New Xenaland
 
Lion Park
 

This is a 'conducted tour' of Renpics' main outdoor sets at Lion Park, based on a walk around the site some weeks after filming ended in the company of Bret Rudnick, who was familiar with the site in his guise as a reporter for 'Whoosh'. I've described where things 'are' in the present tense, because that's how I remember them; I've been reliably informed that the sets (which were never intended to be permanent) were demolished shortly afterwards, partly for safety reasons, so there's very little to see now. I haven't been back.

All these descriptions of where things were filmed are my own conclusions, based on observation at the time, photographs, and the evidence on screen; I have no 'inside sources'. All errors and mistakes are mine. However, I've been enormously encouraged (and my memory jogged) by the aerial views in an old Australian '60 Minutes' documentary recently sent to me, and by the chance discovery of an air photo of the whole site. The documentary was made in 1998 at the time Daughter of Pomira and Endgame were being filmed. The air photo, so far as I can judge from the structures visible in it, I would guess was taken very roughly around the same time. Much later, the Xena Season 6 DVD set included on its 'extras' CD, a map of the site with names for the sets - these are mostly what I've used here.

The remaining photos were taken on the site a few weeks after the end of production in March 2001, before the sets were demolished. Many thanks to Bret for permission to use many of his photos.

The predecessor - Sturges Road

The first 'outdoor' sets used by Renpics were at Sturges Road, on the fringes of the built-up area west of Henderson. It was in a valley, with a good-sized lake surrounded by patches of woodland. However, for reasons I'm unaware of, after a couple of seasons Renpics moved their main outdoor sets to Lion Park. It could just be that there was more room there. Lion Park is in gently rolling country, less steep than the ridges around the Sturges Road site. There are a couple of small ponds on the site, one surrounded by bush, the other in open country. Overall, the site is probably much larger than Sturges Road, which may be one of the reasons for the move. But it doesn't have a lake.

So far as I can tell, the move took place around the middle of Season 2, though there was a considerable overlap - Pacific Renaissance continued to use a large lake (which I think was the one at Sturges Road) for a considerable time after that, as late as A Good Day.

Dating the move, much of Intimate Strangers, the ship in Ten Little Warlords, and the ruins of Cirra in Destiny are at Lion Park (the line of gum trees on the horizon behind is unmistakeable); but the 'fishing' scene in the following A Day in the Life was in a small pond at Sturges Road (according to Rob Tapert in the commentary for that episode).

Lion Park



1 The port (ship) [Boatville]
2 Ti-tree woodland and clearing
3 Temple ruins
4 The pond in the woods
5 - 5a - 5b The track through the woods
5 Amphipolis gatehouse
5b Clearing in the woods
6 Wooden bridge
7 Stone town [Springfield]
8 [Amazon village] (site of)
9 The fort [Newcastle]
10 The inn / farm [Farmhouse]
11 The village (and Amazon village Season 2-3) [Bogville]
12 Isolated house [B&B]
13 Amazon village site (Season 4-5) [Santaville]
14 The pond
15 Clearing (later) [Cave entrance]
16 The quarry
17 Town [Centrium]
18 Halls of War (Ares temple) ?? [Mansion]
Names in [italics] are from the map that came with the Xena Season 6 DVD set 'extras' CD.


The Lion Park site is in a shallow valley, in the vee between two streams, a half mile across, encircled and overlooked by a low ridge along which the public road runs, but due to a strange quirk of the topography, and occasional stands of trees, it's almost completely invisible. You could stand by the side of the road and you would swear you could see over the whole basin and nothing bigger than a car could be hidden in it, certainly not five or six large movie sets. In fact there is only one place on the road from which you can see any buildings at all, and even then the site just looks like a collection of old sheds. This seclusion must have been very useful to Pacific Renaissance in their work.

The only view from three miles of road that encircles the site
(this is two telephoto shots stuck together)

I think 'Lion Park' got its name from a short-lived attempt to establish a safari park on the site, many years ago.

