Mount Somers, NZ to Mount Potts, NZ

32.1 mi / 9.2 mph / 1512 ft. climbing
Home: Mount Potts Lodge

Today, we ride. Ride for ruin and the world’s ending! Oh wait, no, hopefully not all that, but we ride into the heart of the horse-nation of Rohan, to find Theoden, son of Thengel, within his Golden Hall at Edoras.

Except, Theoden died a hero at the end of “The Return of the King”, and it seems that his heir Eomer has brought a bit more of a developmental philosophy to these grasslands, as we passed significantly more farming on the way in than I remember from the movies. Probably a wise approach as Middle-Earth enters the Fourth Age, and a period of peace.

The road continually found gaps (The Gap(s) of Rohan!) through the golden hills as we wended our way towards the Golden Hall.
The icy mountains try to hide, but there are so many of them and they’re so close, that you can’t help but chuckle at their naive, futile efforts.

We were granted 10 miles of quiet paved road as we started up the dead-end valley from Mount Somers. Then the gravel road began, and while it wasn’t the worst we’ve been on, it wasn’t great either. The biggest issue was washboards, and while the wide, almost-empty road usually provided a relatively smooth line somewhere, the effort to find and re-find that line was a real pain in the ass.

A historic sheep-shearers quarters, at the end of the sealed road.

But as is often the case, the wild, remote, epic scenery that the challenging road allowed us to access made the tradeoff worth it. We had maybe 15 cars go by all day, and they didn’t kick up too much dust. It was also the second day in a row of near-constant climbing, but requiring very little low-gear usage (it’s almost hard to believe we brought ourselves up 2000 feet over these two days, because there were no “big hills”). That all made it easier to scan for bands of mounted warriors galloping across their land.

Somehow it’s difficult to imagine this scene even existing if the road was paved.
I’m not exactly sure what the mechanism would be, but I guess it would be written into the paving contract that the company is also required to tear down the mountain range (“Too distracting, incompatible with safety at the higher speeds pavement would enable, must be torn down.”)
“It would be cool to see what those last mountains look like when they have snow on them”, I said, unaware that a genie was listening.
There they are, a group of horsemen thundering across the plain directly for us! What’s that Legolas? They’re just trees? Well we all aren’t blessed with your fancy elf-eyes you know!
Even if the gravel wasn’t great, it’s better than any of the “roads” used by the Rohirrim.
Those Sounds 2 Sounds riders don’t head up this way. Too bad for them!

The surprising thing is that the Ashburton valley we were ascending is not actually the river valley in which Edoras lies (Edoras is officially called “Mount Sunday” in New Zealand). We had already crossed Edoras’s river, the Rangitata, far downstream during yesterday’s ride as we moved perpendicular to the rivers descending from the spine of the Southern Alps. So we were looping around through the back door, where we would cross over a divide far upstream, and then drop back down into the Rangitata valley. This makes perfect sense, as it allows Edoras to be revealed as part of the magnificent unveiling of an entirely new scene, once you crest the top of the pass and the valley of Rohan opens below as if seen from the eye of a great eagle. (In reality, I guess the extremely broad, braided, Rangitata River is too prone to rerouting itself to allow a road to be built in its valley.)

Edoras revealed, as we crest the divide into Rohan. It’s the brown lump surrounded by brown plain, 45 degrees up and right from Rett’s head (and not the longer, larger “foot” extending from the mountain behind it). Despite its small size in this image, the rock of Edoras rises 200 feet above its plain, which gives a sense of the monumental scale of this scene.
The crest of the divide was one of our best lunch stops in a long time.
Rett looking for Eowyn on the steps of the Golden Hall, looking for Aragon.
The steep descent into the valley of Edoras. Even if we didn’t need our granny gears today, we’ll certainly need them tomorrow on the way back out! (at least the road is paved for the “short” hill section.

We reached the entrance to the Mount Potts Lodge, and then had a decision to make: head up the long uphill gravel drive to set up camp and settle in, and hike Edoras tomorrow morning, or, ride on another two miles right now to do the hike. We spent far too much time weighing minutae (yes, the light might be better for photos in the morning, but, have we actually heard anyone say “went to Edoras, kinda sucked, should have waited for better lighting”?!) So even though we were tired (which also did not help our decision-making process), we decided to press on (you think Gimli wasn’t tired when he arrived to Edoras?!) We did ditch our bags in some bushes on the side of the road.

