A Road Less Travelled
“Wow – David, we’ve never met celebrities before.”
“So. Um. Who do you guys play in the new series?”
As I stood there, atop of Edoras, my feet bare and cold, my regal dress blowing gently in the wind, and my headpiece catching just the right amount of light, ready to deliver a cheeky wee white lie, Frodo, or I guess I should say James; my husband, the other half to my 'fellowship', was already assuring the travelling couple that we were just a Kiwi girl and an Aussie bloke, embarking on their own road-trip journey through Middle-earth™.
Middle-earth™, but right here in Canterbury.
In anticipation of the upcoming [Amazon] Lord of the Rings series being released, and the immense excitement building within the two of us, we thought what better time than now, to go on our own quest and discover Middle-earth™ right here at home.
The road less travelled.
But, as we very quickly discovered, so much more worthwhile.
Enlisting the help of our very own Gandalf the Grey, off we went.
Hiring out costumes from Petticoat Lane.
James to be Frodo.
Me, Charlotte to be Galadriel.
Packing our 44-year-old Ford Transit Camper – Eggy. (Using my best Galadriel voice to warn him about what would ensue should he choose to break down during our road-trip).
Buying chains, jerry cans, shovels, and max-tracks. We wanted to be extra prepared as we had decided to embark on Middle-earth™ in Winter.
“Have you got your first aid?”
“Your locator beacon thingy?”
“Yes Mum, I think we’re good to go”
“And have you got your ring?”
As we waved Mum off, ready to leave Christchurch and go on, what we quickly realised would become the most memorable adventure of our lifetime, we couldn’t help but laugh.
Hanging on a silver chain, dangling gently from our rear-view mirror (where we could still see Mum waving,) was the ring.
The one ring to rule them all.
And so it began.
Canterbury's Middle-earth™ Locations
Our top five must visit locations on our journey through Canterbury's Middle-earth™ are:
Use the map below to plan your journey.
Location 1: Edoras
“I can’t believe I’ve lived in Christchurch most of my life and never been out here. This is stunning”.
First up on our journey through Canterbury’s Middle-earth™ was Edoras, capital of Rohan, or for those using an Aotearoa/NZ map, “Mount Sunday” out in Mount Potts Conservation Area. Mount Sunday, nestled deep within Canterbury’s high country is just over two hours’ drive from Ōtautahi Christchurch (or perhaps closer to three hours if you’re in a 44 year old camper like us), but the journey starts well and truly before it comes into view. In fact, it starts well and truly before it’s even close to coming into view.
Starting our road-trip with a fresh Cookie Time in our hands (and then promptly after - our bellies), Eggy, took us over the Rakaia Bridge. A crossing we have made together countless times, but one that always leaves us speechless as we take in the views of our beautiful braided rivers intertwining and dancing with each other.
Continuing on along the asphalt, pulling Eggy over to let the mountain of traffic behind us pass, and of course, like all other travellers in 2022, discussing how amazing it was to travel freely again, we both suddenly felt a powerful change. A powerful presence.
A powerful shift.
Was this the power of the ring?
Or was this us hitting the gravel?
Were we already about to embark on break-down number one?
But as we stopped and looked, the two of us fell silent. The mighty, and in our humble opinions, majestic, Southern Alps were slowly revealing themselves.
Within minutes, we were all but surrounded by them.
Much better than a breakdown.
From there, the two of us travelled in complete and unintentional silence, both desperately trying to commit every mountain, every slope, every inch of the spectacular scenery to memory. As we did, Eggy continued to carry us on our way.
The road snaking its way into Ashburton Gorge, with endless views of different lakes on either sides, and then over the one-lane bridge through the valley.
Where right in the centre, stood Edoras.
Tolkien initially described Edoras as a walled city, sitting upon on a tall peak, surrounded by mountains that were “white tipped and streaked with black”.
As we awkwardly manoeuvred Eggy into the Mount Sunday carpark (having our pick of the lot), we couldn’t help but keep looking out to Edoras.
It really was standing tall and proud in the centre of the Rangitata Valley with the snow-capped mountains twinkling behind.
It was truly breathtaking.
Quickly unbuckling our belts, opening our doors and jumping out of Eggy, the two of us suddenly felt a jolt as our double-socked feet excitedly hit the ground.
“Well that was weird”.
“Did you hurt your knee too?”
Since embarking on our journey through Canterbury’s Middle-earth™, I have thought about this jolt a lot. What it was exactly. Why it happened. What it meant.
When you’re travelling with a ring this powerful, a ring that has a 'will of its own', it’s easy to be constantly on the lookout for connections. Drawing conclusions. Making assumptions.
But over the weeks, I have come to believe, with absolute certainty, that this jolt was in fact a connection.
I believe, with every inch of me, both as Charlotte and Galadriel, that this jolt was the power of Tolkien. We were feeling the thoughts that were going through his head when he dreamed up Edoras. The views. The scenery. The landscapes.
We were feeling the power of an entire world he had dreamed of. Now, being brought to reality, right in front of our very own eyes.
Quickly grabbing our costumes, puffer jackets and more camera gear than we would ever care to admit, we eagerly began our journey to the summit.
“Have you got the flag of Rohan?”
