|Mt. Ruapahu, an active volcano on the North Island of New Zealand|
|From other angles, the summit crater of Ruapahu is clearly seen. A lot of it is missing.|
|Lake Rotorua sunrise (or the eye of Sauron?). Rotorua occupies an active caldera on the North Island|
|A foggy road between Rotorua and Wellington, the closest we came to the filming site of Hobbiton on our trip.|
|Tree ferns on the North Island: Echos of the Gondwana flora.|
|Yes, there were once birds this big, only a few centuries ago.|
The islands of New Zealand are about two-thirds the size of California, and like California the diversity of the landscape is tied to plate tectonics. New Zealand is influenced by convergence of the Australian and Pacific plates, but some areas of the islands are stretching (extending) and others, primarily along the Alpine Fault, are sliding laterally (much like California's San Andreas). As a consequence, the islands have a diverse collection of volcanoes and calderas, a high alpine mountain range, active faults, and glaciers. Given the low density of the population of the islands, a filmmaker has plenty of choices for wilderness locales in which to place their orc armies, wizard castles, and hobbit villages (Middle-Earth always struck me as a rather wilderness world with only a few outposts of civilization).
|The north end of the Kaikoura Range on the South Island, very high and rugged, but less known than the Southern Alps.|
My greatest disappointment about my trip to New Zealand was the fact that I didn't get to see the Southern Alps up close. The mountains made for some of the most memorable scenes in the Tolkien movies, including the opening sequence of The Two Towers, and lighting of the beacons in The Return of the King. They could be seen in the far distance while we were in Christchurch, and they were briefly visible as we flew over them on the way to Australia, but that was it. I dearly wanted to see them up close, but that will have to come at another time.