For all of those Lord of The Ring buffs out there the name Isengard rings a bell.
You know, the great fortress located within the southern end of the Misty Mountains near the Gap of Rohan. Home and realm of the wizard Saruman.
For everyone else reading this and asking “what is he talking about?” don’t worry, the story to come is about the journey, not so much the destination.
Although, I can now say I’ve walked in Paradise!
Let’s get back to the story…
I was on my 5th day in Queenstown when I started chatting with one of my roommates. She happened to mention it was her last day of a 6 month holiday in New Zealand and wanted to do something fun.
As an avid Lord of The Rings fan she set her sights on making it to the little town that they used as the setting for Isengard.
Side note: It wasn’t until midway through the journey did I learn the town was Paradise, New Zealand, around 60 km away from Queenstown.
“Want to join?” she asked.
“Why not” I responded without really knowing what exactly I was getting into.
“Oh, I plan to hitchhike there, are you ok with that?” she followed with.
“Absolutely, give me 20 minutes and we go!!”
Hitchhiking was one of my top goals for Chapter One: New Zealand but I did not expect to accomplish it within my first week.
Full water bottle? Check
Granola bar? Check
And so it began, our journey to Isengard/Paradise…
We set out with adventure in our hearts from our hostel toward the outskirts of town.
Our first mission was to find someone heading in the same direction who was willing to pick up two bums on the side of the road.
1 car, 2 cars, 10 cars, no luck.
Ok, maybe this is going to be harder than I thought. But then, almost as if somebody heard me, a car pulls over and the driver tells us to hop in.
Our first good samaritan was a girl from the Netherlands who was in Queenstown on a working holiday for a year. She was on her way to work but she graciously offered to take us further up the road from her stop to get us a little closer to Paradise. We had a quick convo about life in Queenstown, hitchhiking and the sad truth of abrupt good-byes on the road.
Before long we pulled over at a campsite outside of town, thanked our driver and hopped out.
A little closer!
At this point we looked around and figured we could start walking and hope for a new ride in a little while.
It only took about five minutes before a new volunteer pulled over and told us to jump in.
Good samaritan number two was a Chilean guy living in Queenstown for the last two years and trying to establish residency. He chatted with us about his experiences, the simplicity of Kiwi life and why this was the place for him.
He took us the length of Lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenochy where he works. In fact, his kindness stretched even further by offering to drive us back to Queenstown if we were still in the area when he gets out of work around 8:30pm. Wow!
So far so good. We’ve managed to make our way to the other side of the lake in two rides and now we are only about 10 km out of Paradise.
Saruman, we’re coming for you!
Making our way out of Glenochy we began our ascent up the hill, following signs toward Paradise. We attempted to catch our next ride but, for the time being, luck was not on our side.
“Should we wait for a ride here?” asked my fellow adventurer.
“Let’s go see what we can find at the edge of that rainbow” I responded.
And so we went, up and up, trying to find our treasure at the rainbow edge.
Sure enough, we struck gold!
No, not the shiny little nuggets guarded by a little man in green type of gold.
This time, our treasure came in the form of four wheels and two Aussies.
Good samaritan number three was a guy and his friend on holiday from Australia. They were driving aimlessly through New Zealand’s South Island and graciously offered to get us closer to our final destination.
10 minutes and a full-on USA road trip itinerary later we pulled up at a campsite just down the road from Paradise. It was here that we said our goodbyes and watched our new friends turn around and speed off down the road.
We’re so close!
We were literally at the end of the road. Directly in front of us lay a flowing stream racing down from the mountain top and emptying in the lake far down the hill.
Did you really think it would be that easy to keep us out, Saruman?
Come on, man.
Very carefully we made our way across the water and continued on to our destination.
Not long after the Great Stream Crossing (as it will come to be known) did we wind the rocky bend in the path and find ourselves in a place that looked beyond the reaches of modern life.
Welcome to Paradise!
With only one small house nestled close to the lake shores, this untouched oasis belonged to nature. Lush greens, white snow-capped mountains and rolling hills converged to form a small slice of heaven.
And we had it all to ourselves!
We wandered our new playground with a lightheartedness that would have rivaled any child’s.
Picture here, picture there.
Selfie with a cow, feed a horse.
Trudge through the mud for a better picture.
Yes to all the above!
Time didn’t seem to matter all that much in these moments, we were living!
I’d image we would have stayed there all day if it wasn’t for the end-of-the-world looking rain cloud on the horizon.
Ok, one last picture…snap…time to go.
Our journey out of Paradise proved to be just as eventful as our path in.
Once we made it past the waterway (Great Stream Crossing part II) we had a short walk before a very friendly Kiwi and his sidekick, Tank, picked us up.
These two good samaritans were on their way to a local ranch to drop off a few things but graciously drove us to the outskirts of town.
It’s been fun, Tank.
And finally, enter good samaritan number five, a French woman traveling the South Island for two months in her minivan-turned-camper.
Leave the most generous for last.
This lovely woman picked us up, dropped us in Glenochy to have a quick bite to eat, picked us back up and drove us just outside Queenstown to a small area known as Closeburn (Lord of the Rings fans, this is Amon Hen, where Merry and Pippen were taken by orcs).
But wait, she didn’t leave us there as we ventured into the woods for 45 minutes. No, she waited in the car park (because sadly she wasn’t a big fan of the book/movies) and then continued on to our final destination of Queenstown.
What a journey!
The entire day’s adventure was eye-opening. I experienced kindness of a whole new kind that inspired me to go on in the same energy and, one day, pay it forward.
For more pictures of this incredible journey check out my Facebook.
But what about Isengard? It turns out the Isengard we movie-enthusiast know is the combination of several locations (including Paradise) blended together using the modern-magic of editing.