Sometimes I literally have to pinch myself when I realize I get to live in Middle Earth here in New Zealand.
Actually I pretty much pinch myself every day here, let’s be honest.
I am sure you guys are probably sick and tired of listening to me wax poetic about how New Zealand is so stinking pretty it makes my “jaw-drop” “and “takes my breath away” and pretty much sends me into a tizzy every time I step outside my house. Actually, even INSIDE my house I freak out about how beautiful it is, with the peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park visible through my kitchen window. Do you hate me? I definitely hate me. How do I get to live in such a place?
Sometimes I wonder if I will ever become numb to New Zealand’s beauty? God, I hope not. Even now, when I road trip around New Zealand, I literally LOL at times and think to myself, “seriously, is this for real? How is this for real? I can’t even deal with it. Stop it. It isn’t fair. I can’t even.”
If you’ve been to New Zealand you know what I’m talking about. Or if you follow me on any of my social media accounts, you have witnessed this behavior on my part (apologies!) Few places in the world leave me speechless and babbling like a 13 year old girl quite like New Zealand can. “Seriously? Is this, like, for real?” Pretty much.
Anyways, where was I going with this?
Ah yes. Back to Middle Earth, you know for all of my fellow Tolkien nerds. If you are not a Lord of the Rings fan, I’ll try not to judge you TOO harshly but consider this my attempt to convince you to cross over to the light. Preach on!
The epic, mindblowingly awesome Lord of the Rings movies were all shot in New Zealand, increasing tourism so much the locals quickly had to step up their game and prepare for a decade’s worth of onslaught from nerds around the world descending on their little country.
These movies are the reason I first started thinking about New Zealand as a place to visit and potentially live one day, not necessarily because of the films, but more because of the wild and crazy landscapes. I wanted to live and explore a place that looked like that.
To be honest, I haven’t even done much of the LOTR tourism here, just bits and pieces, preferring to just soak in the general Middle Earth-ness that is New Zealand.
Until I got to Canterbury.
From watching the making-of featurettes from the extended edition DVDs (no judging, please) growing up, I learned ages ago of a magical place in New Zealand called Mt. Sunday where they filmed Edoras and Rohan. It took the crew a year to build an incredible set on top of a little mountain in the middle of nowhere, and I thought to myself, one day I’ll visit there.
Fast-forward 10 years and here we are, living in New Zealand on the South Island, near where one presumes within driving distance of this place.
But as it turns out, Mt. Sunday is not that easy to find, and I really had no idea or concept of where it was until I was searching for things to do between Oamaru and Christchurch and it miraculously popped up on my Trover app as being “nearby.” Thank you Amanda from A Dangerous Business, I can always count on you to be as big of a geek as me!
Almost to Christchurch I thought to myself, oh hell, why not? Let’s give a go, swinging left and heading off to quite possibly one of the most random parts of the South Island of New Zealand.
2.5 hours later and it was like I stepped out into a different world, and I was actually transported to Middle Earth. There are many times when I am driving or exploring in New Zealand and I experience this feeling, but never more than that day. Cloudy skies and farmland suddenly gave way to bright blue skies, rolling gold farmland and snowcapped mountains in the distance. It was just incredible.
You’re looking for a road called Hakatere Potts Road, and anyone can get out there. While it’s a gravel road and not *really* in the best condition, it is usually totally fine for a non 4 wheel drive car. You don’t need to visit on a tour or anything.
It took me ages longer than I meant to to finally get to Mt. Sunday because I kept stopping for photos over and over again. Can you blame me? Just look at it!
When I finally got my first glimpse of Mt. Sunday in the distance I nearly cried!
Words fail me trying to put into perspective the beauty of this area. I remember parking my Jucy van on the right side of the road (total no-no) at the top of a hill that finally curved around to the left, giving me my first glimpse of the valley in the distance.
Surrounded by the snow-capped Southern Alps in the middle of a beautiful river valley, there is a random solitary long rock formation – Mt. Sunday, not a usual occurrence in what I assume was an ancient glacial area.
I didn’t know what to expect once I finally arrived, whether it was a viewpoint or a hike or even if you were allowed at the top. From what I remembered, I thought it was on private land so I didn’t get my hopes up. Turns out there is a little car park area and a hike up to the top of Mt. Sunday, over an hour return. Yes!
