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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.