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In Memory of Deer Park Heights

This week, I was commenting on A Dangerous Business’ great photo of the Remarkables when I found out something that really saddened me…Queenstown’s Deer Park Heights has been permanently closed.

Stunning scenery at Deer Park Heights

Stunning scenery at Deer Park Heights.

Deer Park Heights was one of my favourite places in Queenstown. Not only could you get some of the most stunning views possible of the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau, and Queenstown itself, but you could feed the “wildlife” and visit a plethora of Lord of the Rings filming sights as well. I had so much fun there on my first visit in 2005 that I made a point of going back three years later as well.

Inquisitive AlpacaSilly goat
An inquisitive alpaca checks out our car…followed by a goat a few minutes later.

My first trip was the second half of a Lord of the Rings day trip around Queenstown. The morning half of the trip took us up Lake Wakatipu to Twelve Mile Delta, Glenorchy, and Paradise, which were all stunning locations even without the additional intrigue of them being Lord of the Rings locations (for those that are interested, the locations were (a) where Sam and Frodo first saw the Oliphaunts, (b) Isengard, and (c) Lothlorien). The second trip was simply the result of a friend asking what we could do in Queenstown that was reasonably cheap ($20 entrance fee per car).

Donkeys, donkeys, donkeysAnd what's on your dashboard?Donkeys get up close and personal with any car that’s going slow enough!

The first thing that struck me when entering Deer Park Heights was the sheer number of animals wandering around. This is only amplified when in a small car rather than a large Deer Park Safaris bus! Occasionally herds of goats or a yak would block the road and we’d have to nudge forward to scatter them and continue on. Open your windows at peril–you might end up with a donkey licking your steering wheel or gnawing at the cover on your dashboard!

Making an Ass of HimselfA hog doing a donkey impression
He’s making an ass of himself…and the hog is doing a good impression.

There are a few stops along the way where you can actually get out and feed these animals too (for $2). I’m sure the donkeys get fed way too much — they were very good at shoving all of the smaller animals and even the Shetland pony out of the way — but they sure didn’t act like it. The photo above was taken when the donkeys were straining for someone, anyone, to give them a little morsel of food.

The Kawarau

The Kawarau River valley.

No less striking were the stunning views that just got better as we got closer to the top of the Heights.To the northeast was the Kawarau River basin, a tiny blue line cutting through a verdant green landscape. To the east were the Remarkables, a mountain range that truly lives up to its name (which our guide told us was because they are one of the few mountain ranges in the world that run directly north-south). To the west was the gorgeous blue of Lake Wakatipu, its arms separated by tall, rolling hills. It was difficult to get back into the car at each viewpoint, and the bonus of my second trip was that we didn’t have to. We could stand and stare in awe for as long as we wanted!

The set of "The Rescue"

The Korean prison used in “The Rescue.”

Surprisingly, I also got to see a piece of Disney history in Deer Park Heights. I was completely unaware that Disney had made a film about a Korean prison in the late 80s, but the evidence of The Rescue’s filming was there. Apparently they filmed there for nearly a month and then left the set for posterity. Unfortunately, as most buildings do when they aren’t kept up, it fell into disrepair and was surrounded in fences to keep people away from the crumbling building. It made for some interesting pictures of communist murals against a beautiful backdrop…but also showed why the NZ government mandated all future film sets (including those from The Lord of the Rings) get pulled down.

Even though we couldn’t see the actual Lord of the Rings sets, there were still many stops where I could picture myself in an exact scene from the movie. These included:

The Mountain TarnThe mountain tarn (which Peter Jackson made look like a giant lake) that the Rohirrim walked around on their exodus from Edoras (The Two Towers)

HillsThe hills that the wargs ran down to attack Aragorn and the Rohirrim as they walked to Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers)

Being an LOTR dorkThe cliff that Aragorn fell off of shortly after (one of my most disliked scenes from The Two Towers…but yes, I still took a picture “falling off” the cliff)

Lake WakatipuThe “river” that Aragorn sees Sauron’s minions pillaging when he emerges from the Paths of the Dead (The Return of the King)

All of this has been closed to Queenstown visitors since 2009, and there is no plan to reopen because the owner is now in his nineties and cannot handle the attraction. His grandson has commented regarding the family’s intentions for Deer Park Heights below.

I still hope that, one day in the future, it will reopen so more visitors — LOTR and non-LOTR fans alike — can spend many more afternoons here, being harrassed by donkeys and goats while they try to snap a picture of the view!

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