An Unforgettable Vacation to Middle Earth

By Jennifer Hallmark

During our month of sharing favorite vacations, I lotrrevealed one item checked off my bucket list: a visit to my brother in Anchorage, Alaska. Since September is all about world travel, I thought I’d share another item: a Middle Earth journey to New Zealand.

Now if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The LOTR trilogy was filmed over an eighteen-month period in many parts of New Zealand.

I loved those movies.

When I found out you could take a fourteen-day journey to many of the places the movie was filmed through the travel company, Red Carpet Tours, I thought, “Sign me up!”

Well, maybe after I raise the tad bit of money it would cost to fly to New Zealand, stay there for several weeks, buy tons of souvenirs, then fly back.

Here’s the itinerary for my future trip.

First, I’ll fly to New Zealand from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Intl Airport. If my vacation began on Thursday, September 22nd of this year, I’d leave Atlanta at 6:30 p.m. and arrive at LAX (Los Angeles) at 8:20 their time. I’d have about a three-hour layover before boarding my flight to Auckland, New Zealand. I’d board at 11:10 p.m. and arrive at 7:20 a.m. Almost a twenty-one hour flight. Wow.

Day one-Red Carpet tours will meet me at the airport and transfer me to my hotel for the start of the tour. We gather informally this evening to meet each other and prepare for our early start tomorrow.

hobbiton-1586978__180Day two-We’ll leave at 8 a.m. where I’ll be enchanted by Hobbiton and take photos of the tranquil Shire, Bag End, Sam & Rosie’s cottage, and the Party Tree. I’ll enjoy a soda at The Green Dragon followed by lunch in a Marquee beside The Green Dragon.

Day Three-I’ll journey to Rotorua to Trollshaw Forest and delight in a wonderful guided tour of this Hobbit location, then enjoy a picnic lunch on our way to Mt. Ruapehu and the sites of Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mt Doom.

Day Four- On to Ohakune, then to Wellington. First, a Hobbit location of the Secret Entrance to Erebor and Lotr location of Gollum’s fishing pool, where Andy Serkis was careful not to plunge over the waterfall. Then, it’s on to Wellywood. We’ll dine at “The Green Parrot Restaurant” said to be a favorite of Viggo’s.

Day Five-Wellywood Day, Miramar – New Zealand’s movie capital. We’ll go to the Weta Workshop, Weta Cave, then the beautiful Roxy Theatre for lunch. I’ll visit the Embassy Theatre, where the ROTK and The Hobbit World Premiere were held.

Day Six-Presentation day with LOTR / Hobbit Calligrapher and Cartographer Daniel Reeve. Later, I’ll check out the “Get off the road!” location from FOTR, overlooking the city. During the afternoon, I’ll explore Te Papa Museum and visit other Wellington places of interest.

barrel rideDay Seven-Our North Island Adventure concludes and our South Island Adventure begins! I’ll catch the Inter-Island ferry from Wellington, then sail to Picton in the South Island. After lunch, I’ll drive to Nelson City, stopping along the way to view the famous river, where the Dwarfs escaped from the Elves, in barrels. I might even do some kayaking. 🙂

Day Eight-Weather permitting, I’ll ride a helicopter to the LOTR sites of “South of Rivendell”, at the top of Mt Olympus, then head back into Nelson city to meet and chat with the makers of the “One Ring”. I’ll also check out more wonderful LOTR and Hobbit jewelry.

Day Nine-An early start south along the East Coast this morning, stopping at a beautiful seaside cafe for 2nd breakfast. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? We’ll make stops for photographs of Fur Seals basking and at play along the rocky shoreline, before arriving in picturesque Kaikoura for lunch and souvenir shopping. We then travel on south to Christchurch where I’ll visit some of the ancient churches. An early night tonight for a big day tomorrow.

Day Ten-It’s time to head for EDORAS! It’s a 30-minute trek to reach the summit. I’ll stand where the Golden Hall once stood and survey the mountain panorama all around as they fly the Rohan flag! I’ll keep a lookout for their highest mountain; Aoraki, Mt Cook – the Cloud Piercer of 12,000 feet. I’ll also visit a local Hobbit-inspired seamstress and buy my own cloak.

battle on plainsDay Eleven-Today, I’ll see Pelennor Fields ~ an area that once rang to the thunderous sound of 250 horses on the charge, as King Theoden’s battle speech roused men to battle. Then on to a guided tour of the stunning location of Laketown. After lunch, I’ll try my archery skills and more souvenir shopping.

Day Twelve-I’ll head out to amazing Rohan country, where the Rohan village was burned and walk through the canyon where the leaf brooch was dropped and 2 other sites. Lunch will be in Alexandra, then on to Arrowtown ~ a charming old settlement, historically significant in the gold rush days of the 1860s. Finally Queenstown, where I’ll explore and shop to my heart’s content.

Day Thirteen-I’ll picnic at Mavora Lakes (the breaking of the Fellowship), visiting several LOTR sites – The calling up of Shadowfax -The Silverlode bridge -The Orc funeral pyre -Fangorn Forest – Nen Hithoel -The log which concealed Merry & Pippin before Frodo left the fellowship, -And where Sam and Frodo paddled away on the next stage of their journey. Then back to Queenstown.

Day Fourteen-My last day. It will consist of a Dart River Jet Wilderness Safari past LOTR & Hobbit sites. Then I’ll parasail over one of the breath-taking lakes and end my day with a hot air balloon ride.

Day Fifteen-Alas ~ my journey through Middle Earth with Red Carpet Tours is at an end. “Nai tiruvantel ar varyuvantel i Valar tielyanna nu vilya: May the Valar protect you on your path under the sky.”

