There and Back Again: A Fan’s Guide to the Real Middle Earth: The Flat Earth Tour | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

There and Back Again: A Fan’s Guide to the Real Middle Earth: The Flat Earth Tour

24 April 2015

After a fun trip into the land of Hobbits in the north of New Zealand, I continued my Lord of the Rings fan tour as I arrived in Wellington, city capital and home of (Sir) Peter Jackson himself. Wellington is well worth a look on its own. The cinemas there are fantastic, ranging from the cosy art-house screens with sofas and chocolate brownies on sale, to the grand Embassy cinema, which was renovated to a high standard and hosted the premieres for both The Return of the King and the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

It’s a true haven for film nerds, and the city even boasts a large Wellington sign on a hill in the style of the classic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. Still, in between my time cinema-hopping, I found some time to go on my next Lord of the Rings themed tour -- the ‘Flat Earth’ Middle Earth Tour (Extended Edition).



This tour is an absolute must, and was definitely the highlight of all the ones that I participated in. It’s a little more expensive than the average one but as I soon found out, that extra expense was well worth it. I joined a small group of just four other people in a little mini-bus, and our excellent guide began a great description of both the city and the impact that Peter Jackson’s films have had on the area. In total we visited five locations throughout an entire day, all of which had been used for more than a few different scenes.

We went to places such as Harcourt Park, a public park that actually doubled for the gardens of Saruman, and Kaitobe National Park, a temperate rainforest that was the home of Rivendell, house of Elrond. I discovered quickly that location tours do require a certain amount of imagination -- with these locations being out of use for a decade now, much of it has become overgrown or changed. Odd scars in the landscape do remain though, and together with some handy pictures supplied by our tour guide, it wasn’t difficulty for a small band of seasoned fantasy fans to imagine the scenes there. The Extended Edition version of the tour, which I purchased, also included a visit to the exclusive Fernside Gardens, a place normally shut off to the public altogether. It was there that the scenes of Lothlorien and Gladden Fields were shot and it was great to feel like you’re getting an exclusive look at a real hidden treasure.

The tour guides had a brilliant idea of hiding the odd props around the different locations too. At the setting for Rivendell, we were supplied with a little replica of Frodo Baggins’ sword ‘Sting’, and in the gardens of Saruman we were each given a chance to get photographed with a life-size wizard’s staff. It was a really fun way to get some creative pictures and provided a good laugh. Our last location had some props already there though; ones that the tour guides insist they hadn’t planted. We were taken to Mount Victoria -- a place in the centre of Wellington that had been the first location ever for the Lord of the Rings shooting. As you can see from the picture below, it was the site of the hobbits’ tumble down the hill in The Fellowship of the Ring after escaping from Farmer Maggot’s fields near the beginning of the quest. Merry famously cries, “I think I’ve broken something!” before pulling a snapped carrot out of his pocket, and when we arrived at the very spot some carrots lay there in that exact place. It must have been left by other fans as they also attempted to recreate the scene. Still, it’s nice to imagine that perhaps they were the same ‘stunt’ carrots, left untouched and oddly impervious to decay all these years!

Our final stop on the tour was another added bonus of the Extended Edition of the tour, as we visited the well-known Weta Workshop that has provided all the costumes, props, make-up and special effects for every one of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. The workshop itself spans Miramar, an entire suburb of Wellington, with Peter Jackson having bought up many old buildings in the area.

They’re all very inconspicuous however, and without knowing you’d never guess at the treasures that lay behind the doors of these plain halls. All of these are off-limits to the public, except from a small section called Weta Cave, which has been opened to visitors to give them an idea of the work that goes on. Along with a great gift shop, we were guided into a small tour that took us through all the various processes behind movie production. Photos were strictly banned during the tour -- the workshop works on other films as well, and some of the items we saw being crafted may have been for productions that were still underway.

It was fascinating to see some of the props that they had built up close, not only for Lord of the Rings but for films like Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and The Amazing Spider-Man. With a little bit of questioning, I found out that they’re currently working on the next three Avatar films that James Cameron has planned, as well as the new Thunderbirds movie and some other not-to-be-named projects. That was as much information as I could glean, but the reticence of those at Weta Workshop is not surprising when you see just how many movies they contribute to. It’s a really great visit for anyone who is interested in the real nuts and bolts of film production.



Our tour concluded with a drive around Miramar, and onto Stone Street -- the Abbey Road for Lord of the Rings fans, if you will. Here was the centre of much of the filming, where small sets were built and the green screens set up that were so important for the movies. Our guide had some great stories and anecdotes, having been resident in Wellington through much of its recent boom in the film industry. I even managed to catch an exclusive picture of the green screen that is currently in use for Disney’s new Pete’s Dragon remake, directed by David Lowery and starring Karl Urban and Bryce Dallas Howard. It wasn’t the most revealing set unfortunately, but I’m sure that that particular half a tree will make a cameo at some point!

Overall I’d truly recommend doing a Flat Earth tour. It was definitely my personal highlight, and made for a brilliant day out. Treating yourself to an upgrade to the Extended Edition is essential too -- you get to see two further locations, one of which is highly exclusive, and have the fantastic Weta Workshop visit included. It really is the best way for Lord of the Rings fans to get an insight into the home of the New Zealand film industry, as well as a chance to visit some of the best filming locations in the country.

Perfect for … fans who can’t get enough of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Written by Jen Scouler • Stay tuned for more from Jen's Middle Earth Adventure

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