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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 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.

The Ring goes south (island)…

The Ring goes south (island)…

So it’s been a while since our last update. Mostly because we just haven’t been able to sit still (aside from sleeping) for much longer than an hour at a time.

Since leaving dreary, rainy Wellington, our injuries have mostly healed. Ariel is back to normal and I’m getting over a nasty cold/runny nose that cropped up early on Saturday morning. Apparently running yourself ragged on the slopes of Mount Doom and then going on 2-3 hour hikes immediately afterwards is not the wisest decision in the world.

Over the past few days we’ve been driving in the South Island of New Zealand. And




While the North Island had a lot of cool sites to visit, the South Island really is like being in a fantasy world. It is all it’s cracked up to be.

We also got an upgraded car thanks to Ariel haranguing Budget for all the issues we had with the GPS and the crappy car in general. It’s been a major difference since we’re able to spread out. This is a key thing to keep in mind, the size of the car may hurt you a bit on gas mileage but when you’re spending 5+ hours of your life in it everyday, the most important decision you’ll make on one of these trips is how you are getting around.

The second, and last, of our mighty steeds…

Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to over the past few days.

On Saturday after dumping the rental car, we traversed the Cook Strait via ferry. Unfortunately it was pretty grey and dreary but it’s still a great experience. If you are doing the rental car thing MAKE SURE you take the Interislander ferry, not the Blue Bridge like we did. More details on this in our upcoming detailed review of renting a car in New Zealand. From the ferry port of Picton we then took a quick drive around the Marlborough Sounds region and then drove across the longest winding mountain road I’ve ever seen. Some of it in the rain. Fun.

After what seemed like hours (because it was) we finally emerged onto the West Coast highway of the South Island. Wow. Imagine the Pacific Coast highway in California…but maybe better.

We went on to see the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki. At this point, the sun was teasing us coming in and out of the clouds – this time with a rainbow. The whole place was awesome but we were exhausted (especially me – at this point I was really not feeling well and driving was getting to be a real chore).

Finally we arrived at the west coast town of Greymouth just in time to crash in our motel bed.

The next morning, we continued on to the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. I wasn’t feeling too hot so our hikes were really limited. Also limited was the visibility. Apparently they get five meters of rain there a year. That’s a lot. It was rainy and foggy and we were only able to see Franz Joseph. Pretty disappointing but it was still cool.

The Franz Joseph Glacier – it’s much more impressive in person…

After the glaciers, we barreled across the Southern Alps (AKA the Misty Mountains). Once we got across into the valley, the sun came out again – this time for good. We took a short forest hike down to the Blue Pools before continuing on to our final destination of the day – Lake Wanaka. It had been a few days since we stayed somewhere with air conditioning…apparently from Wellington on south, it’s not really common to have AC. This was the first night we badly needed it.

On Monday we went from Lake Wanaka to Twizel, where the famous battle of Pelennor Fields took place in Return of the King. After a pretty sad attempt at a drone flight over the area we continued to a Mount Cook overlook (AKA the Lonely Mountain only in real life it’s not so lonely). This place was really breathtaking. Unfortunately, it would become the site of a minor disaster the following day.

From there we went all the way up to Mount Sunday across a 20 mile stretch of not-so-smooth gravel road. This was where they filmed the outdoor Edoras scenes in the Two Towers. The hike up looked like it would be tough, but we powered through and aside from a couple of mishaps crossing a stream, we got to the top with no incidents.

Full review of the area coming in a separate post.

Mount Sunday… or to Lord of the Rings fans, Edoras.

From there we drove back down the way we came until we arrived in Lake Tekapo where we stayed the night. But not before taking a trip up to the Mount John Observatory after dark for a stargazing tour.

Absolutely incredible. And also worthy of its own post.

The Magellenic Clouds. Each of those fuzzy areas is an ENTIRE GALAXY.

Finally at about 1:30 am the longest day of the trip (and one of the best) came to an end.

YESTERDAY we had a bit of an incident. From Lake Tekapo we returned to the Mount Cook area – this time to a different overlook. Here I got it into my brilliant brain to try and take the drone out for a spin again. It…didn’t go well…

Immediately after takeoff the wind just took it away from me. Immediately I had to go running after it just to try and get it to respond to my commands. Eventually I managed to bring it down on the wrong side of the street. After sliding down the side of the cliff I was relieved to see it stayed together in one piece. All I needed to do was reach for it…and… I stepped, through what I thought was grass right into a knee-deep swamp. Disaster. And what made it worse was that I still couldn’t even reach it so now I had to put my other foot into the swamp in order to get it.

Now my shoes, socks and shorts were soaking wet, covered in mud and slime and Lord knows what else… and we had about five hours of driving before we got to our next stop.

So that sucked. Luckily I was driving around with practically an entire wardrobe, so aside from the fact that I had to drive in flip flops for the whole day it wasn’t too bad. At least there weren’t any leeches.

But in that moment… man…

The rest of the day wasn’t too eventful, we made some cool stops along the Waitiki Valley and on the east coast but I was just relieved to arrive at our home for the evening – the Millfield Cottage in Omakau. This place was great, but again no air conditioning and no screens on the windows.

Yesterday morning we had our tour of Rohan and spent some time in Queenstown, but that’s going to be the subject of its own standalone post soon.

That’s all for this update, stay tuned for more, including the resolution of one of our primary missions for this trip. Would we be able to find the location of this famous scene?

Stay tuned…