Upper Hutt, NZ

Day 2

25.0 mi / 9.9 mph / 1578 ft. climbing
Home: Kelly’s AirBNB

Despite spending 12 nights in Wellington around the Christmas holidays, we still hadn’t seen all the ‘Lord of the Rings’ sites in the area that we wanted to see. This is partly because we were too busy/lazy, but also because Wellington has the highest concentration of locations since it’s the “Hollywood” of New Zealand.

So today we headed (on unloaded bikes) even further up the Hutt Valley to Kaitoke Regional Park, where the elven refuge of Rivendell was built. We started through the Upper Hutt retail district, and then rode the shoulder of SH2. To avoid climbing a big steep hill with heavy highway traffic, we turned off onto a frontage road leading to the Remutaka Rail Trail. But after riding a quarter mile down the picturesque street, we ran into a fenced-off bridge, with several confused e-bikers milling about. There was an air horn hanging in the fence, with a sign posted next to it directing trail users to blow it to summon a shuttle from the other side! That’s an unprecedented use of resources spent to help rail-trail riders around a closure! Only problem was it seemed too good to be true; the other cyclists indicated they’d already been blowing the horn and no shuttle was magically appearing. And since we’re more-accustomed to highway riding than these weekend warriors, I figured that even if the shuttle did eventually show up, the pain of loading/unloading our bikes would make it slower than just backtracking to the highway.

We didn’t see any shuttle coming on our way back out, but its (theoretical) existence did make a bit more sense to me when the shoulders on SH2 disappeared where it crossed the same river that the broken non-highway bridge intended to get us across. It’s hardly the first shoulderless highway bridge we’ve been across, so we just blasted through it, but I imagine it could have been a terror-inducing “is this even legal?!” moment for the e-bikers.

Almost immediately after the bridge we were again able to depart the highway and get back onto an on-road portion of the rail-trail route. Our 600-foot climb began on pavement, but then turned to the rail-trail proper. Well, no, the gravel path couldn’t have actually been a former rail line at this point, because although the Remutaka grade was famous for its super-steep (for a train) 6% incline, no train has ever gone up a 14% incline like the one we had to climb for 200 feet!

I’d had some thought of doing a longer, loaded ride over the entirety of the Remutaka trail, but that 14% grade was tough enough unloaded that I didn’t really fancy redoing an even-more-challenging version of it. The path then flattened to a more-reasonable grade, and passing through a tunnel proved that we’d finally made it to the actual rail line.

Rett approaching a tunnel on the Remutaka Rail Trail.
Lights on in the tunnel! (“sunglasses off” is equally important/effective.)

Overall the we traveled 4.3 miles on the “bypass” before returning to SH2 1.9 miles from where we left it, but the 2.4 “extra” miles were completely worth it, not just because they eased the overall grade, but because it was a beautiful and fun area of hills and history to explore. We’ll just take the highway on the way back though!

I knew we were heading for one of the few ‘Lord of the Rings’ sites that’s actually marked as such (it’s surprising how unpromoted they are in general), but had no idea that there would be an official highway sign pointing to Rivendell!

Kaitoke Regional Park is huge, and the long road into the parking area gave us amazing views of the huge podocarp trees scrolling by on canyon walls as we rode upriver. So the Rivendell set had been built in just one small (maybe 1-acre) section. And that section was not only marked on the official maps, it had physical markers on-site, and incredibly-detailed (yet incredibly-confusing) maps that tried to explain precisely where the various buildings had been built (“just two paces to the left of Tree #10, which was at the rear corner of Frodo’s bedroom…”)

This was exactly the sort of marking, explanation, and “proof” that I wished existed at some of the other LotR sites we have tried to find. But it turns out that beyond confirming to you that you’re in the correct general area, it doesn’t actually help! Mostly because 20+ years of tree growth (and death) have transformed this place into something quite different than the version we saw in the movie.

