Pelorus River's crystal clear waters cut through a rocky gorge shrouded in the subtle green layers of native New Zealand beech forest - an ethereal protected wilderness inhabited by giant trees and rare native New Zealand bats.
The tranquil rural locality - an easy drive halfway between the busy tourist centres of Blenheim and Nelson - that has long been a favourite spot with local families for picnics, day trips and overnight camping holidays, is now on the international map for a very different reason.
Sir Peter Jackson chose this sliver of recreational paradise - a river valley tucked into one corner of a forested conservation area that divides the eastern and western regions of the northern South Island - as the setting for 'Forest River' in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Pelorus River was the final location chosen by the film director. Jackson must have had a very clear idea in his head because the location scouts spent a long time searching out the ideal spot - a river with a solid rock shoreline surrounded by forest with a sandy beach for the barrels to come ashore - to backdrop the ‘dwarves escaping in barrels’ scene.
Dwarves in barrels
While Pelorus River provided all the perfect physical elements to set the scene, it was not without some challenges for the film crew who had to construct a scaffolding access ramp of epic proportions.
What had drawn the film-maker to this section of river ultimately provided one of the biggest filming hurdles. The river carved a path through a steep and rocky gorge, which made for a beautiful backdrop, but was extremely tricky to negotiate on foot - let alone with bulky film equipment. The solution was a 100-metre scaffolding ramp descending at a gentle angle, parallel to the grassy bank and terminating on a rocky point that stuck out into the river.
Dwarves in barrells
The waters' edge perspective allowed the cameras to capture the tricky scenes of the hobbits and dwarves in their barrels floating down the fast flowing river.
The main landing at the end of the ramp was a couple of metres above the waterline - a spectacular viewing position overlooking the sandy beach where the cast landed in their barrels, and beyond to the stream cascading down the canyon walls, and into the distance as the river disappeared around a forested bend downstream.
Then, halfway through the filming schedule, Mother Nature dealt another card - sending heavy rains across the region that interrupted filming and eventually submerged the platform under four metres of flood waters, just a few hours after the cast and crew had safely moved out.
The four-day shoot at Pelorus River was a highlight for Stephen Hunter (Bombur): "My favourite day on set - unquestionably - was floating down the Pelorus River in barrels … way cool, and if they ever make it a ride… life time pass please."
In a similar vein, visitors can experience this piece of Middle-earth by kayak on a guided river tour that includes stops at waterfalls, streams and the now famous barrel scene location. Native wildlife on the journey includes many species of New Zealand forest birds, and a population of endangered New Zealand native bats.
The road between two of New Zealand’s best loved holiday regions - Marlborough and Nelson Tasman - runs right past the riverside reserve and the film location. Visitors who want to stay longer can overnight in the Pelorus Scenic Reserve Campground, a great place for swimming and evening bush walks to visit the nearby bat reserve.
This is a classic New Zealand recreational landscape that resonates with Kiwis who love the outdoors and the chance to get off the beaten track and away from the crowds. Pelorus offers a variety of back-to-nature experiences suitable for all levels of ability from easy walks and nature spotting to serious adventure hiking, and fly fishing for trophy trout.
From a source in a mountain range deep in the South Island interior, the Pelorus River flows down from the hills through South Island beech forests and on out into Pelorus Sound - part of the extensive Marlborough Sounds.
This wilderness region made up of a grand series of submerged ancient river valleys - narrow fingers of land stretching out into the ocean - forms a pristine coastal landscape of great natural beauty. There are no roads so the only way in and out of the countless sheltered bays and coves, white sand beaches, and fishing grounds is by boat or by walking or cycling the famed Queen Charlotte Track.
One of New Zealand's sunniest and warmest climates ensures that this holiday paradise is a popular destination for walking and hiking, mountain biking, fishing and boating.
The 71km Queen Charlotte Track is a four to five day walk that can also be cycled or kayaked. The track through Queen Charlotte Sound is notable for stunning coastal views, contrasting landscapes, skyline ridges, wildlife, and historic landmarks.
Food & Wine
Barrels, though not necessarily with dwarves in them, have another significant connection to the Marlborough region - New Zealand's largest wine growing region.
Vineyards cover much of the Marlborough region, and the warm climate and stony river valleys offer favourable conditions for grape growing, particularly the world renowned Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The region's 140 wineries produce 80 per cent of New Zealand’s wine exports.
Marlborough is also well known for its fresh produce, especially seafood such as scallops, crayfish, New Zealand greenshell mussels, King Salmon and fresh ocean fish, along with vegetables and fruit crops such as apples, berries and olives.
Just west of Pelorus River, there are several film locations from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the Nelson Tasman region.
Takaka Hill and Abel Tasman National Park were used for scenes depicting Chetwood Forest in The Lord of the Rings, and Reid Helicopter Tours offers scenic flights to Mt Olympus (South of Rivendell) and Mt Owen (Dimrill Dale).
In West Golden Bay, Kaihoka Station featured in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as Weatherhills trees and rocks in the scene where The Company arrives at a destroyed farmhouse. The location is on private land but can be visited with Cape Farewell Horse Treks.