LOTR Excursion to Chestwood Forest

Nelson-NZWe opted to spend our last full day on New Zealand’s South Island with Noel Kennedy, owner of Wine, Art & Wilderness tours. Given our boys’ interest in Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, we asked Noel to plan a day that would highlight Nelson-area shooting locations for the Hobbit movie trilogy.

It’s about a 45 minute drive from where we were staying to Hawkes Lookout at the top of Takaka Hill. We made a couple of brief stops along the way, to look at a kiwi fruit orchard and to photograph this roadside sculpture and rainbow. Located in Kahurangi National Park, Takaka Hill has really interesting geology, including extensive karst and cave systems. The surface is characterized by unique lime and marble rock formations, which are the source of its popular name: Marble Mountain. In fact, Takaka Hill is the only place in the world other than Italy where you can see rocky marble outcroppings like this. According to Noel, this landscape is one of the main reasons New Zealand is so well-suited to serve as Tolkien’s middle earth.

We didn’t stay too long at Hawkes Lookout; Noel kept us moving so that we’d have just a very short wait before descending into middle earth at the privately-owned and operated Ngarua Caves. Basic lighting illuminated impressive stalactites, stalagmites, ancient Moa bones, pot holes and sink holes as our guide led us through cave. I would describe the cave as somewhat interesting, but developed on a very basic budget (i.e. minimal signage, fairly poor lighting, etc.) We had no trouble climbing the ladder to the exit the hatch at the far end, but a reasonable level of fitness is helpful here (as well as an absence of fear of dark enclosed spaces).

The farm land on which the Ngarua Caves are situated also has a unique look. Apparently some scenes from at least one of the Hobbit movies were filmed here, but details haven’t yet been released to local tour operators, so we’re hoping to spot this landscape in the third Hobbit movie.

Chestwood-ForestAfter a short stop at another scenic overlook, we turned off the highway and started along an unpaved (unsealed) road leading towards Harwoods Hole. Enroute, we stopped at a woods that served as Chestwood Forest where the Hobbits, lead by Aragorn, fled from Bree and the Black Riders. Conveniently, this was also the location of a short multi-cache. K spotted a few giant snail shells and there were some interesting mixes of light and shadow in the forest.

We enjoyed a fantastic picnic lunch at the Harwoods Hole trailhead: Manuka smoked salmon, salad from Noel’s own garden, Manuka smoked chicken, curry and onion bread, orange juice, fresh fruit, etc. and then we set off on the 2 km (each way) walk to Harwoods Hole – the deepest known vertical shaft in New Zealand. There are some pretty serious warning signs at the trail head, which make it clear that only those with appropriate training, experience and equipment should attempt to enter the hole. It was a very interesting walk; Noel told us about some of the flora and fauna, including some tips on how to distinguish between red, silver and black beech trees. Someone was down in Harwood Hole; we could tell from the ropes visible up top. We satisfied ourselves with taking a few photos from the top and trying to find a geocache (which, unfortunately, eluded us).

Our last stop of the day was at the Riwaka Resurgence walk, which is at the base of Takaka Hill below Hawkes Lookout. The Resurgence is considered the source of the Riwaka River; its catchment area includes the Ngarua Caves that we visited earlier in the day. Generations of Maori have visited this sacred site – which they call Te Puna o Riuwaka – for cleansing and healing. The walkway is very pretty, with stone steps winding through the temperate forest. And as a bonus, the Resurgence is also the site of an earthcache!

Thanks to Noel, we managed to enjoy photography, geocaching, LOTR sites and an excellent meal over the course of a scenic and relaxing day – a fitting end to our time on the beautiful South Island.

FYI – I’m going to take a short break from blogging about our New Zealand vacation over the next week or so. Watch for a final series of posts about our time on the North Island, starting early in May.

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