Sword Battles, Champagne and the Journey to Edoras

Waiting outside the Canterbury Museum, we watch as small groups of people calmly climb onto coaches taking them to Queenstown, Akaroa and the next leg of wherever the Chinese tour bus is going… Then, electric guitar riffs play in our heads as the most badass golden bus does a u-turn up and down the curb again to park up, just because it caaaaan! It’s like a huge farmer’s 4×4 truck, extended in the back to fit more passengers in.

Our driver and guide, Phil, from Hassle-Free Tours is taking us on a Lord of the Rings Alpine Safari to the foothills of the Southern Alps where the Edoras scenes were filmed. It’s said to be one of the most scenic Lord of the Rings locations, so there’s no time wasted getting on the bus, picking up a few extra people from their accommodation and hitting the road!

Learning about NZ

As we travel out of Christchurch and through the flat pastoral lands of the Canterbury Plains, Phil gives us some social and natural history on New Zealand. Although this is a Lord of the Rings tour, getting an introductory insight into New Zealand is too good to ignore.

Behind the scenes of Lord of the Rings

We have quite a journey to Edoras a.k.a. Mt Sunday today, about a 2h30min drive without stopping. To break up the journey, we have a rest stop in Rakaia where we grab ourselves a couple of “Yesterday’s Muffins” that are on sale at the cafe. Phil also puts on a few Lord of the Rings behind-the-scenes documentaries on the TVs at the front of the bus, so the time flies by. (And it’s a hell of a lot more fun than driving ourselves).

Views, gales: we couldn't be happier! Views, gales: we couldn't be happier!
Things get a little out of hand at Mt Sunday Things get a little out of hand at Mt Sunday
All that remained from that epic battle of Lord of the Rings nerds... All that remained from that epic battle of Lord of the Rings nerds...
Laura being blown down the hill Laura being blown down the hill

The foothills of the SOuthern Alps

The flat lands of the Canterbury Plains steadily get ripples in them, getting more and more dramatic until we are surrounded by hills. Phil talks to us about the vegetation here, from the native scrub that survive in the high country to the pests and how the Department of Conservation eradicate them. Looking at the alpine tussocks moving like waving water on the hills, we can tell that it is going to be a blowy visit to Mt Sunday.

Wild winds in Middle-earth

As we move further into the high country, Phil stops the bus, changes into 4-wheel-drive, and takes the gravel roads into the realm of the Ashburton Lakes. The dust from the gravel road gets swept up high into the air creating a misty haze over the land… Just an indicator of how blown-away we are going to feel when we get out of the bus for photo stop at Lake Clearwater. Although it is simply stunning, the lake surrounded by mountains, our senses are taken by the 70km/h winds blasting us. Even if it’s meant to be about the scenery, we are having a hilarious time taking photos of our windswept look in front of a lake full of white-topped waves.

Back into the shelter of the bus, we drive onto our next toilet stop and watch a part of the Lord of the Rings documentary where the actors talk about how crazy the wind was during filming of the Edoras scenes… No kidding, Orlando Bloom!

Having way too much fun with the Lord of the Rings props!

The moment we saw Edoras…

Our first glimpse of Mt Sunday/Edoras is a magical moment. As we reach the top of a hill, a large hidden valley is revealed with mountains on every side and a seemingly small hill protruding in the middle. That small hill is Mt Sunday.

We park, along with another Hassle-free Lord of the Rings bus, in an open area with Mt Sunday as the backdrop. This is the perfect place to get out some props and take some epic Lord of the Rings photos in front of Edoras! We get way too into this, pretending to clash the Sword of Isildur and Gimli’s axe. As each of us take turns with the props, Phil gives us a few more insights and behind-the-scenes stories of the filming location we are currently engaging in battle in.

Climbing Mt Sunday

The final must-do for any Lord of the Rings fan on this trip to Edoras is to climb it! Phil gets us closer to the start of the track by getting this bus to do what it was made for, off-roading through streams and rivers!

At first, we think it’s the spray from the river crossings that have wet our windows, but then we realise some rain has quickly come out of nowhere and hit us just in time for the quick hike up Mt Sunday. While some passengers stay sheltered in the bus, the rest of us zip up our rain jackets and head up the hill.

The best way to enjoy the view in this wind is to get down and stay down! The best way to enjoy the view in this wind is to get down and stay down!
Leaving the beauty of Middle-earth behind Leaving the beauty of Middle-earth behind
A Hassle-Free picnic! A Hassle-Free picnic!

On the hills of Rohan

If we thought the wind was bad before, then we were fools! FOOLS! The higher up Mt Sunday we go, the more the wind threatens to take us off our feet. For safety reasons, our guides don’t take us all the way to the top, but on a lower ridge of the hill is enough to take in the sensational alpine views. As we see the reviews of the photos we’re taking, we can see exactly why this location was chosen. It’s impossible for this place to look bad on camera.

As quick as the rain came, the rain goes again, leaving us to get all giddy about how intense the wind is. Robin loses his glasses off his face at least three times while we are up here.

A feast fit for a Hobbit

Having had plenty of time for photos and to soak in the vistas of Middle-earth, we finally get out of the wind and have some lunch at the Mt Potts Lodge. Our picnic lunch consists of gourmet sandwiches, banana bread/Christmas fruit cake and sparkling wine and/or orange juice. Robin even goes in for seconds like the greedy little Hobbitses he is!

On the drive out of Edoras, we stop at that revealing viewpoint on the way in of Mt Sunday centred in a stunning valley. From there, along with the essential toilet and ice cream stops, we watch almost every extra and easter egg from The Two Towers DVD.

Last night in Christchurch

We’re dropped off where we were picked up, say goodbye to our fellow Middle-earth nerds, and walk through the beautiful Botanic Gardens one last time to where our campervan is parked. It’s back to the Jucy Snooze for our last night in Christchurch.

Join us tomorrow, where we head to New Zealand’s most French town that just happens to have penguins, dolphins, super scenic hikes, and more! See you then!

Laura and Robin

Taking perilous journeys across the rivers of Rohan
Taking perilous journeys across the rivers of Rohan Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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