By Jeff Giles
Dec. 10, 2001
The helicopter floats toward Kahurangi National Park, and New Zealand unrolls beneath you. You see farmlands almost fluorescent green. Mountains straight out of a model-train set. Craggy limestone plateaus. Giant ferns waving along beaches. And strange, tilting rock formations that look like primitive graveyards. Before coming to the land of “The Lord of the Rings,” you’d heard two things over and over, the first of which concerned the landscape: as Liv Tyler put it, “It literally looks like somebody laid a velvet blanket down on New Zealand.” It’s hard not to feel moved as the helicopter flies between mountaintops filmed for the trilogy—even when you start throwing up in the back seat and the pilot has to make an emergency landing on a deserted beach. After you wash your face in the sea, you walk back toward the whirring helicopter and notice that everyone’s gesturing emphatically for you to stay down, stay down because they don’t want you to get decapitated. That’s the other thing you’d heard about New Zealand: everybody’s really nice.