We’ve been to places that are still precisely and instantly recognizable (Edoras, the tree Frodo smoked in when leaving the Shire, or the lakeshore where Frodo and Sam left the Fellowship), but we’ve also been to places where we know we’re only in the general area of where a camera might have been placed. Ironically, some of those guessed-at places (like Amon Hen (outside real-world Glenorchy), where Merry and Pippin were taken by the Uruk-hai) felt more “correct” than this undoubtedly-correct Rivendell did. To be fair, the place certainly held some atmospheric echoes of Rivendell, but there weren’t any specific “scenes” that we were able to map onto the movie.

What made it really cool and unique though, was the physical artifacts in the forest environment! Especially because they now have 15+ years of real-world weathering on them to make them look more authentically-elven than anything Weta Workshop could have done to them!

This New Zealand public park has signs written in a language invented by J.R.R. Tolkien!
Galadriel (or at least her ring) visits Elrond’s home at Rivendell.
Hmm, how did Elrond know what Peter Jackson looks like?
Rett measures up just about as tall as Gandalf on this “heights of the Fellowship” post.
Ok, ok, so I might not be quite as tall as Aragorn (6’6″!), but let’s be clear: I’m certainly taller than that nasal-voiced dork Viggo Mortensen!
Our two rings found comfort in Rivendell.

But the best thing by far was the elven archway in the forest. It’s not an original from the production (and supposedly only half the size of the original!), and if you thump it you can hear that it’s just made out of hollow fiberglass or something, but it was still so effective at pulling me into Middle-Earth that someone needs to start a national campaign to get similar “artifacts” planted into forests all over New Zealand. As noted above, they don’t even need to be in places where filming actually took place…just put the broken ruins of an ancient Numenorean statue in a random bit of New Zealand bush, and you could charge people (or at least me) good money to walk by it!

The elves once lived in this forest! I have no doubt!
I guess an inverse (but equally-effective) approach would be to let the area around normal human monuments become wild and overgrown, rather than the neatly-manicured parks where you usually find such monuments.
This thing *was* artificially weathered, but combined with the subsequent real-world weathering, it’s really convincing!
This structure seems a little inelegant for Elrond, but I guess the world has moved on!

We walked around the (extremely short) Rivendell loop twice, then moved on to explore a little bit more of the park, but soon needed to start our journey back.

“SPLASH!” we hear far below the suspension bridge we’re walking across; looking down, we see that it was this dog, taking a flying leap into the river to fetch the stick his owner had just thrown in.
The main giant tree here is a rimu. But the “vines” rappelling down the sides (mostly visible on the right) are the roots of a northern rata tree. The rata is born high in the top of the rimu, sends its roots down the rimu’s trunk, and eventually can completely surround (and kill) its host with its fused network of roots now forming a hollow “trunk”. Maybe there aren’t any dangerous animals in New Zealand, but no one warned us about the plants!

As planned, we took the direct route on SH2 back, flying down the steep hill. This time as we crossed back over the shoulderless highway bridge (again busting ass to avoid getting creamed), I did notice a pickup truck with a flatbed trailer sitting on the highway side of the closed bike-route bridge, so apparently the shuttle does genuinely exist!

Just after the bridge we crossed to the other side of the highway onto a narrow dirt trail (supposedly a bike trail, but we needed to walk the bikes along it for a stretch), trying to find the filming location where an unconscious Aragorn washed up on a riverbank and was revived by his horse. This was one where we had no idea if we were anywhere near the precise spot (definitely no marker!), and it was a challenge to even get through the brush to a view of the river, and on top of that, the movie scene doesn’t really show much that would even make it identifiable. So, kind of a bust there.

Rett (maybe?) looking at the spot where Aragorn washed ashore.
Like many of our Lord of the Rings explorations, even if the actual site is inconclusive/nothing, it’s still fun getting there!

Finally we went into Harcourt Park to see “Isengard Gardens”. It was a pretty park, and fun to see Rett ride her bike across the grass. But, another example of us looking around and saying “maybe this…?” But now that we’ve seen it, I could certainly imagine recognizing this place when we watch the movies again!

Day 3

A do-nothing day of rest before we start a “mini bike tour”.

Our trip to Panhead Brewery at “Brewtown” (an attempt to create a drinking/dining district) was a bit of a bust since they were early-closing soon after we arrived.


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