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Fantasy Meets Reality: Heaven on (Middle) Earth

September 15, 2011| By:Christopher Roney

Lake Okareka Lodge, Rotorua, New Zealand

 Vacations and movies have a lot in common – both are an effective means of transporting ourselves to a far-away place to escape from the world we know and live in another for a while.  But while books and movies are only bounded by our imagination, we think vacations are limited to exploring this planet Earth we have come to know so well.  That’s a silly notion, and one I intend to dispel.  Vacations, too, can be a vehicle for the imagination, and many of the destinations here on Earth inspired the great authors and directors who bring us these fantasy worlds.  And whether you’re showing your kids the magic of the world or broadening your own horizons, there’s more than a few destinations that are guaranteed to instill wonder in you.  So turn on your flashlight and have a seat in my pillow fort, and join me on a multipart adventure as I share with you some of the best destinations our legs, and our minds, can take us. 

Part 1 - New Zealand

The first stop on our journey can be none other than the most iconic of fantasy and film landscapes:  Middle-Earth.  Or as we know it a little better – New Zealand.  All three parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed on site in New Zealand, and there could not be a more stunning and diverse location.  While you’re unlikely to be beset by Ringwraiths or seek refuge in the land of the elves, you might form a strong bond of fellowship with your companions as you explore the rolling hills, mountains and forests where Peter Jackson brought the world of Tolkein alive.  New Zealand is a perfect destination for nature-lovers, and your children (inner or actual) are sure to fall in love with the vibrant landscapes and the stories embodied there. 

Nearly all of New Zealand was used in the filming of the trilogy, so it’s hard to go wrong with any location.  Or plan to travel along the island, stopping to see everything of note.  The north, near Auckland, is the home of the Shire, and it’s only a short distance south to Mordor and the spot of the battle that marked the end of the Second Age.

For the second leg of the journey, the Intercontinental Wellington would be a great base of operations to foray to Mt. Victoria and the refuge of Rivendell.  It is also within reach of the Putanguria Pinnacles, one of the most eerie and impressive rock formations on earth and home of the dead army from the third film.  The cast and crew stayed on location for three years and have left their mark in the town itself, so you will never be short on star-studded locations, including the local vineyards that continue to be an attraction in their own right.

The city of Queenstown, famous in part for its fine hotels, Eichardts Private Hotel and The Spire, lies among such locations as Amon Hen, Isengard, and the Fangorn Forest, as well as the lakes that formed the centerpiece of the finale of the first film.  Just a short trip from so many different ecosystems, Queenstown is the perfect place to stay to experience all that New Zealand has to offer.

Just as with Frodo and Sam, this trip will remove the weight of the world from your shoulders.  But unlike them, you can sleep in a King-size bed in luxurious accommodations where they’re guaranteed to know about second breakfast and have the finest leaf in the South Farthing.

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