New Zealand is home to the famous Lord of the Rings franchise. The movies are filmed all over New Zealand so it’s no surprise that these cities would have some sort of Lord of the Rings Tour available to the tourists. Lord of the Rings is no doubt the biggest tourism marketing for New Zealand today, and will be for a long long time, if not forever.
Wellington is not only the capital of New Zealand, but it is also the movie-making capital with the world famous Weta Workshop based there. I really wanted to see the movie magic of Weta, however, because we wanted to spend more time exploring the wonderful city of Wellington, I decided to gift the Klook tour to Yayi (who lives in Wellington and never did this tour).
I join 6 other eager tourists on the bus on a very windy and gloomy day. Rob, our driver and tour guide in his 60s starts his spiels on our way to Miramar, the suburb that’s the 5th largest movie location in the world. We learn he has lived across NZ, has recently retired and does these tours for fun. He shows off Frodo’s sword, tests our LOTR knowledge and was impressed by a lady on the bus who knew precisely what the sword was named. He also shared how he was unexpectedly surprised that he learned the day before that he won an award for best costume at the Cuba Dupa festival in the Wellington CBD along with his friend, in a personally handcrafted steam-punk outfit.
The gutsy wind continued to blow through our journey and before we arrived at Miramar. Rob points out that Wellington is the coolest little capital city in the world according to Lonely Planet, as well as actually being the windiest city in the world, ahead of Chicago. He warned that he’s watching the wind because if it stayed as strong as it was and for our safety, we might not be able to stop at Mt. Victoria to visit some other LOTR sites.
We learn about the studios spread across town as we made our way towards Miramar. In typical Kiwi fashion, the studios or houses of famous professionals in the industry were low-key and indistinguishable from other houses or offices. Our first official stop was at Park road where the largest green screen the size of 4 shipping containers lives (used for scenes like the lake of the dead in the LOTR). Miramar in Wellington is basically a suburb where movies can be created from start to finish within a 1km radius and Park road is essentially Wellywood or New Zealand’s version of Hollywood.
In the meantime, as far as Lord of the Rings is concerned, the Wellington region in general is actually the site for over 50% of the LOTR scenes over 7 years, and only 20% was in the South island.
Our next stop was at Weta studios. It featured larger than life sized trolls, orcs or bits and pieces of the geisha in Ghost in the Shell movie as well as a gift shop for movie-related goodies. We watch an inspiring documentary of the beginnings of the studios, the synchronistic events that transpired, its organic growth and its impact to the film industry. It was a good introduction before we moved on to the Weta workshop (http://wetaworkshop.com/) to see first hand how costumes and other movie props are made. We were restricted from taking photos but it’s definitely worth the visit if you want to satisfy your curiosity and be inspired with impressive creations made by passionate people who love what they do. We found swords, shields, various creatures, space stations, even privately commissioned cement sculpture work of guinea pigs in costume and in house/s to give the customer’s 100+ pet guinea pigs some entertainment. Yes, it sounds like the customer has too much money on his hands.
You can also just visit Weta Studio if you’re more interested with just effects and movie magic.
As a pragmatic, fantasy and sci-fi geek, I was most impressed by the creation of the tank/truck in Halo that’s able to drive sideways. It doesn’t do the sideways driving at perfect angles but does it as close as they could possibly get it to, anyway. Our guide talked about how it was used by one of its creators as a getaway wedding car! Apparently, the wedding party had to be accompanied by the police just so it doesn’t scare the public into thinking it was a real tank. Sounds like real fun to me. Too bad Microsoft didn’t make another movie for it.
We end the tour by heading to Mt. Victoria, a mountain 196 metres (643 ft) high, located east of central Welly, the site of a few shooting spots for the LOTR. How practical, convenient yet effective was it to the film production crew to drive to shoot impressive scenes like those for LOTR in just a 15-20 min. drive out from Miramar, without much traffic if at all? VERY.
Wellington isn’t recognized as the more ‘artsy’ capital in that sense too for nothing. It was still cloudy, but at least the wind has eased up by this time. New Zealand’s beauty continued to impress as we tried to keep warm and were kept alert from the wind. Look to see the photos and the captions for more info about the particular scenes shot just 15-20 mins from Miramar.
If you opt for this half day tour, you get a little taste of everything. This includes a quick tour of the city to see some famous film locations, and the theater where The Hobbit and The Return of the King were premiered, a short walking tour of the forests of Mount Victoria and “Greenbelt” (better known as the Outer Shire), and finally a tour of the Weta Studios, Museum and souvenir shop.
The LOTR filming locations we went to are public places, as suspected. The GPS coordinates in the photos now make it easier to tell where the scenes were shot exactly, so with a little more research and preparation before the tour, anyone can get the LOTR trivia tidbits that would make a DIY non-tour guide guided trip potentially worth it. In any case, you get what you pay for, especially if you’re a tourist with no car, this will be a very good option.