Pilates in Isengard

My tour of Wellington and its environs was a whirlwind. Really. Wellington is considered one of the windiest capitals in the world and after three days of hugging my coat tighter and ducking my head I believe it.

I started my exploration of Wellington by breaking the law. Okay, technically I was trespassing, but the gate was open, no one told me I couldn’t go in and I didn’t see a sign that said “LORD OF THE RINGS GEEKS GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE ALREADY! DON’T YOU PEOPLE HAVE SOMETHING BETTER TO DO???”

On an early Sunday morning, shortly after dawn, I headed for the quarry in Haywards, outside Wellington, that had served as the location for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith.

Or so I thought.

The gate was open and there was no one around, so I spent the better part of an hour walking around various pits and assorted rock-wrangling equipment in search of something that looked Ring-y.

I couldn’t find anything that made me giggle and decided that, since it was a working quarry and the sets themselves were long gone, well, maybe the rock itself had been carved and carried away.

Later that day I found out it was the quarry next door to the one I was at that had served as the location, though that gate was locked and there was indeed a “keep out” sign, nevermind nothing to see. That last bit I learned from the caretaker of Isengard… where I camped.

(For non-LOTR fans, i.e., those of you with healthy and full lives, Isengard was where the naughty, tricksy wizard Saruman hung out, Minas Tirith was the pretty shiny wedding-cake-shaped city wrecked in Return of the King and Helm’s Deep was the mountain fortress the bad guys attacked in The Two Towers.)

Yes, I camped at Isengard, aka Harcourt Holiday Park, in the Hutt Valley. I know, “Hutt” Valley… something to make the LOTR geek in me giggle as much as the Star Wars dork that also resides within. It’s a twofer.

I’d also like to note that pairing the words “Isengard” with any sort of “Holiday Park” also makes me giggle.

Anyway, there were a few scenes in Fellowship of the Ring filmed there, including when Gandalf and Saruman are walking through the gardens. Right down the road is where the Fellowship pushed their boats into the river after saying farewell to Galadriel and a short drive in the opposite direction allegedly takes you to Rivendell as well as the river ford where Arwen gets all gangsta on the Ringwraiths (“You wanna piece of this halfling? Then come and claim him, bitches! I’m about ready to bring da pain on yo’ scrawny Nazgul asses, whut whut??” Or is that the version that played only in my head?*). I say “allegedly” because although I was told that’s where the scene was filmed, the official guide lists the location for the scene as being outside Arrowtown, in the South Island.

*And, oh yes, I do think a gangsta rap version of LOTR is so overdue. If anyone has found one, let me know. I caught an ad for something almost as funny on the radio in Auckland that was a send-up of the forming of the Fellowship at the Council of Elrond, where Frodo said “I will take the ring to Mordor, though I don’t know where the f* it is!” at which point all the Fellows offered their support along the lines of Aragorn saying “Dude, you have my f*ing sword!”, ending with someone doing an excellent Boromir impression saying “You carry the fate of us all, little one. Don’t f* it up.”

Sidenote for those of you who are perplexed: yeah, I know, the references mean nothing to you. Just scroll down and look at the pretty pictures.

A longer drive from Wellington is Cape Palliser, which has nothing to do with the Lord of the Rings but is a cool lighthouse with a notoriously steep staircase of 250 or so steps. My guidebook made it sound like it was Everest or something, but it was just like being on a Stairmaster for a couple minutes. No biggie.

The Putangirua Pinnacles, however, were another story. The Pinnacles (not to be confused with the Pinnacles of Coromandel) were used as a location in Return of the King, when Aragorn and Gimli and Legolas take the Dimholt Road. You know, “the way is shut. It was made by those who are dead and the dead keep it.”

Apparently the dead are pretty crappy at trail maintenance (unless that’s the point…). My guidebook, so wimpy about a couple stairs up to a lighthouse, described the Pinnacles trail as “short and easy.”


It was a slog over loose rock up a (partly) dry streambed for more than an hour just to get to see the rock formations which, quite frankly, were not as extensive or amazing as Cathedral State Park in central Nevada.

Hey, I’m just sayin’.

I finished my LOTR geek-out tour of Wellington at, where else, the WETA Cave. WETA is the company that did a lot of the costumes, make-up, computer animation and weaponry not only for LOTR but also The Chronicles of Narnia, King Kong and a bunch of other films. I guess they got tired of socially awkward types trying to scale the fences because they opened a museum and shop called the Cave adjacent to their actual workspace.

It was about the size of your living room. The museum was tiny and didn’t have as much or as interesting stuff as the LOTR exhibit I saw in London a few years ago. The store was the real disappointment, with a lot of super-expensive “collectibles” and nothing for someone on a budget and/or not in the market for breakable, bulky items.

Drop a couple hundred bucks for a bust of Grima Wormtongue? Uhm, no thanks.

There was a short film screening, the first half of which was cool, going into the history of the company and specific films they’ve worked on. But the second half was devoted to something that drives me insane in too many “behind the scenes” documentaries: random shots of people who work there mugging for the camera while relentlessly perky music gallops along in the background. That kind of nonsense should be reserved for the staff Christmas party, guys. With no context, the goateed guy sticking out his tongue and the chubby girl waving from her office cubicle are meaningless.

Ok, rant over… I also went to other places in Wellington that had nothing to do with LOTR and will blog about them forthwith. Or posthaste. Or eventually.

All that matters is I got to do my morning Pilates in ISENGARD, bwahahahaha!


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