Exploring The New Zealand Night Sky

We spent just over 60 hours in total on buses for 3 months in New Zealand. Spending so many hours on buses probably sounds horrific to you, but thanks to the bus drivers it was honestly enjoyable – the bus rides with these New Zealand bus drivers felt more like long guide tours with travel guides who loved hearing the sound of their own voice than simply drive from pointA to pointB. Every bus driver we traveled with had so many stories lined up for the whole ride, that they just simply wouldn’t shut up. Not that we wanted them to, they would tell both funny and interesting history of the land scape that was passing by the windows as we toured around the South Island. It just amazed me how someone can talk uninterruptedly for five+ hours straight without caring whether anyone listened or caring whether people wanted to hear him. These men just talked and talked and talked, and without having to say a word they shared their own biography along with the history of New Zealand. Our brains overwhelmed with so much information it was hard to remember it all, but one thing we got straight:

Everything Is World Famous in New Zealand

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New Zealand must have the most ‘world famous things’ in the world..! Every single village, including those so small you had passed it before the bus driver had even finished mentioning it, was world famous for something: World famous for the biggest loaf of bread, world famous for the biggest cookie, world biggest L&P bottle (as if L&P was sold anywhere else?), you name it…It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if someone one day said that New Zealand was world famous for having the most world famous things…However, I’m not sure where they came up with saying everything is world famous, maybe the well known L&P slogan *World Famous in New Zealand Since Ages Ago…* says it all!

Movie Locations in New Zealand

New Zealand has been a popular destination for making films since the 1970s. Using New Zealand as a location for filming has spiked in popularity in the last fifteen or so years. Best of all, it’s easy to visit many of these spectacular movie locations in New Zealand – to begin your journey through cinematic history, start by looking at what car rental New Zealand has to offer, pick your vehicle and get ready to roll.

The Last Samurai

movie locations new zealand

Watching Tom Cruise’s the Last Samurai; it would be difficult to tell that the filming took place in New Zealand and not in Japan. This movie was released in 2003 and centres around the traumatised American Captain Nathan Algren who, in 1876, agrees to train conscripts for the new Japanese Meiji government. Algren is captured in battle and begins to embrace the culture of the Samurai he was initially hired to destroy.

During the filming, Mount Taranaki made a nice stand-in for Mount Fiji in Japan. According to Maori legend, the mount once lived with other volcanoes on North Island, but fell in love with a hill called Pihanga.

The hill was the wife of another volcano, Tongariro and, after a fiery battle, Taranaki was exiled from the central region. His tears were responsible for creating the Whenganui River as he fled to his current location. This is also a great place to learn and interact with native Maori tribes. There are eight tribes that still live in the region, and many experiences combine adventure with traditional Maori practises, such as going for a waka ride and following it up with a quad bike ride through native bush.

The Chronicles of Narnia

While much of the adaptation of this famous and beloved book, the first in a series, was filmed on a stage, several locations around New Zealand were used for outdoor scenes. The movie tells the story of two children who are magically transported into the fantasy land of Aotearoa and become embroiled in a battle between the brave lion Aslan and the frosty White Witch. Locations such as Woodhill Forest, which was used for the White Witch’s camp, were used in the movie. Other locations include:

  • Flock Hill – Just 90 minutes from Christchurch, this area was used for the Great Battle
  • Purakaunui Bay – South of Dunedin, the castle of Cair Paravel was superimposed on the cliff tops of this beautiful coast.
  • Elephant Rocks – This ancient outcropping of rocks became Aslan’s Camp in 2004. The town of Oamaru nearby makes a great base for exploring the area.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Perhaps the most well-known movie filmed in the area is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The tales of the hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring against the vile forces of Sauron and the machinations of the One Ring are well-known to movie and fantasy buffs everywhere. There were many locations used to film the movie. Some highlights include:

  • Matamata, Waikato – Used as the hobbit village, Hobbiton, you can still peek into the hobbit holes that remain.
  • Kawaru River – This was the location of the iconic Pillars of the Kings on the Anduin River, though the pillars were computer generated.
  • Kepler Mire – Remember the creepy swamp with the floating dead? That was in fact the Kepler Mire wetlands of Te Anau.
  • Southern Alps – The treacherous Misty Mountains of Middle Earth the Fellowship tried to pass through in the Fellowship of the Rings were actually the Southern Alps.
  • The Shotover River at Skippers Canyon – This is where the elf Arwen defeated the ringwraiths.
  • Tongariro National Park – You might know this World Heritage site better as Mordor. Fortunately, one can simply walk into Tongariro.
  • Mount Ngauruhoe – This active volcano is gorgeous. It was also the body double for Mount Doom.

