New Zealand: The Lord of the RingsKawarau Gorge: The Pillars of the Kings
The Kawarau is the only outlet of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand's third-largest lake. It winds its way east for about 60 kilometres until it flows into the artificially created Lake Dunstan. When gold was found in the area in the early 1860s, the Kawarau provided some of the most productive claims for the goldminers.
Immediately downstream from a little hydropower station called Roaring Meg, the river is so narrow that the Maori and early settlers were able to cross by simply jumping over the 1.2 metre gap.
The Kawarau gorge is a mecca for whitewater fans. It has some respectable rapids, such as 'Smiths Falls', 'Twin Bridges', the appropriately named 'Do Little Do Nothing' and the 400-metre long 'Chinese Dog Leg'.
Upstream from the Kawarau suspension bridge (also known as the A.J.Hackett bungee bridge) is the part of the gorge that features in some of the boat scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring. Most prominently though, this part of the Kawarau is the site of the mighty Argonath, or Pillars of the Kings.
The Fellowship has spent many days on the river Anduin after leaving Lothlorien. Immediatly before reaching Amon Hen, site of the breaking of the Fellowship, the river gorge narrows, before suddenly, the mighty Pillars of the Kings come into view.
The Actual Viewpoint:
The actual viewpoint towards the Pillars of the Kings is down in the river gorge. The coordinates are S45° 0' 37.895" / E168° 53' 45.622" or -45.01052639333827 / 168.8960062411926.
The Queenstown Rafting Company's tour will take you through the site of the pillars. If you don't fancy getting wet, you have two alternative viewpoints to choose from, all of which will give you some idea of the general location.
Alternative Viewpoint 1:
From the main highway, turn into Arrow River Bridges Ride Road. Drive up the road until it approaches the first very sharp left-hand corner, with a rock pillar sticking out on the right. Park your car there, have a peek into the gorge and imagine the Pillars right in front of you (at least imagine staring at their backs as they would face the other way down into the river).
The coordinates are S45° 0' 37.574" / E168° 53' 54.361" or -45.01043726906275 / 168.89843364035107.
Just be aware that this road has a gravel surface, is very narrow, windy and is generally a jaw-dropping ride, in particular for vertigo sufferers.
Alternative Viewpoint 2:
Continue on Arrow River Bridges Ride Road until it levels out towards vineyards of Chard Farm Winery. Park your car on the right before the vines and walk down towards the fence. Then look back up the gorge. This is probably the closest you can get to the movie shot, as you can see in the image below.
The coordinates for this viewpoint are S45° 0' 41.482" / E168° 53' 18.784" or -45.01152283056242 / 168.8885512331268.
If you decide to check out the viewpoints along Arrow River Bridges Ride Road, you might as well continue past the vineyards to the Chard Farm Winery. The founders of Chard Farm, Kiwi Rob Hay and his German partner Gerdi, who actually hails from Stefan's home region in Eastern Bavaria, planted their first vines back in 1987. It is fair to say, that Rob and Gerdi are among the pioneers of commercial winemaking in Central Otago.
Their cellar doors are open for tastings seven days a week. You don't need to make an appointment unless it's for six or more people. The winery produces Riesling, Pinot Gris, two Chardonnays and last but not least, their famed Pinot Noirs.
Our personal favourite is the Finla Mor. So, so good!