Peter Jackson chose a favourite swimming spot to send his Hobbits downriver in the Barrel Run scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
A Barrel of Fun
As I help our guide Shane, owner of Pelorus Eco Adventures carry the inflatable kayak down to the river’s edge, for a brief moment I wonder if I’m ever so slightly mad.
Granted it’s a beautiful sunny day – but it is the middle of winter, I’m six months pregnant, and I’m about to kayak the icy waters of the Pelorus River in Marlborough, New Zealand.
I’m here with two other film fans who are also keen to see where the scenes of ‘Forest River’ were shot. Shane gives us a brief introduction to steering the inflatable, hands us a paddle and we’re ready to go.
I’d done my homework before departing by re-watching the scenes from The Desolation of Smaug that take place on the Pelorus. The shots of the Hobbits bouncing down rapids had caused me some concern. But let me reassure you, even if you’re an inexperienced kayaker, there’s really no need to be nervous. The only time this river has serious grade rapids is when it’s in flood. Yes, the Hobbits did cruise part way down the river in barrels, but the scenes in which they were being attacked by orcs? They were re-created in the studio. If you want proof, check out the behind the scenes video below - from around 5 minutes in:
As we cruise downstream I’m mesmerised by the dappled winter light playing on the surface of the water. It’s like floating on a lake – you can see all the way to the stony bottom of the river. With the native forest encroaching from both sides, and the stony banks that provide the perfect place for sunbathing, I can see why many refer to the Pelorus as New Zealand’s most beautiful river.
I can imagine that in summer the water must be incredibly inviting, but it’s wonderful to experience the magic of this place in the quiet solitude of winter. Shane, a real nature enthusiast, alerts us to the call of native birds and the nesting locations of local bats, and as we drift along we talk about some of the more hard-core LOTR fans he’s guided down the Pelorus.
Every month a tour company that specialises in customised LOTR tours ventures to Havelock and Shane goes the extra mile for them by re-creating the barrel run. “We tow a barrel behind the kayaks and once we’re on shore the fans can jump in and get their photo taken.”
On our tour there’s no barrel. We’re all quite happy to just experience the river and transport ourselves into that filmic world in our minds. We stop at the famous waterfall which was the stunning backdrop to the scenes in which the Hobbits disembark from their barrels, pulling our kayaks up beside the rocks that served as both a filming platform for Jackson's crew and safe Hobbit harbour. In summer this would be the perfect spot to take a swim and explore the rocks in order to find all the scene framing shots from the film, but the sun was slowly sinking, the rocks looked slippery and we were all pretty happy to just be in this stunning place.
By the end of the tour I was a little wet from some minor rapids and was looking forward to jumping in the van. Thankfully Shane had organised towels, hot drinks and cookies, and I sat inside in the warmth with my fellow tour participants and chatted. Like me, they agreed it was great to have seen another film location – especially one that is most easily reached by kayak. But it was the whole experience of just being out on the Pelorus that we all enjoyed the most. Like Stephen Hunter (Bombur in The Hobbit), I’d do this trip again any day of the week: "My favourite day on set - unquestionably - was floating down the Pelorus River in barrels … way cool, and if they ever make it a ride… life time pass please."
For more information on this tour go to Pelorus Eco Adventures. If you want to combine the trip with a more lengthy stay in this beautiful region of New Zealand, you'll find everything you need at the Destination Marlborough site.