With so many great films having made such extensive use of New Zealand’s beautiful natural resources, movie fans will love being able to visit the shooting locations of their favourite flicks. Such a visit is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime.

(photo credit: 1 – 2 – 3)

On our way down to Queenstown we stopped over for a night in Tekapo. It’s a small village with only 300 inhabitants, set 750 meters above sea level. It’s the closest village to Mt Cook, the highest mountain in South Pacific, and the night sky in this place is out of this world! At a place this high up and no city lights to lighten the sky, you could see so many stars that there is almost no space between them. I woke up to go out for a pee in the middle of the night, and as I looked up I thought I was still dreaming. First I just stood there for a few minutes looking up, thinking it was my sleepy eyes that was duplicating everything. Then after I rubbed them and it wouldn’t go away I realized that what I saw was real.

Exploring The New Zealand Night Sky

For some reason I thought it would disappear from me any minute, so I threw myself back into the tent shaking Nathan ferociously, almost in panic, to wake him up and come out to see it – I have never experienced something so amazing since, and any pictures you see really can’t do it justice! What made Tekapo such a beautiful place was the lake. It had the most amazing color of turquoise. Milky, thick and bright. It looked very tempting, but turned out (after I had a dip) that it was only 8 degrees COLD!!! … (more about this next week – have a wonderful weekend & see you here again on Monday!)

24 Hours in Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, also known as the garden city, is one of the oldest cities in New Zealand. It’s a small city with a lot to offer and a great balance between outdoor life, culture and shopping.

9 am – Power-Start Breakfast

Start the day with a power-start breakfast at the Lotus-Heart Cafe, a cafe which has a focus on healthy eating and strives to create a global cuisine naturally. You will find it in Cathedral Square, on Colombo Street, where you can also get a close up view of the wonderful Christchurch Cathedral.

10 am – Smell The Roses

The best way to understand why Christchurch has its nickname as the garden city is to simply go to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens – which is FREE. It’s a beautiful park to walk around, smell the gigantic flowers and admire the massive trees. The best part for me was the rose garden, which included a wide variety of flowers. You will find many chances to practice your nature photography.

11 am – The Canterbury Museum

After a nice walk in the gardens, make sure you stop by the front gate and have a look inside the Canterbury Museum – where once inside you will have a chance to learn the history of the local area and it’s Maori culture.

12 pm The Arts Center – Shoppers Delight

Visit the arts center, where you will find a maze of over 40 specialty shops, workshops and galleries. Also every Friday there is a farmers market and on Saturdays it’s the weekend market where the square is packed with over 80 stalls selling all from hand made bags to food from all corners of the world.

1 pm – Window Shopping & Natural *Legal* Drugs

Walking around central Christchurch, will give you a chance to do some window shopping. Take a look into the Cosmic Corner shop where they sell legal drugs (which are natural, legal and claim to give you a similar feeling to real drugs… interesting :S)

2 pm – Chicken or Vegetarian Sushi?

A great lunch option is sushi. It’s around almost every street corner, and there are so many varieties to choose between, all from chicken to vegetarian sushi. The quality of the sushi in New Zealand is in general really good as well.

5 pm – Beach Walking At Brighton Beach

Spend the afternoon at the beach, relaxing in the afternoon sun (which is the best time to be out at the beach in NZ, without getting too burnt), walk along the beach and enjoy the waves.

7 pm – Get Fat @ ‘Two Fat Indians’

Have some curry at the Two Fat Indians Restaurant, which serves up great food for an amazing  price. This is some real Indian food, so don’t ask for spicy, Nathan made this mistake and it was HOT! – but great 😉 They have great lunch offers as well, so if you like to eat early you can get a great deal before 3 pm.

8 pm – Tequila or Coffee To End The Day?

