New Xenaland
Bethells valley

Bethells is unusual in having such a wide variety of scenery in such a small area (which is doubtless why film makers find it so attractive). Hills, 'bush', sand dunes, swamps, rivers, streams, lakes, grass paddocks, bare hilltops, cliffs and of course the beach, can all be found within a distance of five miles.

Bethells valley

You can approach Bethells either the short way - up the NorthWest motorway and navigate yourself through Swanson and over the hill from Waitakere village - or the long way, round the Scenic Drive from Titirangi. Either way, you end up heading down the valley of the Waitakere River.

Not long after the two routes converge, you reach the little cluster of houses and the fire station at the end of Te Aute Road East, and the valley on your right widens into a small area of river flats. Across the far side of the valley, but very difficult to distinguish from the road, is the paddock where many scenes have been filmed over the years, including the 'sacrifice' scene in Sacrifice, the fish fight in The Quill is Mightier, and the Argo scene in In Sickness and in Hell - filmed in winter when the ground was very muddy. You can see that in the episode. (If you happen to be staying at Greenmead Farm Cottage, which is just here, the proprietors are happy to talk about Xena episodes and point out the locations just across the stream from their land).

The paddock in Bethells valley where Callisto  and Xena meet again in Sacrifice

Further on, the river flats become a swamp of quite respectable proportions. Not used by Xena so far, but interesting and colourful at the right time of year.


The big Waitakere River swamp

Waiti dunes and Lake Wainamu

If you're intending to visit the dunes or the lake, park in the little parking area on the main road immediately after the one-lane bridge. NOTE: The vehicle track along the north side of the stream, and the one down from Te Aute Ridge, are both private. If you want to visit this area, you gotta walk it.

The trip to the lake and back is an interesting and pleasant walk in the right weather (but there's almost no shelter if it rains). You can either walk up the stream or take the short-cut over the dunes - or, better, go one way and come back the other.


The Wainamu dunes
Lake Wainamu is out of sight in the valley on right (behind the pine trees)
Wainamu Stream runs across behind the dunes to join Waiti Stream at far left,
which then runs down the left-hand side and out of picture towards the main road

After a long dry period at the end of summer, the Wainamu branch stream may have dried up leaving just the flat stream bed. After rain, it can be flowing quite vigorously, but never more than a few inches deep. Both streams, Waiti and Wainamu, have a flat sandy bed, which makes it ideal for filming action sequences - not slippery or rocky for the cast to injure themselves. Similarly, the fineness of the black sand probably helps to explain how stunties can be dragged around without losing any skin.

It's quite pleasant, in most seasons, to walk up the stream barefoot - but beware the heat of the sand on the dunes on bare feet in summer, though!

There are several curious features of this 'black' sand, for anyone used to the more normal beach sand. It's very fine and unusually heavy. The colour and the weight come from ironsand - iron oxide. The colour means that on hot days it soaks up heat from the sun, and it's an excellent conductor of heat, as your feet will tell you very quickly. It looks light enough with the sun on it, but it goes remarkably dark quite early in the afternoon, or in any cloud shadow. The surrounding bush is also very dark. Your eyes will adapt to this automatically but colour film can't, not even in auto-exposure cameras, if there are patches of sky or sunlight to fool them. It can be quite remarkably difficult to take a clear photo, as some of the illustrations on this page show only too well.

Only the middle part of the dunes is public, the eastern and western edges are in private land, though the owners don't seem to mind the public walking over them. The Wainamu stream bed along the east end of the dunes is signposted as public access to the lake, though its east bank is definitely private property.

However, if anyone is filming anywhere in this area, their permit may give them exclusive use of the area, which means they could legally keep the public out. If you should be lucky enough to come on anyone filming, please remember they have a job to do. Keep a good distance away, keep out of shot, and the security guys just might be less likely to move you on.

If you start up the signposted walking track from the car park along the south side of the stream, after a quarter mile or so you come to a place where the stream has widened itself and scoured the dune edges into a steep face. Xena and Callisto fell down this face in Callisto. From here on, the stream has been used in many episodes; most of its length was first used in Chariots of War.

