Kiwi Film Favourites

 

 

Set jetting around New Zealand’s famous movie sites by David Whitley 
Visitors to New Zealand may be forgiven for thinking that, in terms of famous filming locations, the country is non-stop Lord of the Rings. However, while there are plenty of areas milking the Baggins buck, there are many other sites on the Kiwi movie map. Set-jetters can follow in the footsteps of Tom Cruise, great apes and noble lions, as well as check out the scenery from locally made hits.

King Kong
 
After the success of Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson returned to New Zealand for his next big project. Much of the 2005 hit was made in studio in Wellington, but other parts of the country had a starring role too.
 
Skull Island was a combination of Lyall Bay and Shelly Bay (both in Wellington). The wall that separated the giant gorilla from the rest of the island was created in a large set that took over Shelly, while establishing shots were filmed at Lyall.
 
Meanwhile, most of the on-ship scenes were shot in the Cook Strait between the North and South islands, and near Kapiti Island. The latter is a protected bird sanctuary, off the coast from Wellington. Meanwhile, to sail the Cook Strait yourself, the scenic ferry between Wellington and Picton can’t be beaten.
 
And the New York scenes? Well they were in New Zealand too. The depression-era Big Apple was recreated in Seaview, Lower Hutt, while Auckland’s Civic Theatre played the interior of the New York Theatre.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 
Peter Jackson isn’t the only Kiwi director to shamelessly showcase his home country to multiplex audiences across the world – Andrew Adamson has been at it too.
 
The Shrek director decided to come home when shooting the first of the Chronicles of Narnia series, and utilised locations across the country for the big budget epic.
 
The White Witch’s camp (boo! hiss!) can be found in the Woodhill Forest, north-west of Auckland. It’s an excellent spot for mountain biking as well as chilling out with Mother Nature.
 
Meanwhile Aslan’s Camp (hooray!) was on the South Island, and more specifically Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley. Nearby is the Vanished World Centre at Duntroon, which explores the unique geology of the area, including the rather odd boulders where Aslan hung around looking regal.
 
As for the big battle scene, that takes place in the Southern Alps, about an hour and a half’s drive from Christchurch. The area is known as Flock Hill. It’s close to a few of the major ski resorts, so it’s a perfect distraction from the slopes for a few hours.

Whale Rider
 
One of the finest films to come out of New Zealand in recent years, Niki Caro’s movie made a star out of Keisha Castle-Hughes. The youngster received an Oscar nomination for her stunning performance, but the other star of the film was the North Island’s East Cape.

 

The Maori village where the story unfolds is Whangara, a small but gorgeous place just up the coast from Gisborne. It’s worth visiting to get the views, but to learn more about Maori customs and lifestyle spend a while in Gisborne, which hosts the Tairawhiti Museum. This offers an excellent exploration of East Coast Maori history, while the nerby Te Poh-o-Rawiri meeting house is one of the biggest in the country. Go see it for the carvings.

 

The Last Samurai

 

It may seem a little odd that there’s a self-styled Samurai village in the middle of rural New Zealand, but you can blame Tom Cruise for that. He was the star of The Last Samurai, a 2003 film that did iffily at the global box office but was huge locally.

 

Instead of actually filming in the country in which the film was set, they decided that various sites across Taranaki were a perfect substitute for 19th century Japan. Mount Fuji was later added on in the background using special effects.

 

At the hub of all the filming action was Uruti, which was transformed into a Japanese village. Most of the sets were pulled down after filming, but enterprising locals have recreated some of them.

 

Much of it was done on a remote sheep and cattle farm, and that’s now where you can do tours of the filming locations. And, if there’s a group of twenty or more, it’s possible to watch the Gumboot Gully Movie Stunt Horses and their riders performing stunts from the movie.

 

Now it’s not every day you can go to a farm and watch a Samurai battle, is it?

 

Willow

 

Way before Lord of the Rings put New Zealand on the sci-fi film map, there was Willow. The 1988 film, written by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, has become a cult classic - and was partly filmed on the South Island.

