Leaving the slopes of Mount Doom behind us, we travelled south into the fascinating Manawatu region. We went down the scenic road of Manawatu Gorge, near Palmerston North, and then took a detour to visit Ruahine Forest park, where we took a stroll amid the beautiful landscape, which is swiftly changing, before camping for the night. The Ruahine Range is young, at least in geological terms, and its steep peaks of this narrow line of mountains stand out sharply from the surrounding countryside.
Then we took another detour, taking the Te Ore Ore road from Masterton to Castlepoint, saw the fantastic views from the lighthouse and had a picnic on the popular beach. There were dolphins playing in the bay, and we watched as they dived and arched up and flicked their tails.
Next we travelled south once more, right to the bottom of North Island. Here we took a look at the bizarre Putangirua Pinnacles. These strange formations of gravel look like a film set, but are the real-life location of the filming of the ‘Paths of the Dead’ scene from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. We continued round the south coast, through the quirky little fishing village of Ngawi, with its bulldozers on the shore front that pull boats in and out of the water. Driving round the rugged and picturesque coastline, we made our way to Cape Palliser. At Cape Palliser, we viewed New Zealand’s largest colony of fur seals, and climbed the 250 steps of the lighthouse.
We looped back up and round by the side of Lake Wairarapa, traditionally an important area of food gathering for local Maori people. It is also an excellent place for a spot of bird watching. At Kaitoke Regional Park we saw the Rivendell location where Frodo recovered from his knife attack.
Just one final detour to the beautiful west coast of North Island, and we finally made it to the final destination for our North Island road trip: Wellington. The years of filming for Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations are everywhere in evidence here, and have also become a major part of the city’s tourism, as well as the tourism of New Zealand as a whole. We visited several more filming locations as we toured the city and environs, including Mount Victoria, whose forest doubled as Hobbiton woods, the Hutt River, which was the River Anduin, and Harcourt Park, which was transformed into the gardens of Isengard. Having seen so many Middle Earth filming locations on our journey, we also popped into the fascinating Weta Cave, and gained a little more insight into the making of the films.
We had fallen in love with the beauty of New Zealand’s North Island, and really had begun to feel that we were travelling through a magical land. We were sad to finally bid this island farewell, but we were also very excited because we knew that before us, more adventure still lay in store. The following day, we were making for the awe-inspiring and dramatic South Island.
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