Check out the SOL square (the hub of South of Lichfield), an alley full of bars and cafes, decorated with some cool street art. In this part of town you will find a little something for everyone.

If you have a spare day:

If you have a spare day in Christchurch I recommend checking out the Port Hills. It’s a beautiful place with the best view over the city, the ocean and all the way over to the Southern Alps. It’s a perfect place for a picnic, go for a walk or enjoy some mountain biking. This is where you can find many locals hanging out in the weekends. Hope you have a great time exploring Christchurch New Zealand!

Weird Light in Limestone Cave, Punakaiki, New Zealand

This photo was taken while we were exploring limestone caves in Punakaiki on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I think its amazing what nature itself can create and share with us in the most random of moments.

Limestone Cave, Punakaiki, New Zealand

Limestone Cave, Punakaiki, New Zealand

19 Responses to Exploring The New Zealand Night Sky

  1. Juno June 4, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    Oh my god!! You wrote same thing as me!
    Tekapo, definately the best night sky ever. Did you guys go to Observatory?
    I stayed at Lake Tekapo for a while. Just for stargazing. haha!!
    And you know what? I have a half wrote-drafted artible about Lake Tekapo! haha!! :)
    <Surreal Southern Night sky. http://su.pr/1q4S1J > <- this is the one I wrote about a month ago.

  2. Sofia June 4, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    haha hey Juno! nah we didn't get up to the Observatory – wished we did, but we were rushing to Queenstown at that time :p Tekapo was an amazing place! did you go for a swim??? COLD!

  3. Sofia June 4, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    yeah you can take so many amazing pictures in the South Island of New Zealand – amazing nature!

  4. manisha chopra June 4, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    The photographs are really amazing specially the first one

  5. Candice June 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Damn, this looks absolutely amazing.

  6. Sofia_AsWeTravel June 5, 2010 at 8:13 am #

    it really is an amazing place – just like the whole south island – you have any plans on going to New Zealand?

  7. Amanda June 5, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    I've been to Tekapo twice, but never at night! Will have to be sure to do that one of these days. Maybe next time in NZ.

  8. Dina VagabondQuest June 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    I went to Tekapo about 2 weeks ago, unfortunately it was when the crazy rain that caused many floods (especially in the East Coast) hit the South Island. We still love being there, but it was minus the sky and the alps. Maybe someday if we go back there again… Btw, do you try the fresh salmon sashimi in the salmon farm on Pukaki Lake? I'm craving it right now.
    Your starry sky picture is amazing!

  9. Sofia_AsWeTravel June 8, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    yeah make sure you do that next time – we didn't know about it either, and only cos I went outside to the bathroom (from our tent) did I realize what was up there – strange they don't really advertise it much.

  10. Sofia_AsWeTravel June 8, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    oh thats a real shame! tekapo is best where there is blue sky, you can see Mt. Cook and see the stars – yeah fresh salmon in NZ is amazing :) how is NZ right now? we were there about a year and a half ago – really miss that place – especially the south island!

  11. Dina VagabondQuest June 9, 2010 at 12:50 am #

    Our first week in NZ was dark, cloudy, rainy, and floody. Here's a picture to illustrate it:
    http://www.vagabondquest.com/new-zealand/friday
    Get luckier the 2nd week, sunshine and sometimes no cloud, when we do the Milford and to the north in west coast.
    Now we are in Wellington. We had hails and strong wind yesterday, but sky looks gorgeous today.
    Totally can related when somebody say they miss NZ, I'm still here and I'm already hoping to come back in the future in summertime 😀

  12. backpackingmatt June 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    Beautiful photos! I only stopped in Tekapo for a beer as we had to get our rental car back to Queenstown – but it's a stunning place. The drive to Mt. Cook village is pretty sweet as as well!

  13. Jen June 11, 2010 at 4:41 am #

    How very cartoonish of you to rub your eyes and look again. I'm generally not a fan of being awoken mid sleep but this is one of the few situations where the opposite would be true. Great pix. Totally jealous (…but not for long!)

  14. Sofia_AsWeTravel June 11, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Thanks! Yeah it's really nice to have a drink with a view over the lake with that amazing turquoise color!
    It's a beautiful but freezing lake (8 degrees), so it wasn't very nice swimming in it..

    It must have been such a beautiful experience to around New Zealand!

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