There were at least eight main sets on the site (or more, depending how one counts). They don't appear to have had any special names (Kevin Sorbo, when asked about one set in the '60 Minutes' piece, said they just referred to it as 'the village').

Some of the main sets were:
The town/Ares temple
The port
The fort
The stone town
The farm
The village
The quarry


Many of these sets are multi-purpose - that is, a row of buildings will often be double-sided, with a completely different 'look' on the two sides, or will have been adapted to a different 'look' from time to time.

A Walk Around the Site

The entire site slopes down from the entrance. The first set one comes to, in the centre of the site, is the 'port' set [1 in the air photo]. This has a ship in the centre, with water (in a trough) around it. Clever camera angles and cutting disguised the fact that the ship was completely surrounded by a wharf and the dockside buildings with no sea for miles. Innumerable shipboard and dockside scenes were shot here. For example, the ship scenes in Destiny, the wharf and ship in The Debt, the Xena/Gabs/Amarice fight against the bounty hunters on the wharf in Ides of March, right through to Married With Fishsticks and (probably) Anthony & Cleopatra. (The Season 6 shipboard scenes appear to have been mostly shot on 'Rob's Folly' out in the Hauraki Gulf, this includes Friend in Need, excepting the few seconds of 'night-time' scene when they arrived off Higuchi, which were probably shot here).

The Port set seen from the helicopter
in the '60 Minutes' documentary
First sight of the ship?
in Ten Little Warlords
Iolaus and Nebula survey the port
in War Wounds

Ignoring, for the moment, the eyecatching presence of the fort just ahead, we turn back to the south-west towards a stand of ti-tree [2], a scrubby second-growth tree which is the first stage of regenerating native bush. It's most commonly seen in its immature form, as scrubby bushes, but the ti-tree here is mature and twenty or thirty feet high, forming woodland. This grove is most unusual (in the Auckland area) both in the size and closeness of the trees, and the absence of undergrowth between the trunks. It must have been perfect for filming scenes.

Zooming forward in time by a few millennia, this was the first sight of the surface that greeted Hel in the first episode of Cleopatra 2525, and she was singularly unimpressed...

It looks like a thicket from a distance...
"It's - really ugly"
Hel contemplates nature
... but inside, it's quite open

Returning to the Xenaverse, this woodland featured in many episodes - for example, Intimate Strangers (in which fully half the episode must have been shot in this grove), Callisto's fiery reappearance in Maternal Instincts, the start of Locked Up and Tied Down, the fight with Hades and Athena at the start of Looking Death in the Eye, right through to Soul Possession where Xena made the deal with Ares.

"I like that move" - Xena and Callisto
(or is it the other way around?)
fight in Intimate Strangers
This little clearing featured, I think,
in many such scenes
Callisto makes a fiery reappearance
in Maternal Instincts

The outer edge of this grove has a litter of columns and broken statuary scattered around - a ruined temple [3]. I had this down for the final scene in God Fearing Child, but the background in that episode appears to slope too steeply to be this place. Obviously it has been used for scenes, but I can't place them.

Looking downhill from within the grove
... and back uphill

Downslope from this, through the trees, is a very small nameless stream, no more than a trickle, which has been dammed to form a small muddy pond [4], surrounded by woodland. Running along the far edge of the pond and down the valley, cut into the slope, is a track [5a - 5] which has been much used - for example the cannibal fight in Destiny, in The Quest,The Convert, God Fearing Child (Herc and Hera's conversation occupies most of the length of the track and is the best view of it), and most recently at the end of When Fates Collide and in Soul Possession. Curiously enough, the view across the pond itself seems to have been very rarely used - brief shots in The Quest and The Convert being the only ones that come to mind.

The small pond in the woods
(the track runs along the far side of it)
Gabs and Velasca walking and talking
in The Quest (just visible among the trees)
Herc and Hera walk down the track in
God Fearing Child
The actual track
Much further down, still walking and talking

(Taking photos by natural light on a fine day brings home how difficult it is to get the right exposure - either the shadows are black or the sunlit areas are bleached out. My photos above have been massively tweaked with 'Gimp' to get a result that is only just useable. It's much easier on overcast days when the light is softer and more even. RenPics cameramen had the immense advantage of fill-in lighting).