 

Major sequences (ie. just about anything with mountains or lakes in) were shot around Queenstown. Glenorchy was the main focus, and local farmers were dragged in as extras on horseback. It’s a tiny settlement today, but a starting point for all manner of adventure activities, including jet boating on the Dart River.

 

Other parts were shot in the Tongariro National Park in the North Island, which would later find fame as Mt Doom in – you guessed it – Lord of the Rings.

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here

 

Tongariro Crossing?

 

 

After conflicting reports, David Whitley takes on the Tongariro Crossing (well, half of it) on New Zealand’s North Island.

 


“The Tongariro Crossing is for pussies”, I had been told elsewhere in New Zealand. “If you want to spend your day in a queue of people walking across a mountain, then great. But it’s really not that much of a challenge.”

 


The Tongariro Crossing is the big boy, sat high on the pedestal waiting to be shot at. It has long been one of New Zealand’s prescribed must-dos, and this status means it attracts both flak and tens of thousands of people wanting to take it on every year.

 


When half of it is closed due to volcanic activity – as is currently the case – there must be a temptation to file it in the overrated basket and skip it.

 


It’s when you get to the south crater that you realise succumbing to that temptation would have been a terrible mistake. Yes, you’ve hardly got it to yourself and, yes, the severity of the uphill grind to get there is vastly overstated. But my word, the scene is magnificent.

 


The South Crater is a vast flat, dust-blown field. A white track, created by footfall crosses the centre of it, and tufts of hardy grass manage to poke through an otherwise totally barren landscape. It looks like the sort of giant amphitheatre that would be used for some ultra-bloodthirsty Colosseum-style entertainment by an evil galactic emperor in a sci-fi film.

 


To the left, Mount Tongariro slowly climbs towards its summit. To the right, Ngauruhoe soars upwards, the perfect volcanic cone. It’s merely a vent of Tongariro, but it is higher. Small figures can be seen on its slopes, attempting to crawl up the brutal scree at a 45 degree angle. It’s a dangerous undertaking – rocks regularly tumble down into the would-be climbers’ path.

 


The figures are humans, but I half expect them to be Hobbits. Ngauruhoe doubled as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. Peter Jackson and co had to do surprisingly little to make it look so deadly and forbidding.

 


The rest of Mordor comes into view as we climb along the ridge that leads out of South Crater. Over to the west is the Oturere Valley, a black and bumpy place formed by centuries of spilling lava.

 


Mordor is not the goal, though – the Red Crater summit is. And the views from there are so remarkable that I want to yabber about them to everyone I’ve ever met, whilst simultaneously weeping and drooling. Behind, the iron oxide stains the Red Crater a deep crimson. A sweep round brings into view Ngaurohoe, and Tongariro’s summit. But it’s the no-go zone ahead that’s the cherry on top. Inside the stark central crater, the Emerald Lakes dazzle with seemingly impossible intensity – the blue and green colours alarmingly vivid.

 


Beyond, looking deceptively close, but an hour’s walk away, is the Blue Lake. And behind it is the reason we can go no further. A white cloud rises above the water. It’s the Te Maari crater, which erupted twice in 2012 and is now being carefully monitored as it continues to let off steam.

 


It’s a reminder of where this landscape of lava flows, rusty orange rivers and bleak, rocky plains came from. And it’s a reminder that it has not finished changing.

 


We have to turn back. It’s not yet safe to make the full crossing. But despite occasionally having to wait for other people to go past or get out of the way of your photo, and despite not being the grand physical endurance test some people build it up to be, there are few places on earth that can compare. It’s not a walk into the unknown and it’s not a walk into solitude, but it’s a walk into something truly special.

 


Disclosure: David went on the Tongariro Crossing as a guest of Adrift Guided Outdoor Adventures and Destination Great Lake Taupo. He stayed in Taupo as a guest of YHA Taupo.

by David Whitley

 

 

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal