We left Rotorua on SH 5 (also known as the Thermal Explorer Highway) and headed towards Mt. Ruapehu. We stopped by Meads Wall, which was used to represent Mordor (during the battle between the Last Alliance and Sauron) and Emyn Muil (where Frodo and Sam meets Gollum). In the afternoon we looked at the stream in Ithilien where Gollum catches a fish. We stayed overnights at the Powderhorn Chateau (where some of the cast and crew also stayed during filming).
On the way to Mt. Ruapehu
We made a detour to visit the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland where we saw a lake of boiling mud.
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The steam (and the smell) was pretty amazing!
Close-ups of steam vents in the mud pool:
If we stayed long enough, we will probably turn grey like the vegetation next to the pool!
Another detour, this time outside Whairakei to visit Huka falls.
At least 220,000 litres of water pass through the falls every second! This is New Zealand's most visited natural attraction.
We stopped for morning tea at the town of Taupo, which is on the northern tip of Lake Taupo - the largest lake in New Zealand. There's a park nearby that had a tourist/kiddie "monorail." This reminded me that New Zealand as a country look a bit like a model railway set - lots of picturesque scenery, quaint little towns with cute railway stations, snow capped Alpine mountains, sheep scattered about, and of course, trains and tracks.
Pretty autumn foliage in the park:
We followed the eastern shores of Lake Taupo along SH 1, then turned to the left on SH 47 heading towards the World Heritage Tongariro National Park. It has three mountains: Mt. Tongariro, Mt. Ngauruhoe, and Mt. Ruapehu. The second is used as "Mt. Doom" in the movies, but the third is the highest. There is a road (Highway 48) that climbs the mountain. As you can see, it was pretty cloudy that day.
Meads Wall (Mordor/Emyn Muil)
We took SH 48 all the way to the end, which is a ski resort called Whakapapa Village. A short walk from the village leads us to Meads Wall.
This is some snow covered rocks on the top of Meads Wall.
Meads Wall was also used to represent Emyn Muil, which is the wasteland that the hobbits got lost in as they try to reach the Black Gates of Mordor.
"The hobbits stood now on the brink of a tall cliff, bare and bleak, its feet wrapped in mist; and behind them rose the broken highlands crowned with drifting cloud." (LOTR, Book IV, Chapter I, page 627)
Here, Frodo and Sam meets Gollum face to face as we climbs down the rocky face.
"Down the face of a precipice, sheer and almost smooth it seemed in the pale moonlight, a small black shape was moving with its thick limbs splayed out." (LOTR, Book IV, Chapter I, page 637)
Another picture of Meads Wall.
"On the further side it reared up again, many fathoms at a single leap: a great grey cliff loomed before them, cut sheer down as if by a knife stroke." (LOTR, Book IV, Chapter I, page 629)
This is roughly where Isildur cut off the ring (plus Sauron's finger) at the battle between the Last Alliance of Men and Elves against Sauron at the end of the Second Age.
"It was Gil-galad, Elven-king and Elendil of Westernesse who overthrew Sauron, though they themselves perished in the deed; and Isildur Elendil's son cut the Ring from Sauron's hand and took it for his own." (LOTR, Book I, Chapter II, page 65)
"I was at the Battle of Dagorlad before the Black Gate of Mordor, ... took it for his own ." (LOTR, Book II, Chapter II, page 260)
We had lunch at a café near the Grand Chateau, which is located at the foot of Mt. Ruapehu. The cast and crew of the movies stayed a few weeks here.
A scale model at the Department of Conservation Information Centre showing Mt. Ruapehu on the left and Mt. Ngauruhoe ("Mt. Doom") on the right.
We left Mt. Ruapehu and drove along SH 4, and then turned left on SH 49A, then 49 on to Ohakune. We then climed the Turoa Ski Field road (also known as the Ohakune Mountain Road Scenic Drive) on to Mangawhero Falls. Here Gollum catches a fish.
"They peered down at the dark pool. A little black head appeared at the far end of the basin, just out of the deep shadow of the rocks. There was a brief silver glint, and a swirl of tiny ripples. It swam to the side, and then with marvellous agility a froglike figure climed out of the water and up the bank. At once it sat down and began to gnaw at the small silver thing that glittered as it turned: the last rays of the moon were now falling behind the stony wall at the pool's end." (LOTR, Book IV, Chapter VI, page 712)
This is the river at the base of the falls.
This is Mangawhero Falls. You can see Gollum in Two Towers just before the falls.
We also took the Mangawhero Forest Walk at the base of the Ohakune Mountain Road, across the road from the Ohakune Ranger Station. It's about a 3km circuit, and it was close to sunset by the time we emerged.
We stayed at this hotel (Powderhorn Chateau) in Room #304 (Billy Boyd had previously stayed in this room). The hotel also had a guest book that has comments/autographs of many of the members of cast and crew, and a T-shirt signed by Elijah Wood and Sean Astin. I ordered some barbequed pork ribs for dinner and got the biggest serving of my life (I could barely finish four of at least a dozen ribs!).