Still in evidence beside the track is the gatehouse from Amphipolis Under Siege [5] (which, coincidentally, actually is located at the approach to 'Amphipolis' town as used in the ep.)

Xena by the toll house on the road
to Amphipolis in Amphipolis Under Siege
The toll house is still there
Looking up the track the other way

The belt of woodland on the slope above the track is narrow, you can see daylight through the trees. As the track beside the stream reaches the upper end of the woodland [5a] it doubles back sharp right up the slope, coming to a small clearing [5b] that was used for a number of 'woodland' scenes. For example, Xena and Akemi's conversation about 'sounds' in Friend in Need 1 was, I believe, shot here.

The (very small) clearing
Looking back down the track
I think this scene from Friend in Need
was shot here

In the cleared paddock upstream of the pond is a timber bridge [6] which serves no obvious purpose as a farm bridge, which suggests it may be a Pacific Renaissance construction. Certainly several episodes featured a wooden bridge over a CGI gorge.

The bridge in the paddock
Another bridge across a gully to the west

Just downhill from all this is 'Springfield' [7] - a set with an Arabic or Indian look to most of its buildings (though it has an imposing Greco-Roman style gateway at the eastern end). It was used, for example, in the Season 4 'India' episodes. It was noticeable how cunningly the set was designed, with lots of side alleys and passageways that could be used to hide cameras from each other. The outside of it also featured as Amphipolis in Amphipolis Under Siege.

The main street, looking east (Note the
massive, un-'Eastern' gateway in the distance)
The western end of the main street
Seen from the north, looking uphill
('60 Minutes' helicopter footage)

Below Springfield in the vee between the nameless stream already mentioned and the larger stream down the western edge of the site, is a flat area with a couple of domes and number of poles sticking up [8] - the only remains of the Amazon village from the Season 6 episodes Path of Vengeance and Helicon. (Earlier Amazon villages were elsewhere on the site - see below). Just beside this are the timber platforms over the 'sulphur pit' from Path of Vengeance.

The remains of the Season 6 Amazon village
The 'sulphur pit'

This was also the site of the ruins of Cirra in Destiny, long before the Amazon village was built on the site.
Just beyond this is where Xena deflected all Khan's rockets in Back in The Bottle.

Xena rides towards the ruins of Cirra -
the first major 'back-story'
Beyond the Amazon village;
the ruins of Cirra have long gone
from this site
Xena faces Khan's army in
Back in the Bottle
RenPics just flipped the same scene
left-right for this one. The army on
the hillside is CGI

Heading back across the nameless stream and swinging left (on a track cut through the thick undergrowth, that Gabs rode down near the end of When Fates Collide), brings us out below the fort (known as 'Newcastle' by PacRen). This is the most visually imposing set on the site, with its massive-looking 'stone' walls. The exterior and interior have been seen in innumerable episodes.

The fort. The huge 'wall' at the left-hand
end is the back of the blue screen
The fort seen from the opposite (southeast)
corner. The 'stone' wall is very convincing


Some exterior views of the fort from The God You Know:
Northeast corner, I think. The decorative
building at top right is CGI, though
South side, western end...
... and middle

The inside was possibly seen best at the start and finish of the chariot race in The God You Know. But most recently it served as the snow-swept street in old Higuchi where Xena was attacked by the mob.

Xena flies towards Caligula in The God You Know
The 'Higuchi' additions are obvious
(notice the Japanese 'gateway' covering
the Imperial eagle above the doorway)...
Looking the other way in When Fates Collide
Racing through the gate in The God You Know
... but they can't hide the lines of the fort

It was while taking scans to illustrate the fort that I noticed a very daring stunt (and hasn't Lucy commented that the chariots were the most dangerous part of the production?) - Caligula's crash at the end of the chariot race, as he came through the gateway - notice the sloping ramp in the middle picture above, which Xena avoids, but Caligula doesn't. Those horses must be magnificently well trained.

