Our Journey to Middle Earth (Part 1) – Mount Sunday

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The valley where Mount Sunday (Edoras) sits

We start off our adventure to Middle Earth by exploring a Lord of the Rings Filming location, Mount Sunday. It played as the stronghold of Edoras. This is only the beginning of our adventures in New Zealand.

Another long flight

14+ hours on a plane never sounds like a fun idea. It’s even less fun when you have to actually do it. But when the destination is New Zealand’s South Island, it is definitely worth it. We left Sacramento Int’l Airport on October 6th, a Friday, and swapped planes at LAX. Next stop, New Zealand! Wheels touched tarmac and revealed a rain-soaked Auckland Airport. After disembarking, we quickly gathered our luggage from the carousel. We headed out the sliding doors for a soggy jog between terminals to catch our island jumper flight to Christchurch. As cool air hit our over-heated faces we drew deep, eager breaths. The dampness surrounding us felt clean and fresh. At the moment, to these two crumpled and weary travelers, it was incredibly welcomed.

See how we planned our New Zealand trip

We finally arrived in Christchurch. The weather was very much the same as we had left behind on the North Island. In fact, it got worse. The next morning the clouds broke open and began pouring down buckets of rain on our hotel. We ran our bags out to our car and sat in the parking lot trying to decide what to do.

Our plans were to attempt to hike out to Mount Sunday. It’s one of the many filming location used by Peter Jackson in the epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. This specific spot served as the setting for the Rohan capital city, Edoras. Being fans of great filmmaking, and the whole behind-the-scenes element we were excited to seek out the awe inspiring landscape. But, were we excited enough to risk being soaked straight thru to our skin?… YES! We had flown all that way! A little rain wasn’t going to stop us.

Holden hatchback on a New Zealand road trip through middle earth
Su and the Holden – a tenacious little hatchback

Driving to Mount Sunday

Ryan started the engine on our rental car. It was a little Holden hatchback that, over the next two weeks, we fell in love with. We set off in the general direction of Mount Sunday. Luckily, we had cell service (thank you T-Mobile!) and Google Maps to aid us in our quest. As we drove, the road turned to gravel. We were hard pressed to find another soul for a good 45 minutes.

This gravel road seemed to go on forever. At times we wondered if we were in the middle of a wild goose chase. But we shrugged that off and pressed on in the name of “Adventure”. Finally, as we rounded yet another corner we found ourselves in the main valley. The views opened up and rewarded us handsomely for our tenacity.

Mountain panorama on a New Zealand road trip through middle earth

Eventually we arrived at the parking area, a gravel patch with a low gate leading out onto the open terrain. The rain had all but stopped and the clouds were hugging the mountains. One of the benefits of all the morning rain, besides an overlying feeling of otherworldly adventure, was that there was not another person to be seen for miles. We had the place to ourselves.

The hike to the top

The hike to the top of Mount Sunday wass a fairly easy trek. That is, until the last 25 meters or so, when you begin the final climb to the summit. It developed a bit of an incline (as any self-respecting mount should do). Even though someone had attempted to carve footholds into the path, we still found it a little bit challenging to traverse. Especially when rain had turned the steps to slick mud. After slipping around a bit, we adapted and took our time treading the last few steps to the top.

The top of Mount Sunday was fairly flat, with smallish boulders embedded here and there. There is nothing more than the metal tent-like frame of a survey marker left in place of the Golden Hall. You can find little to no evidence to suggest that this spot had once hosted a horde of men, Hobbits, horses, elves, dwarves, and wizards.

We spent quite a bit of time at the top. We soaked in the view, marveling at the ever changing scenery and flying the drone; But after a while the rain started moving in again, so we packed up and headed back towards the car. It was only about mid-way back that we passed another person making the trek out. On our way back out, we stopped to take one last look. Our gaze happened upon some glacier carved valleys leading into the main valley where Mount Sunday sits. Incredible. A successful first adventure. An astoundingly beautiful first day. We began the 24 km drive back out and headed south. This took us away from Christchurch towards our roost for the night in the town of Timaru.


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