Edoras. The Golden Hall sat near the high point, with additional buildings on the left side of the flat(-ish) top, and the outer village running down the left slope.
Rett riding to Edoras.

The hike to the top was a significant effort, and it sure would be a pain to have to commute in and out every day to work your desk job at the Golden Hall. Being able to ride a horse up and down would help, I suppose! It was cool that the real-life trail followed the same route that visitors to Edoras (like Gandalf!) would take, winding up the left flank.

Approaching Edoras, it now stands alone as a significant hill.
The outer villages of Rohan burned by Saruman’s orcs, survivors make the long journey to the central stronghold of Edoras. Oh, or are those just sheep? Nonetheless they’re on the march!
Climbing to the top of Edoras, this is the place where Theoden buried his son.
Rett looks out from near the highest point of Edoras, this would have been the backside of the Golden Hall.

Rett often plays music from her phone’s speaker when riding or hiking, with the Lord of the Rings score being in particularly heavy rotation in New Zealand. She tries to turn it off when we encounter other people, but when she turned off the Rohan theme, a couple of girls sitting at the top told her to turn it back on. As they pointed out, every one of the handful of people here was a big Lord of the Rings fan, because as incredible as this slice of New Zealand is, it’s hardly something you just stumble into without knowing that it’s Edoras.

The back wall of mountains behind Edoras. These are the ones most seen in the backgrounds (though unfortunately there was no snow on them in late summer).
Looking down from atop Edoras, from the “front” side.
The broad flat gravel bed of the Rangitata that flows “behind” Edoras, and one of the glacier-coated peaks that is almost hidden in the movies.
This is relatively close to where you would be when you exited the front doors of the Golden Hall and looked down upon your lands.
Wide-angle view back up valley from atop Edoras.
Rett liked these “Hobbit stairs” chopped into the hard dirt of Edoras’s slope to make the steep ascent/descent easier.
About halfway back down, you can see that we’re still high above the valley floor.
The tussocks are both native to this region, and an excellent fit for Rohan (when they filmed, they were required to to preserve any plants they cleared for construction, to replant later).
Rett crossing back over the smaller river that splits around the north side of Edoras. The movies skipped the crossings that would be required to see the king!

When you combine the epic journey required to reach this remote valley, the extent to which this is undoubtedly “the place” used in the movies, the accessibility that allowed us to virtually ascend the steps of the Golden Hall, and, not least, the hold that the story and setting of Rohan has on our hearts, our journey to Edoras was our most-satisfying Lord of the Rings pilgrimage so far in New Zealand.

And a major reason the scenes here were some of the most-resonant in the movies is because the actors were also here, living in this absolute fantasy-world of a place, so their performances have a grounding and depth that reflects the land working its way through their souls. That goes above and beyond the fact that the filmmakers legitimately built a whole  medieval village on this rock (vs. the actors being filmed against green screens and being forced to play off computer-generated counterparts), but that surely helped too!

Sunset view from the Mount Potts Lodge.

The Mount Potts Lodge is the only thing in the 28 miles from Mount Somers, so that’s where we had arranged to pitch our tent, in a nice shaded, grassy spot on the open property. Showers were not quite holiday-park standards, but they certainly got the job done after a long hot day in the sun. Similar to the Lake Ohau Lodge, we would be depending on this place for meals as well as lodging, and our burgers, along with the kumara (sweet potato) fries, were some of the best we’ve had in New Zealand (even exceeding my high expectations set by the Google reviews).

Luckily we had our dinner somewhat early, because they soon became slammed with 20 simultaneous dinner orders. And “they” is the manager Jack, (responsible for everything from checking people in, to the bar, to making cheery small talk), and his relatively-new cook. And no one else. We had departed from the Sounds 2 Sounds bike route when we left Mount Somers, but here had ironically returned to the Te Araroa cross-country hiking trail, so most of the guests were backpackers who had come down from the mountains this afternoon. And there is no way to predict when a big wave might all descend upon the Lodge at once. So it sounded like this was a particularly intense wave (Jack said tomorrow there could just as easily be only 2 guests), but everyone took it all in stride and eventually got taken care of (“you’re just going to have to talk with some other hikers out there and they’ll tell you set up” “ok, no problem!”) It’s wonderful that the place exists at all, otherwise a bicycle-based ride to Edoras would be even more challenging than it already was.

The various tenters spread across the “front yard” of the Mount Potts Lodge.
The Southern Cross over our tent, this time lit externally by a somewhat-annoying motion-aensor light, but it allowed a cool photo!


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