One of his horses goes up the ramp ...
... and jumps it nicely ...
... followed by one side of his chariot

Leaving the fort and keeping left downslope to stay near the stream, we come to an isolated timber building with a couple of outhouses [10], which at various times has been Alcmene's farm in 'Hercules', Joxer's inn in Looking Death in the Eye, Livia and Motherhood, Ares' farm, Akemi's grandfather's grave site in Friend in Need, and has featured in many, many other episodes. Known as 'The Farm', most likely the name came from Alcmene's farm rather than Ares'.

Joxer's inn, Looking Death in the Eye
It looked the same 25 years later in Livia
The inn in Motherhood
Virgil must have put that centre building up fast
- and it burned down just as quickly
That line of feathery gum trees in the
background is a distinctive landmark
Akemi's grandfather's grave,
Friend in Need

The inn is a dead end (and not only for gods).... backtracking up the slope a little way, we come to the village [11] - a cluster of houses with thatched roofs, poetically named 'Bogville'. Most villages in the series (after the move to Lion Park i.e. from mid-Season 2 on) have been this one. The left-hand photo below may just give a clue to the origin of the name - the ground is indeed rather wet.

The village in the early morning light
(extremely difficult for photography)
Seen from the air - note the bluescreen
Looking down the slope to the village
from beside the fort

It also served, suitably disguised, as the Amazon village in The Quest, A Necessary Evil, and Bitter Suite. (I had some doubts about this, as the huts didn't seem to resemble the current village very closely - however, it was visibly the same village in all three episodes, and the very last shot in the village - the start of the Gabdrag - is a dead giveaway to the location - compare the tree in the background of the right-hand scan below with the scan from Path of Vengeance lower down).

It was also the centaur village in Maternal Instincts - reflecting the new era of Amazon-Centaur cooperation?

Velasca wrecks the place in
A Necessary Evil
Callisto about to wreck the place in
Maternal Instincts
Xena wrecking a relationship in
Bitter Suite

Behind the village, sheltered by a row of trees, is a single isolated building [12], known as 'B&B'. It was used, for example, as the house where Xena and Beowulf first encountered Grindl at the end of The Ring. It's quite easily confused with The Farm, as they share a similar appearance. I'd guess the name may have come from some of the old inns in England which now function as 'Bed & Breakfast' budget tourist accommodation, but it's only a guess.

'B&B' seen from the village in Path of Vengeance.

To the east of the village, behind a row of trees, I have a vague recollection of more buildings... something shows up in the air photo [13]. Regrettably, I didn't take more notice of this at the time. Looking at the Amazon village scenes in the episodes from Endgame to Kindred Spirits, there is a background of a row of pine trees in one direction and a stand of the tall feathery gum trees adjacent to it, in fact running through the village - this location [13] seems to fit. The buildings of this Amazon village were very wide, with correspondingly flat slopes of the roofs, in contrast to the high-pitched roofs of its predecessor. Of course, Endgame was set in the Greek Amazon village, Lifeblood and Kindred Spirits in the Northern Amazon village - a different locale entirely. But Renpics used the same set for these mid-period episodes. (Just to complete the list, the Northern Amazon encampment in Sin Trades and Them Bones was at Cable Road, Woodhill; and we never actually got to see the village (if any) in Coming Home). The Season 6 map says it was known, bizarrely, as 'Santaville', and it was used as the Norse village in The Ring, with pine trees strapped to the gums to disguise them.

That's actually a very large, wide
building behind Amarice in Endgame
Another imposing building
(this view from Lifeblood)
The isolated tree in the middle distance,
the row of low trees beyond, and the
line of tall gums in the background,
locate this quite well - it's at the
west edge of the Amazon village,
above [13] on the air photo

Doubtless the low-lying plain to the north, at the end of the site, was used for many outside scenes... this also, I missed. Oh for a time machine.



