TAMA MOISER finds the locals are stunned by a new backblocks capital.
The filming of part of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy on a sheep station called Erewhon - "nowhere" spelled backwards - should have rumours flying on the numerous websites devoured by fans wanting to know what it all means.
Over 50 construction workers have spent about five months building the set at the South Canterbury station, named after the satirical novel by 19th-century English author Samuel Butler, who spent four years in the area.
Film publicist Claire Raskind said Mt Potts, to be immortalised in the trilogy as Edoras, capital of the land of the Rohans, had been chosen because it was unspoilt and remote, yet accessible for trucks and trailers.
The cast and crew would head down to the South Island next week to spend a month filming in South Canterbury and Te Anau.
More than 300 extras would be used in some of the Edoras scenes, in which the tall, blond Rohirrim discusses the Rohans' future and the reign of King Theoden.
Ms Raskind said some of the extras would come from the New Zealand Army, which had also worked on the production in Tongariro.
But she said the soldiers would not be wearing armour, as there were no battle scenes at Edoras.
The Army had been great to work with, she said. "When we're shooting somewhere incredibly remote, it's hard to find people to be extras who will travel that far."
The "strong and sturdy" set had shown it could withstand the area's extreme weather.
"We build things to last here on this movie."
Local farmer John Chapman said most residents had taken a pair of binoculars up the Erewhon road to look at the set, which had aroused "enormous interest."
Security was tight, but "most people understand" the reasons for it.
April Davey, a shop assistant at the local store, said the set was good for business.
Having a blockbuster movie shot nearby was "something that doesn't happen very often," although the area had already played host to a few Japanese productions.
Speculation on the precise content of the Edoras scenes has been rife on Lord of the Rings websites since the latest pictures were released a few days ago.
But fans will have to wait until the first film hits cinema screens next year to have their curiosity satisfied.