What Is It Like To Take a ‘Lord of the Rings’ Tour?

While I was in New Zealand visiting Weta last week (see part 1, part 2, and part 3 of my write-up for that visit), I found myself unable to resist the chance to take a Lord of the Rings tour. In particular, the Rover Rings tour in Wellington, New Zealand seemed like a solid operation, and was fairly well-reviewed online.

I’m pretty cynical about the pandering, opportunistic nature of such tours in general, and the price of this tour did nothing to assuage my fears ($95 for a half day, $175 for a full day, including lunch). But I was already all the way on the opposite side of the world and Peter Sciretta agreed to front part of the cost if I wrote it up, so I figured, “What the hell, why not?” I decided to take the plunge and fork over the $95 for the half day option.

Hit the jump to see photos and videos of the Rover Rings Lord of the Rings tour, as well as my general thoughts on whether it was worth my time and money.

***

The Rover Rings tour began at 8:30 am. Our tour guide, Nathan, picked me up at my hotel in a small van, where I joined two couples and another tourist from Argentina (one of the couples was on their honeymoon, while the other was in the middle of a month-long trip around the world). Nathan told us there was not much he did not know about the making of Lord of the Rings. In fact, he’d even been a background elf in the films!

Our first stop was the top of Mount Victoria, which overlooks the entire city of Wellington. There, Nathan explained the basic layout of the city, and pointed out some of the locations we would visit (as well as some of the locations we wouldn’t visit, such as Weta and Peter Jackson’s house). As with most locations in New Zealand, the view was stunning:

As we drove to our first location, I asked Nathan about some of the weirdest fans he’d seen during his time leading the tour:

Afterwards, we went off to the woods, where Nathan showed us some locations which doubled as forest locations in Lord of the Rings. Here’s a video of Nathan’s explanation (deepest apologies for the crappy focusing/camerawork on all these videos – it was my first time using the Fuji x100 as a video camera and the autofocus performance is pretty spotty):

Here’s a better shot of the photo in this video:

Just steps away was another location from a memorable scene in the films:

Here are some better shots of the photos in this video:

Then, we drove outside of town to Rivendell. Along the way, Nathan provided some neat color commentary, and stories about the film’s creation. For instance, here’s the story of Figwit:

On the outskirts of town, we ventured into the forest that had been used as Rivendell. There, we saw several locations that were used in filming, including, bizarrely, a tree where Orlando Bloom shot his publicity stills:

Nathan offered us sword and elven ears with which to take photos next to the tree. I decided not to live the dream, but most of my tour companions took him up on his offer:

After Nathan served us some nice tea and muffins/croissant out in the forest, we went to the location where certain scenes in Isengard were filmed. Nathan explained why they had to keep the filming locations secret during the shoot:

Our last stop was the place where Minas Tiras was built. Most of the set had been torn down already, but you could definitely see the vague resemblance to the vast city depicted in the film:

***

Here is the ultimate paradox of the Rover Rings tour: I found most of the locations shown to be uninspiring and completely unrecognizable from what you see in the final films. In fact, as Nathan helpfully explained, most of the locations in the film either don’t exist anymore, never existed in the first place, and/or were the result of digitally compositing various New Zealand elements. I quipped to Nathan that for all we knew, he could have taken us to any random field and claimed it was where the Battle of Pellenor Fields was filmed. Nathan reassured me jokingly that if he was in fact scamming us, it was an enormous, layered, and detailed scam that had lasted years and years. I took some comfort in that.

But despite all of those caveats…I still greatly enjoyed the tour! Nathan is so charismatic, energetic, and talkative, that I found pleasure in just basking in the atmosphere of the tour and learning various tidbits about the films and about New Zealand (admittedly, these facts would probably be redundant to those who have absorbed most of the film’s special features, as well as local residents). My tour companions were certainly eating the whole thing up, and all of them seemed to have a great time.

I confess that I’m not a devoted enthusiast of the Lord of the Rings films; while I deeply enjoyed them when they were first released and look back on them fondly, I haven’t revisited them as frequently as I would have liked. I know friends who watch the trilogy frequently, and they’d probably appreciate the tour much more.

All that being said, was the Rover Ring tour worth $95? I’d reluctantly say yes. Certainly hard core fans will love it, and visitors to Wellington will also find it to be a light, enjoyable excursion. For that amount of money, though, it may be a better idea to rent a car, buy a guide book, and research the locations yourself. You just won’t get the awesome, amusing commentary that goes along with the tour.

[If you do end up going, make sure you get Nathan as your tourguide (I cannot emphasize this enough). And tell them /Film sent you.]

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