Long after the hype and media frenzy over the Lord of the Rings trilogy had died down, there are still thousands of people heading off to New Zealand every year looking for a little piece of Middle Earth. I should know – I’m one of them!
I recently went on a business trip to Wellington, and as any self-respecting die-hard LOTR fan would do, I immediately decided to see as many LOTR-related attractions as possible in the time available. It was a hilarious adventure as it turned out – in between my serious, stern-faced business meetings, I was dashing off to giggle at prosthetic hobbit feet and imitation One Rings!
I only had a short time to get my LOTR kicks in, so I planned to go around checking out all the filming sites about the city, using the public transport network as far as possible. This would be a good point to mention an observation I made while doing so: Wellington is rather like San Francisco – all green hills and winding streets, sprung up against a windy bay. If you’re not keen on walking up and down steep hills, either hire a car or take a tour to get around all the different filming sites set around Wellington – else come prepared with a strong set of lungs and iron legs!
Fellowship of the Ring in Mount Victoria
The very first stop I made was along the trail which winds up Mount Victoria, Wellington’s favourite hilly nature retreat. This was where the very first scene was shot in Fellowship of the Ring, so it was an appropriate choice for the first visit! Here, on this particular stretch of pathway, the four hobbits just barely escaped from the menacing Ring Wraith by hiding under a log. The log itself was gone by the time I got there, but the pathway itself was immediately recognisable.
A little later, after some tricky navigation on the public bus system, I managed to get to the section of Wellington informally known as Wellywood, where many of the actors and crew of the movies lived and played during the entire three years of production. I could see why they chose this particular spot – it was all gingerbread wooden houses and pretty views over the bay, with some excellent cafes quietly doing an excellent trade in fish and chips. I stopped by the famous Chocolate Fish shop for some of that aforementioned dish, and even managed to find Camperdown Studios and Weta Digital a little later, though I did end up walking past one or two times before finally spotting them. The studios weren’t grand structures like I’d always expected, but were quiet, yellow-roofed office buildings smack in the middle of the Wellie suburbs. The typical Kiwi unpretentiousness of it all was rather sweet, though I decided not to test it by trying to sneak in past the security guard!
A few days later, with some free time to kill, I drove over to the well-known Te Papa Museum (yes, at this point I had given up on the ‘self-reliant, me own legs is good enough’ bit and had splashed out on a zippy car). The Museum is filled with historical goodies but I passed by all that learning to go straight for the LOTR exhibition, which is now permanently based there after its round- the- world tour. There were illustrations, props and costumes galore here, from the various swords to Sauron’s impressively demonic armour, but I have to admit, the exhibit I liked best was of the ancient elven armour, all gold-plated metal and embroidered silk – it looked both dangerous and wonderfully glamorous!
I also found time to see the historic Embassy movie theatre, where all Lord of the Rings movies were screened and where two premieres took place. I have to say the theatre itself was impressive – all lush red carpeting and marble floors, chandeliers and curving stairs – which all remind you that the theatre was first opened in the Roaring Twenties. Still, the real reason why I bought a movie ticket here was to see the plaques set into the floors by the seats in the cinema. The plaques were the management’s way of saying thank you to all the people who donated money over the years to maintain and restore the theatre to its original glory, and among the many donors were the entire cast of LOTR. I spotted Sean Astin and Billy Boyd among others, but apparently the one for Orlando Bloom had been stolen so many times, it just wasn’t replaced any more! I think I also annoyed more than a few people in the cinema as I kept taking photographs of the plaque while the movie was starting.
There were a number of other LOTR-related attractions in and around Wellington, but those were the only ones I managed to see in the short time I had. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even stay a few days longer for a proper sight-seeing tour, but had to rush home for yet more meetings. The next time I go to New Zealand however, I am definitely going to take some time off to go visit the Fords of Anduin, Hemls Deep, the Gardens if Isengard and of course, the Shire!