Last fall when we asked our boys what they’d like to see and do in New Zealand, they agreed on two things: 1) see some of the sites where Peter Jackson filmed scenes for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy; and 2) lots of photography. So they were ready and waiting in front of our hotel when guide and driver Ivan pulled up in a Nomad Safaris Toyota Land Cruiser.
As requested, it was clear from the start that we weren’t on a standard tour. Ivan went over his preliminary thoughts for the day, tweaked his plan a little based on our feedback about what we’d already seen & done in New Zealand and then we were on our way.
As he drove the two-lane highway hugging the lakeshore between Queenstown and Glenorchy, Ivan shared the Maori legend of Lake Wakatipu as well as a running dialogue about New Zealand’s natural history, geography, more recent history, etc. He also stopped several times at great spots for photography.
Our next stop was in the little settlement of Glenorchy, at the head of Lake Wakatipu. We really appreciated the photo opportunities at the red wharf shed.
From Glenorchy, Ivan drove generally north. Shortly after we entered Mount Aspiring National Park he parked the Land Cruiser and we walked a short distance into the woods to learn all about New Zealand’s indigenous beech trees: red beech, silver beech and black beech. LOTR fans will probably already know that this ancient beech forest served as Lothlorien. Ivan explained that the filming crews had to retrieve every golden leaf that was used in these scenes, as they couldn’t leave anything behind. Imagine trying to find gold-painted leaves among the centuries of leaf litter on the forest floor!
A little further along, we passed Paradise Lake (named for the Paradise Shelduck) and then stopped beside a farm paddock to photograph the location where shapeshifter Beorn provided shelter to Thorin Oakenshield, his company of dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf.
By that time it was almost noon, so we drove part of the way back to Queenstown before stopping at a picturesque spot along Lake Wakatipu for a picnic lunch. The boys (and Ivan) also took turns skipping stones while Mr. GeoK and I took (yet more) photographs.
Once we’d all satisfied our appetites and stretched our legs, we piled back in the Land Cruiser. Ivan drove straight through Queenstown and continued on to the picturesque village of Arrowtown. It had a lot of visual appeal and is on our list of places to spend a day or so, if and when we make another visit to New Zealand. But instead of joining the throngs of tourists wandering the very English-looking narrow streets, we opted to continue to the Arrow River for some fun off-roading, a quick stop at the Ford of Bruinen and then a more extended stop to try panning for gold.
By about 2:30 in the afternoon we’d visited all the sites we agreed on at the start of the day. So after a bit more discussion, Ivan returned to Arrowtown via the Arrow River bed and then drove us part way down into Skippers Canyon. We couldn’t go all the way, as we were in a Land Cruiser and it’s not rough and tough enough to make it all the way down to the Shotover River. But that really didn’t matter to us. The landscape of Skippers Canyon was absolutely stunning – one of the visual highlights of our entire trip. The road is just a narrow, unpaved track, with steep drop-offs on one side and steep hillsides stretching up towards the sky on the other. Hairpin turns and blind corners add to the challenge. Again, Ivan obliged by stopping several times so we could take photographs.
We had the chance to look over The Remarkables ski area when we climbed Single Cone. Another local ski option is Coronet Peak, our next-to-last stop.
Those of you still reading will be glad to know there are just a couple of photos from our last stop of the day – a small park in one of Queenstown’s suburbs, where we sat overlooking the lake and watched a couple of planes take-off from the airport.
Nomad Safaris has a lot of half-day and full-day tour options. If Ivan is anything to go by, their guides are extremely knowledgeable and go out of their way create a memorable experience. Thanks for an amazing day!