LOTR Movie Site
Carl's Trip Photos

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The LOTR Movie Site
May 3, 2000

The Trip
Carl Boening

The Rangipo desert where the filming is mostly being done is a barren wasteland. It technically can be called a desert because of its low rainfall, however at times like yesterday it had quite a fall of snow. The balmy autumn has finished and the whole region is being given a taste of winter with icy winds.

The vegetation is tussock of various kinds, matagouri, many mosses and lichens along with alpine flowers. Despite its barren look the Tongariro National Park area is a very popular hiking area. The Park was the forth area in the world to be protected by National Park Status in 1887. The area is used only as a firing range for the armed forces. We encountered many used and unused shells of various sizes and calibres. We tried to go up the road to the site by the Upper Waikato Stream. We were told that there was no entry allowed. We drove some five kilometres along State Highway One commonly known as The Desert Road and made off cross country. This involved two hours hard going through streams and rough broken terrain to get to the tent. Many of the streams run yellow or white being fed from the acidic waters of Ruapehu.

The Base Camp or "UNIT" as the sign said is located fairly in the middle of the plains. One shot of the explorer shows the unit in the distance. This was about three quarters of the way to the Unit.

Despite our careful approach we weren't spotted. Well actually it was deserted. Being the middle of the Easter holidays maybe they were having a break. There was the tent which was really big ....44 metres by 22 metres (say 44 by 22 yards) with a temporary floor. There were notices on the walls like "this is not a changing room". Outside the tent was  a water tanker labelled "Waiouru Fire Department". Waiouru is the military town some 20 Kilometres away. Nearby there was enough mobile animal yards to house say 30 horses.

There was two mobile filming platforms or cherry pickers parked nearby along with the set of the Wall. The wall had two flagstone roads approaching it. There had obviously been filming already at this site from the amounts of hoof prints. The set lay in a large gully facing up toward the mountain. The Wall has been made in two sections that can later be pulled apart to allow access through the middle. I don't think it was made to open and close so I suspect that more filming is to come. I don't think it would have been today though as the snow that fell yesterday was right down to this level. It should not stay long as it has warmed up again today and the snow will retreat to most of the way up the mountain.

There was no sign of the upper filming site from the Unit. The mountain is large and very craggy and could hide hundreds of sites. It may be 2 or 3 kilometres up the slopes of the mountain. Another day perhaps. Another 2 hours and we were back on the Desert road to take the shot of the Mountain with the sun just behind it. The piccy does not do justice to the awesome magnificence of this 9000 foot volcano.