Today was a true tourism day. There is so much to see in Wellington. We could have spent even more time there exploring architecture, museums, restaurants, etc.
Right around the corner from the hotel is the Embassy Theatre. This where all of the LOTR and Hobbit movies world premiered. It was too early to go inside but I’m told it is nice.
MT VICTORIA PARK
Next was something I’d really been looking forward to: Mt Victoria Park. This is a beautiful heavily wooded park at the top of the hill overlooking most of the city. It is a great place go for a trail run and we saw lots of people out for a jog or walking a dog. It was in this park that several iconic LOTR scenes were filmed. I don’t know why exactly, but I was really charged up to stand on the “Get off the road!” site. Sure enough, it felt very familiar on approach. Finding the exact spot was a little trickier as not only more than 10 years have passed but there had apparently been a storm or some clean up/clearing that had happened. A large stand of trees were down changing how the area looked pretty drastically, but I knew we had found it shortly after I heard someone talking to Melanie in playful manner while I was struggling to frame up the low camera angle shot. Seeing my Brodie book on the ground, he came over to me and said “One of those LOTR guys. This book says you are looking for Orthanc? You are in the wrong place.” I said a few polite words joking around with the guy but then went back to working on the shot never taking my eyes off the camera. I told him he could go on through but he said, “No, I’ll probably be here about 30 minutes I’m guiding a tour.” That got my attention. I looked up and behind me to see a group of about 20-30 smiling people. The soft path had completely masked their approach! I quickly took some pictures, jumped in a frame myself for a few, and then we got out of the way. I wish I’d had more time at the spot but sharing is caring. Next we moved down the trail to the spot where the Hobbits hid under the tree roots from the Ringwraith. That site would be more impressive if the tree they used had been real, but it was a faker built for the movie. After finding a few more LOTR sites in the park, we jumped in the car and headed down the backside of the hill to the Weta Cave.
Weta is the practical effects arm of Peter Jackson. There is another company called Weta Digital that does their CGI work. So Weta is the company that makes props and some costumes for many of the recent movies you’ve seen. Weta is located in a large warehouse plopped right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Kind of a funny placement but I guess when space is tight in a big city on a little island, you take what you can get. The front corner of the building has been converted into a tourist space called the Weta Cave. Here there is a gift shop full of mass produced movie memorabilia as well as limited production artwork by the Weta craftsmen. You’ll see movie-used props and costumes behind glass and there is a little movie theatre that shows the history of Weta and Weta Digital. You can pay for a 45 minute tour that takes you through the rest of the closed off corner of the their facilities (you get a tiny peek into the actual workshop but won’t really see much super secret stuff). On your tour, you’ll step through the design and construction of a prop from start to finish. You get to touch and hold samples. There are plenty of movie-used props that you can get right up next to (no photography). Your guide is someone who works in the facility and they invite you to ask lots of questions (which you probably know that I did). We both enjoyed the tour. I was surprised at how little is hand made on the newest stuff. There is a lot more use of 3D printing and CNC routers to shape parts.
THE CHOCOLATE FISH
We were hungry so we dropped in at The Chocolate Fish for lunch. Located on the water, this laid back place offers waterfront dining from bean bags, lawn chairs, picnic tables, and various other casual settings. The food was delicious and it is easy to see why Peter Jackson is known to bring prospective clients here to eat.
We saved room for desert and shot back into town for some chocolates at Schoc Chocolates. Just as you would expect from any high end chocolatier, the quality was outstanding. The candies were beautiful and creative and the tastes were interesting and complex. Highly recommended. I liked the bitter dark chocolate with creamy caramel center the best. Melanie liked the boysenberry bourbon the best.
Poet’s Park was the surprise of Wellington for me. It isn’t much to look at from the road but once you get down to the river, it is supremely peaceful. There are song birds all around. The water trickles by. Wonderful. It was one of the few times during the trip where I could actually feel my body relaxing the longer I sat there. Check your Brodie book for directions to the exact location where the fellowship launches on the Anduin River. With the wide flat river-rocked shores and the calm waters, it is very easy to imagine this happening. It looks just like the movie. In retrospect, one of the coolest things about this spot is that it neatly ties in with the location I wanted to visit the absolute most this trip, which is also the end of the fellowship’s time on the Anduin River. More about that in an upcoming post…
KAITOKE REGIONAL PARK
We had already cut out a few other things for the day knowing we wouldn’t have time and then we cut more when I played around for a while at Poet’s Park (and Melanie read and napped) and then still a few more when we realized how tired we were from the day before. Even so, we made time for Kaitoke Regional Park. I knew from multiple sources that the site of Rivendell was nothing spectacular because almost everything was done on soundstage, digitally, and with miniature. Even so, it is Rivendell. Come on! How can you not go to the place most connected with that in the real world? We were delighted to find that this is such a popular place that someone has really developed the area to highlight Rivendell. There are trails and placards highlighting any little detail from the movies. “This tree can be seen in this scene, etc.” It was really neat and completely worth a visit. Just know that you are going to be in a pretty small area. It is mostly just a clump of trees and bushes without much of a stream running beside it. Still, it is very cool and worth a visit. Unlike many of the other filming locations, this one was mobbed with people. There was even a busload of kids from a local school on a field trip. I have to admit that Melanie just thought this place was ok, so if you aren’t a huge fan, this place might not be as impressive to you.
After that it was time to turn in the rental car and take the bus back to the hotel. That was neat to be in and amongst locals going about their lives. Everyone here is so polite, helpful, and friendly!
We found out that our hotel has a free laundry room and decided to do a load or two of clothes but apparently everyone else had the same idea. We were able to sneak in a load, but then somehow someone jumped in and got their clothes in the dryer a head of us. Did they wash them in their bathtub? So we had no choice but to lay our clothes out on towels and draped around the bathroom overnight and get up extra early to finish drying them in the dryer the next morning. We only just beat a Scandinavian dude to the dryer by 16 minutes and were very thankful for that since we had a ferry to catch.
PROTIP: If you choose to stay in the Amora Hotel, and I recommend that you do, be sure to avoid the 1st floor near the laundry area. Lots of people are using it, it is hot and humid as you might imagine, and I have to believe, noisy.