It is extraordinary what you can see in a rental car. We sped out of Queenstown north towards Wanaka with a vague idea that we wanted to see as many sites that Lord of the Rings had been filmed in, and possibly Mt. Cook and Milford Sound if we could make it. In three days, I think we did a pretty impressive job, despite a lot of downpours and far distances to travel. There was no way we could’ve seen what we did on the bicycle, and it was really great to have the freedom to travel as far as we could manage each day. The scenery was spectacular throughout, hence the photo-heavy nature of this post.
Day 1: Out of Queenstown
We headed out of Queenstown through Cromwell, which we had been told was identical to the Okanagan region in BC and could definitely see the resemblance, and up to Wanaka (which was packed with people out drinking in the sun on a Friday evening) before finally arriving at our camp spot by the river in Albertown with the ducks.
Day 2: East to Lake Pulaki, Lake Tekapo and Mt. Cook
We woke to a pretty grey day and headed northeast to the lake region, where we had some epic views of Mt. Cook right before the clouds and mist came in; it made our hopes of close-up views of New Zealand’s highest mountain nigh on impossible to see. We headed through Twizel, which was apparently where the Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed, but unfortunately it was on private land and we just had to enjoy the never-ending fields and mountain backdrops. With a quick and cold lunch stop at Tekapo, we decided to make our way to Mt. Cook and see what we could see. It started to pour rain as we drove up there, but we still managed to enjoy ourselves and learn a lot at the visitor centre. We then headed back along Lake Pukaki (as the rain continued to pour down) and found ourselves a nice little free campsite off the side of the highway near Omarama.
Day 3: Otago Wine Region to Arrowtown to Glenorchy
The weather had still not cleared for us, but we were just happy we weren’t on our bikes. It was wet, windy AND cold. But it didn’t matter to us: we decided there was still enough to see around the Queenstown region to warrant not going to Milford Sound, which would’ve been an 10+ hour drive from where we were. Next time! We had only quickly passed through the Otago wine region on our way north, so we decided to drive through it and stop at a winery or two to see how it stacked up to our wine tasting days in North Island. Other than walking around a lot of gift shops and seeing New Zealand’s largest wine cellar, the fact that we had to drive deterred us from any actual tasting. We then made our way to Arrowtown, a very historical (and touristy) little town with lots of old heritage buildings and a very well-preserved main street.
The main reason we were here was to check out two important scenes from LOTR: Arwen’s memorable Elven-chanting and Frodo-saving efforts across the Bruinen ford while being chased by the ringwraiths, and the moment in The Two Towers prologue where the ring falls off Isildur in Gladden Fields (into the river – only to be found by poor vulnerable little Gollum). We had found a Lord of the Rings Location Guide in the Arrowtown Vistors Centre and followed its directions to take us to both sites. When a “Nomad Safaris” tour jeep came upon us with a LEGOLAS license plate, we knew we must be in the right spot (and we didn’t have to pay the $220 for the day tour either!)
After Arrowtown, we drove through Queenstown to Glenorchy which is a lovely spot at the northernmost point of Lake Wakatipu. I highly recommend going there, and not just because the sun finally came out…
Day 4: Glenorchy (and our real Middle Earth adventure)
We woke up in Glenorchy to a glorious sun coming over the mountains …and mountains! Snow-covered mountains everywhere! We really hadn’t had a day like this yet on our little road trip, and it felt so good for there to be sun and blue skies in this magical spot. It felt really glorious; all I wanted to do was get on the road, get into those mountains and go for a walk. This area was huge with hikers – we had breakfast at the campsite kitchen while overhearing all the adventures other hikers had experienced. It made me feel like maybe New Zealand is a land for hikers and not touring cyclists.
Maybe we’ll even be back to try out that form of travel for ourselves, but for now, we had a rental car and some vague locations of more LOTR sites to check out (the forests of Middle Earth and Lothlorien, the river bed that was Isengard after a lot of digital enhancement, and the Misty Mountains in the distance). Every photo we took that day was stunning.
We said it at the beginning of the trip, and we will say it again at the end: New Zealand is just an insanely photogenic country and you have to see it for yourself. It was a perfect last morning to spend before we had to return the rental car.
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And back again to Queenstown…
We spent the last day of our trip packing, sorting out our stuff, organizing the next leg and getting on top of our blog posts, all from the comfort of our Airbnb room. We were mere minutes from the airport and from an outdoor store where we could pick up our boxes on the way to the airport on our last morning. It couldn’t have been more convenient, and you can watch the video to see how we managed to get ourselves to the airport with the bike boxes as backpacks. It was rather ingenious, really, and definitely the smoothest boxing-up time we’ve had so far. I think you might even get a laugh out of it…
And just like that: so long, New Zealand. It has been an epic 90 days of adventuring, cycling into the wind, laughing with old friends and new, having life-changing farming experiences, and seeing some of the most beautiful things we could possibly imagine. It’s been a blast.
And now, it is time to move on. Next, we will be in Australia for two weeks, driving in a camper van (not cycling…don’t worry!) from Sydney to Brisbane.
Let the adventures continue!
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.