have spent more time there. We took the gondola to a really cool overlook where you can participate in more extreme sports, including more bungee jumping (what is it about New Zealand that makes people want to jump off of bridges so much?), luge and what appeared to be a really aggressive downhill mountain bike track. You can also watch a Maori Haka, which I was really excited for.

From Queenstown we proceeded to Te Anau which was to be our base for exploring Fiordlands and Milford Sound. The entire park is a must-see attraction and I highly recommend taking a cruise out on the water. It’s incredible. After our miserable weather luck in the beginning of the trip we were blessed with one of only 14 average days of clear skies they get in a year. The cruise, hikes (think Fangorn Forest type of scenery) and underwater observatory will probably be the subject of their own post as well. UNLUCKILY we were actively pursued by sandflies everywhere we went – I came down with some nasty bites on my right index finger which really made steering the car a chore.

The Grey Havens? Or Milford Sound?

That night, after we got back into town, we went on a glow worm tour. This was quite the experience. After a 20 minute boat ride, we reached the entrance to the caves where the glow worms live. We then walked through a dimly lit tunnel to a pitch black cave. We then boarded ANOTHER boat on an underground lake. I’m pretty sure if we lingered there long enough we would have been challenged to a game of riddles by Gollum. Anyway the glow worms were pretty cool but there was no photography allowed.

Gollum’s Cave. Also the entrance to the glow worms.

The last day was our last full day. We drove down the Catlins in the hopes of maybe seeing some Aurora Australis. Fat chance. But the scenery was really beautiful on the coast again and at twilight the hills were truly beautiful.

The Shire at Twlight…this time in the Catlins.

Today we came all the way back up to Queenstown. After a couple of last-minute adventures where we nearly ran out of gas and were treated to a speeding ticket (going 116 KPH in a 100 KPH zone) a mere 90 minutes from returning the car, our driving experience came to an end. All in all driving in New Zealand wasn’t nearly the challenge everyone made it out to be. But a full review and write up of that experience is coming as well.

A final view of the rolling hills of New Zealand.

Now we’re just waiting to board our flight to California, so this is going to be the last post I do from inside the country. We’re a little depressed, but we were never going to move here sooooo this moment was inevitable before we even left. However, you can expect a load of detailed reviews and write ups of our various excursions and experiences to come. Final thoughts will be coming as well once we’re home.