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Why Marlborough is Middle Earth

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Last Modified: 10-12-2021 19:02

An elf? A hobbit?
An elf? A hobbit?
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Apparently it’s the twentieth anniversary in December 2021 of some hobbitses discovering Aotearoa/New Zealand, and claiming it in the name of Middle Earth. Forget Te Tiriti, this was outright conquest, with place names changed by the conquistadors, people made to dress up and speak in strange new tongues, and even public buildings like airports forced to adopt emblems of our new overlords, and we’ve still not managed to shake off colonisation 20 years later.

Nasty hobbitses. One wonders whether they actually destroyed the One Ring, or whether it was all an elaborate ruse, and poor Gollum died for a replica, and Frodo went on to rule us all as a new Dark Lord, presiding over armies of orc contractors, understandably ill-humoured due to having no right to negotiate collective contracts, which is presumably why they all have bad teeth, since orc contracts apparently don’t include dental care.

My nine year old daughter watched Lord of the Rings, last year and declared it mostly boring. She also watched The Hobbit trilogy, which was critically declared the kind of abomination Sauron would dream up, and actually enjoyed it, because it had a kick-ass female elf in it, that never featured in the original book. Frozen never really caught on with her, but sticking a bunch of orcs full of arrows while performing a gymnastics routine worthy of an Olympic medal is her kind of girly.

At the time the third Lord of the Rings film came out, I was far, far, away on my own quest that involved scaling the odd mountain, quite a few castles, and a fair damsel, with a bow, and not arrows, but a fiddle. I’m not sure if my wife has forgiven me or Peter Jackson yet for the false image created of fine hobbit holes, elvish palaces, and human kingdoms, when in fact many of us live in cold, draughty, overpriced weatherboard shacks, as where she was living, the castles and swords were real, and they'd been making great wine since before there were humans in Aotearoa. At least our mountains are real, but that’s largely due to ongoing seismic activity, that has the unfortunate side effect of being able to flatten a city faster than an army of orcs.

Here in Marlborough, we escaped fairly lightly from the Middle Earth invasion, although we did end up with some dwarfs floating in barrels down our Te Hoire/Pelorus River. Thinking about movie making and Middle Earth though, Marlborough could have done a lot better, and I think we could probably have managed pretty much all locations right here in Marlborough. To commemorate 20 years of Lord of the Rings, here are my picks for alternative locations, all in Marlborough. Given that Marlborough is in the middle of New Zealand, then if we are going to be invaded and renamed Middle Earth, then as the middle of Middle Earth, Marlborough should claim its rightful position.

Rivendell – Pine Valley

Mill Flat, Pine Valley
Mill Flat, Pine Valley
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Kaitoki was used in the films, but if you’re looking for a grassy area with a stream surrounded by native forest, then Pine Valley in Mount Richmond Forest Park fits the bill nicely.

River Anduin – Wairau River

Wairau River
Wairau River
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

The upper Wairau is an epic adventure to explore via the Rainbow Road in its own right, and the Wairau Gorge with its spectacular ‘Hells Gate’ looks like it belongs in a fantasy movie.

Paths of the Dead – Sawcut Gorge

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

OK, Sawcut Gorge has been closed since the Kaikōura Earthquake, but if and when it opens to the public again, the giant cleft in the mountainside that forms a narrow passageway has the kind of eerie feel to it that fits perfectly.

Edoras – Muller Station

Muller Station
Muller Station
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

With the stunning backdrop of the Inland Kaikōura Range, and the golden, rolling hills where real horsemen and women muster stock, it’s not hard to picture this as the horse kingdom.

Mount Doom – Maungakura/Red Hill

Red Hills Track
Red Hills Track
Not looking so hostile here, but along the Red Hills Ridge, things get very barren and rugged.
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Marlborough has a slight problem in that it doesn’t actually have any volcanoes, however the Red Hills Ridge is formed from igneous volcanic rock, and the toxic soil of the Red Hills means that little grows on much of the hills, and Maungakura/Red Hill itself, the highest mountain in the Ricmond Range looks like a Mars-scape with its barren, red rocks. A bit of CGI could easily turn it into an active volcano.

Pellenor Fields – Severn Valley

Severn Valley
Severn Valley
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

The epic battle between orcs and the warriors of Gondor and Rohan took place in the MacKenzie Basin, however the flat, dry grasslands of the Severn Valley in the Molesworth Conservation Area look like the perfect place for a great battle, and what’s more they already have a history associated with death, as the nearby Mount Augarde is named after a local murderer, who subsequently committed suicide in the valley.

The Shire - Fairhall

Rolling green hills, little people, and ponies
Rolling green hills, little people, and ponies
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Believe it or not, this was one of the more challenging locations to find a substitute for in Marlborough, as south Marlborough has nice, gently rolling hills, but tends to be quite dry, while north Marlborough tends to be heavily forested or close to the sea. Thinking about it, parts of Ben Morven Road, Brookby Road, and Marlborough Ridge have areas that could be candidates for hobbit holes and are not entirely planted out in vineyards, although as hobbits have a reputation for fine food and drink, a few vineyards probably wouldn’t be entirely out of place, and the people of Marlborough Ridge, though not known for inhabiting holes, probably do quite enjoy the good life. The question is, do hobbits play golf?

Ford of Bruinen – Vinegar Point

Vinegar Point
Vinegar Point
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Up Taylor Pass Road at Vinegar point there is a ford over the Taylor River, which is usually just a trickle, however to their cost, a couple discovered that when in flood, even a four wheel drive ute can’t withstand the floodwaters. The black riders would likely fare no better.

Gladden Fields – Para Wetland

Para wetland
Para wetland
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On a misty morning in winter, the swampy Para wetland can be quite eerie, and apart from a lack of irises, fits the description of the Gladden Fields rather well.

Old Man Willow – Taylor Dam

Old Man Willow
Old Man Willow
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Although not featured in the films, Old Man Willow is a reasonably significant character in the book in the Old Forest, The Fellowship of the Ring, and right behind the Taylor Dam, there is a large willow tree in a rather gloomy and damp spot that fits the description quite well.

Mirkwood – Black Birch Stream

Black Birch Stream/Mirkwood
Black Birch Stream/Mirkwood
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

I’ve been up the Black Birch track in the Awatere Valley several times, on foot and on my bike, and every time I’ve felt the tall kānuka forest to be rather dark and gloomy and strangely silent compared to other areas of native forest, where there seems to be plenty of bird life. Perhaps it’s because it’s in the shadow of the Blairich Range, so that it’s always quite dark. My daughter took dress ups one time and dressed up as an elf or hobbit or something, and the mood was quite fitting.

Running River - Pelorus

Pelorus River
Pelorus River
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

The only Marlborough location that actually featured in any of the Middle Earth films, the Pelorus River certainly has all the picturesque charm to feature in a movie, but the water is frigid, even in summer, and the sandflies are hungrier than a pack of wargs.

Cite this page

Cookson, C. (2021). Why Marlborough is Middle Earth. Retrieved June, 29, 2022, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/why-marlborough-is-middle-earth/

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