Today, in the Tongariro National Park, I have been to three places: a Maori land of mountain gods Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe; the area used for the filming of Mordor in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and some amazing volcanic landscape. All three map onto one another in a jumble of reality and virtuality that was at times slightly confusing. The Mountain Peaks were gifted to the New Zealand people by the chief of the tribe whose land the park now covers, in a bid to save them from the ravages of the encroaching farmers who now had the right to buy land from individual Maori – something which set against the old communal way of life was a legal
nonsense guaranteed to serve the interests of the settlers and not of the Maori. In 1887 it became one of the very first National Parks in the world, and grew in size over the coming century as the government bought out the holdings around the peaks.
I learnt this from a rather shabby audio-visual in the local visitors centre, where the whole thing was split into two, and the left-hand projection was some six inches lower than the right-hand projection, making everything rather weirdly disjointed; worse, some kind of degradation of the film meant that everything blurred jaggedly in the strangest fashion – I have never seen the like – and some of the audio seemed to be lost, such that important speeches were lost entirely against the backdrop of inane music and disjointed photographs, speech-silences that ended in new voices rounding off conclusively with summarising “and so”‘s. In short, it was dreadful, and detracted rather from the message it was trying to convey.
The other virtual world mapped onto this landscape, however – that of Mordor – whilst an incomparably better audio-visual experience, nonetheless fared little better for me, today, when weighed up against what I would consider to be the real star of the day – the landscape itself. This, of course, I viewed through an entirely more modern eye than that of the old Maori legend, or of the smorgasboard of European folklore that is shoehorned into Tolkein’s epic. This eye was a nineteenth century eye, the eye of the picaresque, the Victorian eye that delights in the wild and in natural landscape, and then returns to the 1929 champagne chateau for gourmet food and fine wine.
My guide was a nice enough chap, and showed me all sorts of interesting places. He had been the environment Officer here in the Park for Jackson’s production, ensuring that the mosses and lichens were protected with carpet, and that walkways were built to minimise trampling, and that all the areas heavily churned by the trucks and other vehicles were lovingly returned to the wild with the minimum of disruption. Now he drives people around giving tours, telling stories, and takes people for walks and ski-ing trips. Seemed like a pretty nice life: good on yer Scotty.
We collected some of the plastic rubbish left behind by the snowboarders and toboganists, as we wandered through the rocks and crags of Mordor, stopping to wonder at the spot where Sauron’s hand was cut off by Isildur’s father, at the spot in the Emin Muil where Gollum leaped down from the cliff to attack the sleeping Frodo and Sam, at the spot where Frodo and Sam rested on a spur of rock as the lava of Mount Doom flowed around them at the very end. Here where the great Ruapehu spake his Mannah to calm the young North Island freshly brought to the surface of the southern sea by Maui’s hook, the Great Battle at the end of the Second Age was fought, and the tourists ski down slopes of freshly machine-made snow, strewn across the volcanic landscape of the Tongariro National Park.
Indeed, the landscape certainly won out for me today, particularly when, in true Kiwi style, I went ‘tramping’ as they call it here, (that’s hiking for the Brits) from the Hotel out to the Taranaki Falls – a lovely 2hour walk through countryside at times not dissimilar from the Yorkshire Dales, at times closer to North Wales, and other times somehow quite lunar, and at all times populated with the most fascinating flora and the calls of strange and wonderful birds. An absolute delight, from start to finish, and – as always for me when walking – a marvellous opportunity for reflection and meditative thought.
### sadly the tag-based slideshow I created in 2007 is no longer supported by Flickr ###
Please visit the Flickr album to see the Takanaki Falls photos.