Then, I’ll probably take a day or two to rest before my twenty-seven hour flight home. Do you think you’d like to undertake such an adventure also? Well, you’d better save some money. I figure the flight, tour, extra, and souvenirs will cost around $12,000.

But for a true fan, the trip would be once-in-a-lifetime.

See you in New Zealand!


Writing prompt: I couldn’t believe I was standing on Mt. Doom. A sudden chill ran through me as…

All-Time Greatest Villains (IMO)

By Betty Thomason Owens

Villain: antagonist; a dramatic or fictional character who is typically at odds with the hero.

I posted a question on Facebook, asking for favorite villains, including those you “love to hate” which includes comic villains, of course. I got some pretty good answers. Here’s a rough list:

Books: Narnia – The White Witch, Les Miserables – Javert, Dune – House Harkonnen, LOTR – Saruman, Peter Pan – Captain Hook.

Movies: Superman – General Zod, X-Men – Magneto, Batman – The Joker, Terminator – Skynet, 101 Dalmations – Cruella De Vil

TV & Cartoon: GI Joe – Cobra Commander, Transformers – Megatron, Looney Tunes – Wile E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam, Seinfeld – Newman, Lost in Space – Dr. Smith.

My personal favorites: Javert from Les Mis, though Colin O’Donoghue’s Captain Hook in Once Upon a Time was outstanding, but that would bump it to the TV category. Barrie’s original was not so handsome or personable. My favorite movie villain is Cruella De Vil. The TV villain? Wile E. Coyote.

My reason for assembling this list was to look at certain characteristics that make a good villain. As a writer, I like to form my characters from scratch. Sometimes, they are a combination of several different characters or people with whom I’m acquainted. I don’t want them to be “too” identifiable––know what I mean?

My present WIP includes a villainous character who is bigoted against class, race, and sex. A small-town lawyer in the deep South, head deacon in his church, he’s judgmental of anyone he suspects of having “tainted” blood.  At one point, he tells my MC she can never teach in the white schools because her skin is too dark (she’s half Hawaiian). I loved building his character and his lines are just pure fun to write (though some were uncomfortable).

What makes a good villain? Looks probably figure high on the list. Often, they’re unattractive. Witches tend to have warts and long noses, missing teeth and beady eyes, but look at the movie version of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. The White Witch is not horrible. Her looks are harsh and severe, but not lumpy and gross. And there’s 101 Dalmations’ Cruella De Vil. She’s not cruelly ugly on the outside. But inside? Pure slime. She’s a spoiled, rich dame who covets the beautiful black and white hides of the dalmations. She’s used to getting her way and won’t let anything stop her. Well, except the law. I was happy to see her humiliated and…well, gone.

What about the lovable villains like Yosemite Sam and Wile E.? What makes them lovable? Wile E. never catches the roadrunner. He always gets crushed by the Acme anvil or blown up by the Acme rocket. Their evil deeds never win. Looks-wise, these characters are more shrewd than ugly. I think they’re endearing characters because of their comic nature. We laugh when the shotgun blows up in their face. But only because we know they’ll be back in one piece to make us laugh again. And again…

Although most comic villains live to be vile again and again, in real life and maybe in our favorite novels, when they die, they’re gone forever. Javert in Les Mis, has a final scene that almost makes us like him, but then he commits suicide. He’s not coming back from that. Saruman is destroyed in LOTR and we hope he won’t return. Ever.

My antagonist does not repent. He tries, but he’s just too filled with hate and deception. Maybe one day, maybe on his deathbed, but not now. Villains are often so eaten up with themselves, they fail to see the need for repentance. So they continue their bad deeds. In literature, we deal with them in some way. They are killed or incarcerated, or lope off with their tail between their legs like Wile E. Sometimes, stories end with their existence in doubt. Will they “be back” like the Terminator? Can our protagonist breathe again, free of the villain’s tyranny? One of the things I love most about writing is this: I get to decide.

To be entered in our monthly contest, please leave your comment on this post.  Who are your favorite fictional villains? Maybe you can come up with a few more obscure ones than those I named above.

Vacation Time with Frodo and Aragorn

         New Zealand. An island country nine hundred miles east of Australia boasts lush forest, varied topography, sharp mountain peaks, breath-taking beaches and an enormous lake nestled near one of the world’s most active super volcanoes.
I couldn’t think of a better place to start our month-long look at vacation spots, places you can use in your latest novel or short story. For me, this is a dream vacation, one that like many people started when I watched the first movie of the trilogy, “Lord of the Rings.” I was captivated by the diversity of terrain in this marvelous country and was pleasantly surprised to find there is actually a “Lord of the Rings Road Trip Guide.” You too can take the journey.
At , I found an article detailing the trip, with a disclaimer that some of the areas have been returned to their natural state. In some cases access can be limited due to the remoteness of the site. You can, however, still visit some of the impressive natural features that served as a backdrop for the filming.
The original party tree
A good place to start is Matamata, where the Bag’s End and shire scenes were filmed, then onto Taupo region to see Mordor. Wellington boasts many of the workshops and museums which helped create characters and props used in the films. The beautiful Rivendell area is nearby and also the hauntingly stunning Paths of the Dead. The town of Nelson is the place to visit for souvenirs, it being the Artisan community that provided so much of what made the movie props and costumes appear authentic.
The Queenstown area is full of the lakes, rushing rivers, and other water scenes from the trilogy. Helicopter tours of the area are recommended for a different view. Another thought would be to take the MagicBus tours, which you can stretch into a year-long vacation, spending plenty of hiking and visiting time at each spot. Wow!
Bag’s End
Time to dig out a few suitcases, a well-made backpack, and good hiking boots and head to New Zealand.
This month’s writing prompt:  Sarah’s hands trembled as she pushed through the crowded Wellington bus to embark on the first stage of her pilgrimage to discover…