I spent a night in the town of Geraldine, which is famous mainly for hosting the world’s largest sweater (Guinness certified!) and the “medieval mosaic,” an incredible lifesize recreation of the Bayeux Tapestry made from bits of discarded steel machinery that were then hand-painted and stuck together with masking tape.
Both the sweater and the mosaic are in the same building, a knitwear shop, and can be viewed for free. The maker of the mosaic was there, presiding over his masterpiece (I say that without sarcasm… it truly was magnificent) and showing off his other creations… tons of puzzles and riddles and other brain-teasers. I could have lingered there a long while (who doesn’t love math-based linguistic riddles? I know I do!) but the Fields of Pelennor were calling.
Passing Lake Tekapo, I got my first glimpse of the magical hues of the lakes in this area… they’re full of “glacial flour” (sometimes called “rock flour”). When the glaciers forced rocks to grind against each other, the resulting microparticles ended up suspended in the water, reflecting light and creating a milky turquoise glow even when it’s overcast.
Stopping at Lake Pukaki next, I got a rare glimpse of Mt. Cook, tallest mountain in New Zealand, clocking in at 3755 meters (that’s about 12,400 feet, give or take). Its Maori name, Aoraki, translates as “Cloud Piercer” and on most days, it does, hidden all or nearly so in the clouds.
I could have driven closer to Mt. Cook but again, the Fields of Pelennor were calling.
There were no LOTR Fields of Pelennor tours running that day, and the LOTR Locations Guide (which I haven’t bought, though I keep flipping through at I-Sites, New Zealand’s tourist information centers), said the location was on private land and therefore inaccessible to the independent traveller.
Like a Ringwraith obsessed with finding Frodo, I asked around. The woman at the local gas station in Twizel happily told me how to get to the site, adding “my sister was an orc!” and expressing great remorse that she had been living in Wellington during the filming and thus missed out on all the fun.
For anyone wondering what the hell I’m talking about, in The Return of the King, the bigass battle for Minas Tirith that takes up most of the second half of the movie takes place on the Fields of Pelennor. That’s the one with the siege towers pushed by cave trolls and the tens of thousands of orcs and the giant elephant-like creatures and the fell beasts swooping down out of the sky and, most importantly in my mind, the awesome charge of the Rohirrim when the horsemen of Rohan come to the aid of Gondor.
I never get tired of the scene when the Rohirrim turn up just as the sun is rising, take a look at the ridiculous odds against them (something like 100 orcs for every horseman) and, after some encouraging words from King Theoden, just go tearing into the orc defenses with an attitude that I believe could be classified as “batshit crazy.” I know a few film snobs who roll their eyes over it and then go off to watch “The Royal Tenenbaums” or something and feel very impressed with themselves, but to me it’s one of the greatest movie moments ever.
So… with the help of Annemarie the Shell station attendant, I found the fields of Pelennor, deserted now except for some sheep looking at me with total disinterest… though they did move away when, channeling Theoden, I shouted “Fear no darkness! Spears will be shaken! Shields will be splintered! A sword day! A red day! And the sun rises! Death! DEATH! DEEEAAAAAATH!” before Karl and I ran across the open field. For a little way, anyway. Hey, it’s not like there were legions of orcs that needed whacking, smacking and hacking or anything.