You know when you were a kid, when you were lonely or sad or scared and you just… imagined you were somewhere else? Where did you imagine? What fantastic landscapes did you get lost in?
Emerald valleys beribboned with sapphire rivers? Mysterious lakes mirroring snow-capped mountains? Ancient forests with hidden waterfalls? Waves crashing upon black rocks beneath stormy skies? How about bubbling, blue-grey pools surrounded by steam vents, lava flows and powdery, yellow rocks?
Growing up in England, I thought New Zealand was some sort of fantasyland. But that didn’t mean I wanted to leave my home and my friends and everything behind to go there. When my parents told me we were moving to New Zealand, I’d never been more lonely or sad or scared!
I did feel slightly better, however, when my dad informed me they were filming The Lord of the Rings there. If I was going to be forced to live somewhere, it was good that it was somewhere magical.
I was disappointed to find, upon arrival, that New Zealand was just like everywhere else. I mean there were a few things I found strange, but on the whole it was just like England. Of course, I’d only seen the airport, the motorway and our new town at that point. The more I saw of New Zealand’s countryside, the more magical it seemed.
No wonder so many fantasy epics get filmed here! Apart from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, there was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Legend of the Seeker, Xena, Hercules, 10,000 BC, The Water Horse, Bridge to Terabithia and others I’ve forgotten. They’re doing Terry Brooks’ Shannara as we speak. (Or as I write. Whatever.)
A ridiculous amount of filming is done at Bethells Beach, for example. My boyfriend, Tim, grew up there, with a view over the valley, the silver-black sand dunes and the sea, so I’ve been a fair bit. It is beautiful, but not only that. It’s got a sort of… mystical quality. It’s not just a beach. If I believed in such things, I’d say it was a weak point in reality… a gateway to the Otherworld… You have to go when the light’s just right, I suppose.
A lot of filming is also done around Queenstown. That’s where the mysterious lakes mirroring snow-capped mountains are at. My family went there on our New Zealand campervan rental tour and it’s almost overwhelming being in the midst of so much natural beauty.
Other places in the world are beautiful. What makes New Zealand special is simply that it has so MANY beautiful landscapes, and such a RANGE of beautiful landscapes, all within one small country. Scottish actor Graham McTavish put it well when he spoke at the 2015 Hamilton Armageddon: New Zealand is like Neverland, he said – a child’s drawing of a fantasy island with everything you could possibly want on it, in terms of natural scenery and adventure.
In terms of culture, well that’s improving all the time. Auckland’s getting a full-scale replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre this summer! Pity it’s only going to be a temporary ‘pop-up’ building, but still – pretty cool, eh?