What is it about sand dunes that makes everybody want to roll down them?
The entrance to the dunes. The track leads in from the left. 
You can continue up the stream, or take a short-cut 
across the dunes to the lake
Xena and Callisto rolling down the dune
This is the far dune in the left-hand picture
On the north bank at this point, is the little clearing - more a bit of track - where Callisto killed Perdycorpse amid the toitoi grass and produced one of the most dramatic and photogenic images of the series.
Some photographers would kill for a shot like that Looking back downstream
Callisto killed Perdycorpse in the clearing at right
Beyond here, the dune face eases off and the stream runs along a little grassy valley fringed by pine trees. The stream here has been used on occasion, for example Xena and Pao Ssu in Purity, and Gabrielle and Joxer in Eternal Bonds.
Xena and Pao Ssu at the ford, 
about half way along the valley
The 'hidden valley'
At the end of this valley, the Wainamu stream splits from the Waiti Stream and then turns southwards in a wide flat bed below the high Eastern face of the dunes. At the southern end of this reach, inside the loop of the stream, is the grassy flat where the Roman soldiers stood while Boadicea charged them in her chariot. This must have been after rain, with a lot of water in the stream.

Looking from the highest dune across Boadicea's flat to the lake
Wainamu Stream fringing the dunes, 
Boadicea's flat in foreground
Beyond here a bit of a scramble across the sand leads to Lake Wainamu, seen in many episodes. Xena dived into it in Mortal Beloved, and the little beach at the south end of the dune face is where Gabby waited and met Atyminius in that episode, where she and Seraphin talked in Sacrifice, and where Xena went swimming and kite fishing and battled the villains in Fins Femmes and Gems.
Seraphin convincingly wins the title of Irritating Blonde
Xena goes for a swim in Wainamu Gabby and the would-be sacrifice at the little beach

Heading back to the high point of the dunes, you can look back towards the lake over the flat area where Xena left Argo in Sin Trade. If you follow the ridge of the dunes to the north, you can look down the slope to the west and get the same perspective, with the sea behind, as when Xena was leading Callisto on Argo in the episode Callisto.

Lake Wainamu from the top of the dunes Xena and Callisto from the top of the dunes with a long lens

Below you to the north, where the sand gives way to long tussocky grasses and toitoi, and separated from the stream valley by a straggly row of pine trees, is the location of the famous love-on-horseback scene from The Debt which, we finally realised after much hunting around the mountains, was nowhere near Mt Ruapehu. The mountains in the distance beyond Borias as he rode off to meet Lao Ma were indeed Ruapehu - put there by Flat Earth's CGI machine. Cunning, cunning Renpics!

Well we're 200 miles from camp, we should be undisturbed here
Here's the 'desert' And there's the mountain, all right
But the 'desert' hides the Waiti stream valley
at the base of the bush-clad slope
(note the skyline matches)...
.... and the mountain was nothing but a computer-induced
mirage over Taumaiti Hill

If you head down the gradual slope of the dunes southwest from here, you'll pass the place where they all walked off into the sunset at the end of Eternal Bonds (and, the last Herc episode, Full Circle). A little further on, you may find the hump that Joxer sat on at the end of Return of Callisto.

Odd.  I cut off the flow of blood to his brain five minutes ago
Herc and Iolaus walk off into the sunset
at the end of the series
Joxer's hump can still be seen on the dunes

Across to the left, at the upper edge of the sand, is the pine forest from which Xena led the Amazons to attack Alti's men in Sin Trade.

The Ewokazons start their Ewokathon 'All the books on strategy say you should charge downhill, not up it!'
The Ewokazons charge out of the forest... .... and eastwards up the hill. Those girls are fit.
Try running up the slope yourself if you don't believe us!
And, closer, surrounded by grassy ridges in the sand, is the hollow where Callisto sank to one of her deaths in the quicksand in Return of Callisto.
Hey!  What's the point of returning if I just end up dead?
Xena and Callisto floundering in the quicksand And the actual spot (or close to it)



The dunes with the Tasman Sea beyond

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