The other day I did something I would never do back home in the USA: hitchhiking. While it is technically legal in many states, it’s just not something many people do mostly due to safety concerns. Hitchhiking is really common in New Zealand however. It’s actually almost expected to find a traveler or two hitching for rides outside of the towns. Not that NZ doesn’t have its share of crazies driving around (every country does), but hitching here is relatively safe and with so many friendly Kiwis and fellow travelers on the road it’s fairly easy to get a ride.
So feeling adventurous, a few of my housemates and I decided to do a day trip out to Glenorchy at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. We walked to the edge of town and before long a nice Danish girl offered us a lift on her way to work. She had been living in New Zealand for quite some time now and told us about some good places to hike to in the area. The drive was gorgeous! It’s quite curvy and narrow in most places as it hugs the lake’s coastline, and the scenery is incredible (which is a word I’ll be using a lot throughout the duration of my time in New Zealand I am sure). Some say that the road to Glenorchy from Queenstown is among the most scenic in the country. It’s definitely one of the best I’ve been on so far (photo credit goes to my friend Paul who was able to get a good photo from the road).
We got dropped off in Glenorchy and walked on over to the visitor’s center to see what there was to do nearby. The guy at the desk mentioned that there were a few Lord of the Rings filming locations in the area, so we walked back outside and got another lift from a Kiwi who took us a little ways up the road. He dropped us off and we proceeded walking through the countryside. We walked up the gravel road for about 20 minutes, watching LOTR tour buses passing by. Eventually an American couple offered us a ride and we ended up riding with them all the way into the valley where they filmed the scenes for Isengard, Lothlórien, and the landscape shots for the Misty Mountains. They were just out sightseeing as well. We found out they were originally on their way to work at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, but had to remain in New Zealand (one of the primary departure points to the southern continent) due to the U.S. government shutdown. They were good company and we were lucky to join them on their little adventure.
The road beyond Glenorchy goes north to an area called Paradise, which is a fitting name for the dramatic landscape it winds through (actually, it’s named after a species of duck native to NZ). We drove across big open fields surrounded by snow-capped mountains, through lush mossy beech forests, crossed small streams flowing across the roadway…it was quite the ride! It’s easy to see why they decided to film parts of LOTR here. It really felt like Middle Earth (with a lot less orcs running around of course). Fortunately they also had to go back to Queenstown afterwards so we rode all the way back into town with them before walking home.