“Great Frodo! I can’t wait to throw it up the top. I want to watch it fall, like Éowyn did”
“You know you’re not Éowyn right”
[There’s always that one person right. The one that has to make you subtly aware (or perhaps not so subtly) that they have watched Lord of the Rings more times than you.]
“Yes. But just let me live this fantasy out ok. The flag. And Rohan’s impending demise. It will be great”
Meant to be only a short (30 minute) walk to Edoras; the Department of Conservation (DOC) track to Mount Sunday gently takes you through the twisting and turning valley, over two beautiful wooden bridges (with unbelievably clear waters running below), and then onto rolling farm land where you make the brief (5-10 minute) ascent to the summit.
Ours, however, suddenly became much longer as we abruptly realised we had forgotten something important.
We had forgotten the ring.
Dropping our gear down on the least poo-covered bit of farmland we could find and nervously asking the big bulls not to touch our camera, we quickly ran back to Eggy.
Hastily turning the key in our lock and thrusting open the doors, we both anxiously looked up.
And of course, there it was.
Still gently dangling from our rear-view mirror. Right beside our tutti-frutti air freshener. Twinkling as the soft afternoon light hit it.
It almost felt as if it was mocking us.
Snatching it up quickly, and then shuddering as the action made me feel awfully Gollum-like, we went for round two at Edoras.
As we made the last few steps to the summit (again), we were both filled with indescribable glory.
Looking out to the towering mountains glistening with fresh snow. Seeing the valley snaking its way down below. Watching the dappled light transform every inch of the incredible landscape in front of us.
It was almost too much.
And so, so beautiful, in absolutely every sense of the word.
And for four hours, the two of us were the horse-lords of Rohan.
I stood carefully on the edge and threw the flag down.
Frodo found the perfect rock to sit on and fondle the ring.
We picked up Aragorn’s sword and battled – agreeing the loser would have to go and retrieve the fallen flag. Admittedly, this was much more thrilling than our usual style of conflict resolution [papers-scissors-rock].
Again, we laughed.
And then David and his wife came up, momentarily transporting us back to reality as they asked us about the upcoming series on Amazon. Continuing on with the theme, we, once again, laughed.
Both agreeing that we would hold this day, this adventure, this perfect beginning to our Middle-earth™ journey, in our memories forever.
More in Middle-earth™ - Edoras
Mount Sunday/Edoras is 160 km (2hr 20 min drive) from Ōtautahi Christchurch. The last 26km (approximately 40 minutes) are on an unsealed road.
9km past Clearwater village, descend into the Rangitata Valley. A single lane bridge takes you over Potts River, leaving just two ford crossings to tackle before you arrive at the Mount Sunday carpark. The fords are usually small but drivers take care.
From the carpark, follow the DOC maintained track for 30 minutes, crossing two wooden bridges (including one swing) before making the ascent up the southern side of Mount Sunday/Edoras.
Hobbit’s Handy Hints
Be aware there is no cell phone service out here! Make sure you have saved the film scenes of Edoras and set Google Maps running before you reach Mount Somers (this is typically the last patch of reliable service).
It can get extremely windy (and cold) at the top of Mount Sunday/Edoras. Check the weather forecast before planning your visit, paying particular attention to the wind.
The road to Mount Sunday is typically fine for a 2WD but is susceptible to wash-outs after heavy rain, and can be covered in ice after heavy snow. The Ashburton District Council keep a very informative and up-to-date road closures map here (scroll to the bottom for interactive map link)
Be sure to pack snow chains if you are visiting during Winter and/or snow is forecasted/fallen recently.
For an indication of current weather conditions, you can check the Arrowsmith Webcam here (this is located at Lake Heron – just 23km from Mount Sunday as the crow flies).
To bring some extra Middle-earth™ magic and cosplay connection to your road-trip, Petticoat Lane in Ōtautahi Christchurch have an incredible offering of medieval and Lord of the Rings inspired costumes you can hire out. Pop in and visit their friendly store in Papanui to find your character. You will be amazed when you discover that most of their garments and glad-rags are made locally too.
As you drive out to Mount Sunday, you pass through Hakatere Conservation Park, brimming with beautiful walks around a number of spectacular high-country lakes. We recommend spending at least a full day here and packing a picnic to enjoy after a lakeside walk. Some favourites are Lake Hill Track at Lake Heron or the Lake Clearwater Circuit. Alternatively, if relaxation is more in your realm, take some time to relax at the stunning Lake Camp . If you can nab a still day, the mountainside reflections are simply perfection.
Mark from Hassle-free tours runs an incredible Lord of the Rings – Edoras day tour - from Christchurch or Methven. He has genuine replica props so you can get the most out of your photos! Plus, he shares behind-the-scenes information on how Mount Sunday was portrayed as Edoras.
If you are looking for somewhere special to stay after exploring Edoras, we absolutely loved the Red Cottages in Staveley. There are two cottages to choose from, both offering twin outdoor bath tubs and cosy fireplaces, plus the most unique cinema we have ever set foot in. Get ready to watch a movie (perhaps a well-known trilogy?) in the cleverly converted old woolshed. It is an experience in itself. Red Cottages are 58km from Mount Sunday.