Mt. DOOM, New Zealand
(oh yes, there. Right freaking there! Life Achievement unlocked: Entered Mordor!!!)
The Great Kiwi Roadtrip continues!!
When you tell your friends back home that you’re in New Zealand, there is one reaction you’re almost sure to receive (especially if said friends are big fans of Science Fiction movies and some are actually known to posses the one ring) and question is, “Are you going to Hobbiton?”
Unfortunately for the people who run the tourist trap that is the fictional home of Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, Greg does not pay to visit a move set; he gets paid.
The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand. And having driven over a chunk of this county now, we can definitely see why. The landscape here is very surreal, and for the most part it is quite unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else. Yes, we’ve seen gorgeous tropical rainforests with amazing plants and animals, but there’s just something about the shape of the land in this country that screams how different it is from everywhere else we’ve been. Maybe it has something to do with the astoundingly large number of both active and dormant volcanoes in a relatively small country, or maybe it’s the primordial-looking plant life that looks like it belongs in another (much more prehistoric) age. Whatever it is, it is so unlike our temperate homes in North America and the forest life that we are used to that every time we look into the landscape here we are transfixed by its uniqueness.
Unfortunately that awe is somewhat spoiled by the vast number of imported pine trees that have been planted in neat lines, trimmed to perfection, and awaiting exportation.
The rich, volcanic soil that has allowed the amazingly unique flora in this region to flourish is also perfect for producing high quality timber. And there are countries that are more than willing to pay for the luxury of having it shipped to them…
Aside from the plant life though, the rugged steepness of this country is remarkable. There has not yet been a place we have found where we are out of sight of a mountain of some sort. Little hills, big mountains, steep grades or gentle slopes, this is not a flat country. Which brings us back to the world of cinema. Apparently one of the muckety mucks who was involved in filming the Lord of the Rings had been to New Zealand and thought that it would be a perfect place for them to film (and he was right!) it is a country with large pieces of land that remain untouched by our modern world, places where you can shoot wide, sweeping, epic camera shots without having to fear seeing a power line or any evidence of human influence. This is a wild land.
But when we first approached Mount Doom (the-mountain-formerly-known-as Mt. Ngauruhoe – “Doom” is so much easier…) we didn’t see whatever it was that the director was seeing. In real life, Mt Doom sits next to another mountain. A pretty, snow covered, gently sloped, friendly looking mountain. It makes Mt Doom look way less scary. Also, we approached from the north by Taupo, which is a touristy town at the base of a large lake. Our first view of Mt Doom was looking across this big lake with it reflected in the calm water along with its friendly looking neighbor. We dined on fish & chips and watched dinghy sailors gently float across the lake. Not a sight to strike fear in the hearts of hobbits anywhere.
No scared hobbits out there, right?
We drove for quite a while along this lake with Mt Doom flashing in and out of sight amongst the trees, still thinking not-scary thoughts.
Until we reached the other side of the lake.
Then we understood.
Mount Doom looks scary.
There it stands, all alone, surrounded by scrubby desert plants. It’s obviously a volcano, and even the little bit of white fringe around the edges doesn’t soften its look from this angle. Yup, good choice!
The fact that the New Zealand Army uses this area as a munitions range (yeah, that’s awesome) probably helped with the intimidation factor. As we were driving in and out of dips and ridges, praying some Kiwi tank didn’t mistake us for a targeting exercise, we could almost believe that the Mordor’s orc army was just a few valleys over. Very atmospheric!
Why didn’t we get any closer? Look dude, we’ve already been inside the bowl of a massive island volcano, no need to push our luck twice.
Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures. If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at www.CoastGuardCouple.com!