Stretching from the village eastwards across the site, are large open fields, bordered by lines of trees. Still, they don't look nearly as big 'in the flesh' as they do on screen. Before I visited the site I was hoping to find the scene of the battle in Endgame, and Athena's army in Amphipolis Under Siege, and looked hard for it; but even after a second visit, I was convinced I had failed to find it, until I viewed my photos afterwards and saw how much bigger the area looked on film. A wide-angle 28mm SLR camera lens, just like the movie camera lenses Renpics used, makes an open space appear much larger than it does to the eye.

Athena's army assembles in
Amphipolis Under Siege
(and most of them are CGI)
The village in the left mid-ground, with
the field and the line of trees beyond
(From the '60 Minutes' footage)
Looking across the field
from the middle of the site

The tall row of pine trees along the stream in the background effectively screens the high-tension power lines from view.



Towards the trees is a muddy pond [14], created by a low earth dam - the scene of the fight against Satrina's men in Past Imperfect.
Guarding the timber 'dam'
The remains of the dam can be seen
at the right of the pond

Heading south-east we come to a small grove of young pine trees, looking the worse for wear, it's not at all sure if they'll survive the scorching they got during the last fight in Friend in Need 2. (These trees are not visible on the air photo, being more recent imports, but the small flat area [15] which became a clearing in the trees is.) This spot has been seen extensively in the 'making of' feature on the Season 6 DVD set.
The map shows this spot as 'cave entrance', probably hidden by the pine trees at the time we visited.

The director demonstrates the finer
points of swordfighting
Notice the 'snow' still on the ground
No wonder the trees look
a little scorched

Making our way through the small trees, we come on the battle scene from Endgame, or at least part of it.

Xena rides up to Brutus after the battle
Looking north-west - I'm not sure which
episode the domes came from

Just upslope from here, we come on a large ridge of earth and sprayed concrete 'rock' - the quarry set [16]. Both the inside and the eastern face of this versatile construction featured in many episodes, for example the Ares-Xena fight in Coming Home, and most recently as the flanks of Mount Fuji where Gabrielle fought Morimoto for Xena's Warrior Pot - complete with bird's nest.

Looking across the 'quarry' to the east
Ares drowns Xena, then rescues her
in Coming Home

Just below this is a large round swimming pool, with an underground viewing window for underwater photography, and a shed nearby with three chimneys poking out of it - if the New Zealand winter weather was unfriendly, at least the pool was heated. I expect this was used for that deplorable fishy episode we prefer not to mention. The underwater viewing window in the side wall was probably used for underwater scenes in such episodes as Coming Home and The Ring. And it also served as the waterfront in burning Higuchi in Friend in Need.

The pool - the underwater viewing window
is just visible at the right

Heading back towards the centre of the site, we cross the winding dirt track whose most conspicuous use was part of Xena and Caligula's racing tour of the site in The God You Know (and man, those chariots were drifting on the corners!), and come to the entrance gates of the town [17] - 'Centrium'. Xena and Caligula raced through here too (though they started and finished at the fort). This is another long 'street' set, with a sharp bend at the end of it, last used for the fire scene in Higuchi in Friend in Need.

From the '60 Minutes' footage
Xena and Caligula race through it in
The God You Know
This set had a complete makeover for
Friend in Need (Higuchi in flames)

At the northern end, this set backs onto the courtyard [18] which, if I recall correctly, was the Halls of War (Ares' temple). Known as the 'Mansion', this name is a little puzzling. Mansions sound untypical of Herc and Xena's days.

Beyond here, between the 'port' and the 'fort', is a clutter of sheds presumably used for storing props and spare scenery and the innumerable other things a production site needs. There is also a huge blue screen, which (judging from the evidence of the aerial views in the 60 Minutes documentary) is semi-portable, having moved around the site as required.

And that about wraps up our tour. Please tip your guide on the way out...


Acknowledgements

Thanks to:
Bret Rudnick for 17 photos (all those numbered 480-xx)
Mark Allen for a copy of the '60 Minutes' documentary
Cousin Liz for drawing my attention to the DVD 'extras' which included a map and much location information.

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