Packing up all my gear in my new ONA Camps Bay camera backpack (woot woot!) along with a thermos of hot water (thank you campervan!) and several of my Starbucks VIA® coffees to get my afternoon fix with a view along with a snack/lunch, and I headed off.
It must have been the warmest day of the trip, and I didn’t even need to wear a jacket. I seriously lucked out.
The walk to Mt. Sunday is beautiful in and of itself. Surrounded by clear streams with swing bridges and golden tussock you could get lost in, it was Canterbury High Country and New Zealand farm land at its finest.
No wonder Peter Jackson and co. chose this place to film Edoras. It certainly wasn’t for its ease and accessibility!
The Coffee Diaries continue in Middle Earth
While there were a couple of cars parked at the start of the walk, I only saw a few people walking back out on my way up the track, something that made me pretty happy to see because I didn’t want such a remote and special place to feel crowded at all. Know what I mean?
Huffing and puffing I made my way up the mud slope that was the hill to the top of Mt. Sunday, more eager than you could ever imagine to stand in the same place as Aragorn. Swoon!
And I had the place to myself, score! Putting my bag and cameras down, and pulling my heavy sweater off, I just walked around the top of the peak for a while, trying to soak it all in, enjoy the sun on my face and just live in the moment.
Before long my bubble was popped when another group of hikers arrived to the top. Without fretting, I got my camera out and started shooting for a bit before making my way over to them and making friends.
I find it’s so easy to talk to people in New Zealand, because pretty much anyone will give nice replies and are genuinely friendly. All it takes is an easy “can you believe this view?” and you’re off!
Sometimes it’s wonderful to experience beautiful places alone and also be able to share it with other people too. Luckily I was able to have both that afternoon at Mt. Sunday.
Locals on a day trip from Christchurch, they had heard that this was a beautiful little hike so they gathered a group of friends together to check it out for themselves.
Sitting down around the summit, we shared a cup of Starbucks VIA® Ready Brew Pike Place® Roast and swapped stories about some of our favorite hikes in New Zealand under the warm Canterbury sun.
Apart from the fact I loved that I could make a quick, good coffee on top of a mountain in quite literally the middle of nowhere, I was equally happy to be able to share a very special moment with locals.
Although they weren’t Lord of the Rings fans (tsk tsk), they could appreciate my enthusiasm for the movies and share in my excitement of finally getting to see such a revered and special place up close and personal, you know, in real life.
My ONA Camps Bay camera bag has arrived in Middle Earth
So many times traveling, while it’s easy to have superficial, casual conversations with people you meet on the road, it can be a lot more challenging to get people to open up and share more personal stories or opinions to “strangers.” Do you know what I mean?
It’s much easier to talk about the weather, our jobs and travel plans than it is to have a more profound and in-depth conversation. I get it, opening up to strangers is scary business! But I’ve found if you can find the time to actually sit down with someone you’ve never met over a cup of coffee, look them in the eye and have the courage to ask the harder questions, the answers will usually surprise you.
This is exactly what happened that afternoon on Mt. Sunday with my little thermos of Starbucks joy.
Maybe the fact that you’re holding a hot drink indicates you aren’t going anywhere for a while, maybe it’s the general happiness that exudes from the steam of hot coffee (or is that just me?) but on that tiny little mountain in New Zealand, I was able to share some heavy things on my mind, like where my blog is going and how I deal with career uncertainty, to what it was like for them living in Christchurch before, during and after the devastating earthquakes of few years ago. Trust me, that is NOT an easy question to ask any New Zealander who has relations with that city.
For me, getting to visit Mt. Sunday was a decade’s worth of dreams come true, not only in the sense to get to visit a place I’ve seen in the movies, but also from the sheer fact that I told my teenage self that one day I would visit this place in New Zealand AND I actually made it happen.
No one made this dream become a reality except me. Sure I had help and support along the way that I am more than grateful for, but I also had a lot of negativity and not a lot of encouragement from people close to me who in retrospect, should have been more supportive.
At the end of the day, not only did I get myself to New Zealand when I never thought I could actually do it, but I also got myself up the mountain to a place that has been with me since the very beginning. Talk about coming full circle.
So I guess my next question is where to next?
Have you heard of Mt. Sunday or have you ever been inspired by such a place? Would you like to visit a place you once saw in a book or movie? Are you a Tolkien fan too?