Mavora Lakes (north and south) are sort of halfway between the beauty and splendor of Fiordland and Milford Sound and the beauty and splendor of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables (actual name of the mountain range, which gives you the sense of how gosh darn awesome they are). The area around Mavora was used for several LOTR locations, so of course it was high on my list of places I had to see.
My first stop was the edge of a forest, at a patch of dry grassland where I observed a moment of silence for Viggo Mortensen’s toe. You may recall, if you are geeky, at the start of The Two Towers, when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come to the edge of Fangorn Forest and find the pile of dead orcs and Uruk-hai that the Rohirrim burned. Believing Merry and Pippin are also among the dead, Aragorn kicks an orc helmet in frustration and falls to his knees, apparently overcome with emotion. As anyone who has watched the DVD extras and heard the numerous references to the incident knows, Viggo Mortensen, as Aragorn, actually broke his toe when he kicked the helmet in the take used, and the pain you see onscreen is of the real and physical variety.
Having broken a toe myself, I feel his pain, so to speak.
But as there was no memorial to Viggo’s toe at the site, after pausing a moment, I moved on.
The Mavora Lakes themselves are beautiful, and the start of the Mavora Walkway, an easy trail (we like easy!) north through the mountains towards other, more famous trails such as The Routeburn, The Greenstone and The Caples. After visiting all the LOTR sites I could find (I never did see the tree Merry and Pippin used to hide from Uruk-hai at the end of FOTR), however, I headed south.
As an aside, visiting the LOTR locations has really made me marvel at the films’ continuity. Locations filmed months and even years apart, often hundreds of miles apart, get folded into one scene and it’s completely believable.
The “Southern Scenic Route” I followed proved to be a little less scenic as clouds moved in and the landscape, quite frankly, paled in comparison to the towering mountains and pristine lakes of Fiordland. There is nothing, for example, named Remarkable in the corner of Southland where I found myself.
So Karl and I went to ground, or under it, anyway, checking out the small Clifden Caves. Not as extensive as other caves, especially the ones on the North Island around Waitomo, but also not as developed. Pretty much, there’s an entrance sign and a reminder to have two light sources per person and not to explore the caves alone and that’s it, you’re on your own.
I got about halfway through the system with my one light source and Karl serving as my caving buddy before coming to a spot that made me decide to turn back. I would have had to wriggle on my belly through a slot into what looked like a drop beyond, as far as I could tell, and decided that if I got stuck Karl would be pretty much useless in terms of running for help.
Back out in sunlight, what there was of it, I drove along the coast to Invercargill and then south to Bluff, where Highway 1, which runs the length of both islands, ends. Bluff isn’t the geographically southernmost point of the South Island, but it is in a figurative sense, at least enough to have one of those signs that tells you just how far you are from everyone else (10,000 miles, give or take, to New York, for example).