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A couple who dreamed of visiting New Zealand completed their own ‘unexpected journey’ recently – thanks their own Middle-earth inspired love story and an Air New Zealand Fairy.

When Chris Herzberg and Nadine Palmer arrived in New Zealand late last year, they were completing a quest to visit the home of Middle-earth – as depicted in the Peter Jackson directed The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies – that had been 10 years in the making.

Tolkien Aficionados
Both JJR Tolkien aficionados, their romantic journey began when their eyes met across a crowded room at a comic book convention.

That was in 2004, and Chris was dressed as a "behind the scenes Legolas" and Nadine as the half-elven beauty Arwen. A long-distance relationship blossomed until Nadine moved to Georgia to be with the love of her life.

Both Chris and Nadine have been deeply affected by the work of Tolkien, as well as Kiwi director Peter Jackson’s take on his classics.

Nadine credits watching The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which was released in 2001, with relighting her lust for life and inspiring her creative spirit.

She now owns her own costume-making business, Celtic Ruins Designs, and creates inspired jewellery, graphic art and costumes for fantasy, movie and Tolkien fans.

Middle-school teacher Chris is known as ‘the Hobbit teacher’ because he uses the work of Tolkien and Peter Jackson to inspire his students. Chris even credits The Hobbit with helping his class overcome the tragic loss of a fellow student.

The couple had been trying to save for their ‘pilgrimage’ trip to New Zealand for almost a decade, but something always seemed to get in the way.

Long Overdue Journey
In January 2013 Chris and Nadine decided to take a chance, asking the generous public to help them set off on their own ‘Unexpected Journey - Long Overdue’ on an American funding website.

Their story was picked up by an Air New Zealand rep who waved her magic wand and granted the delighted couple two return flights to New Zealand and a trip to the Middle-earth mecca of Hobbiton.

The couple blogged, tweeted and photographed their way around some of the main North Island movie locations for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

Dressed as Pippin and Legolas, they described walking into Hobbiton for the first time as "the most surreal experience of our lives. The beauty and detail was overwhelming. You couldn’t help but start to well up with joy. It was breathtaking."

Easily Accessible Locations
Next on the ‘unexpected journey’ were the locations of Lake Taupo and the alpine Ruapehu Tongariro region, where scenes for the Emyn Muil and the desert plains of Mordor were shot.

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Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city provides one of the most easily accessible ways to explore Peter Jackson’s world and some of the key locations from The Lord of The Rings films.

WETA Workshop’s newest offering - Window into Workshop in Wellington’s Miramar - takes visitors on a behind-the-scenes look into the special affects magic created by WETA.

"Inside was a treat for the eyes, with a ton of Lord of the Rings props and costumes! Including a Lurtz statue, Theodred’s armour, Legolas’ Mirkwood quiver and Lorien bow, tons of helmets and weaponry, shields, prosthetics and more!" the couple blogged.

Park Road Post, Peter Jackson’s post production facility near Weta Workshop, was another highlight for the duo: "Visiting the beautiful Park Road Post was definitely a treat! Even though we kept feeling like Pete was right around every corner, waiting to jump out! We’ll meet him one day…"

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Nadine Transformed
Wellington’s Mount Victoria, the location used to depict Hobbiton Woods, and Kaitoke Regional Park, which was transformed into Rivendell, were both visited by the couple – complete with costume. This time Nadine transformed herself into a replica of Tauriel, a newly created woodland elf who made her debut in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Last on the agenda was Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve, the location of the Dimholt Road in The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King. The couple said the testing terrain was like "walking on an alien planet, or a foreign fantasy land. It's no wonder Peter picked this location for the paths of the dead. It was eerily quiet, yet strikingly beautiful."