New Zealand 2019

Day 4 – Weta Cave & Te Papa Museum

Treat yo’ self!

A nice late start this morning, before leisurely heading off to the Wellington Airport to check out the Weta exhibits they have there (Gandalf, Eagles and Smaug). Couldn’t get any great shots of the Eagles due to poor lighting, but you’ll get the idea.

After that, we made our way to Weta Cave, the place where they get you to buy all the merch. I had held off buying anything up to this point, so I figured…

I ended up getting some Mini Epics (Frodo, Gandalf, Saruman and the Witch-King), as well as two signed art prints.

After our shopping spree, we drove to The Roxy Cinema for a group lunch and a chance to look around their iconic theatre.

Our scheduled day ended there, and we had a free afternoon to explore Wellington, though the Te Papa Museum was recommended to us, and most of us decided to go.

It was huge, and had lots of different exhibits. My favourite by far was the Gallipoli: The Scale of our War exhibit. Weta Workshop had produced several giant sculptures depicting extremely life-like people.

I couldn’t believe how detailed they all were, and how perfect. The skin, hair, sweat, dirt, clothes, expressions, eyes – everything was flawless, and incredible to see at that size and from such a close distance. Photos can’t really show all that, but it at least gives you some idea.

There were a bunch of other exhibits, but I didn’t take too many photos. Here are few random ones though.

After finishing from the museum, I walked around and explored the city a bit, finding a highly-recommended authentic pizza place nearby. Incredibly fresh, tasty wood-fire pizzas. I then walked back to the hotel to rest my aching feet and process the day’s photos.

Another early start tomorrow, back to Weta, but this time for a behind-the-scenes tour!

Day 5 – Weta Workshop & Daniel Reeve

A day may come when I am bored of this tour, when I am sick of the people and just want to go home. But it is not this day.

Today was our behind-the-scenes tour of Weta Workshop. We walked in and were warned that there is strictly no photography allowed once inside (which would’ve been nice to know before I brought mine in and had to carry it aimlessly for the rest of the tour). We met some of the artists, and began our tour with our guide Matt.

We entered the first room and found ourselves surrounded by suits of armour, swords, bows, guns, models, monsters and other props from films Weta had worked on.

Matt talked to us about the work they do, first discussing the props/weapons they’ve made and the process they use for modelling, casting and production of the props, as well as the different materials they use.

He also discussed the animation work they do at Weta Digital, as well as showing us a video presentation (hosted by Sir Richard Taylor) which covered the films Weta had worked on, its early origins and some of the techniques and processes they use.

No groundbreaking information for me, as I had learned a lot of these things through BTS videos and my own filmmaking pursuits, but still interesting to listen to and hear the stories they told, plus seeing all of the work up-close was a real treat.

After that, we went into another room where they had setup tables and chairs for us, with little workstations, for a hands-on workshop with blood/wound effects. They took us step-by-step through the process for using silicon to make a wound on our skin and then painting it with the fake blood we mixed. Photos were allowed here, but my hands were full of paint, so here are a few taken by our group members.

It was a fun experience, although mine didn’t turn out so well, but it was interesting to try and a fun group activity.

After that, we finished up the tour and bought some more merch on our way out (I picked up a map of the Shire, since we had our special guest later in the day). Then back to the hotel for a group lunch, followed by a presentation by Daniel Reeve, the calligrapher and cartographer for the six films.

He spoke to us about the work he did and showed us many examples of detailed maps, signs, books, letters and just about anything else with writing on it that appears on film. All the scripts for hobbits, elves, dwarves, men, orcs etc. were all hand-drawn by him alone, usually multiple times in different scales. It was really incredible to see.

When the presentation was over, we had some Q&A time while he set up to sign everyone’s merch and had some prints and quotes for sale which he would also sign and add custom writing in any script requested. He did just that for the next two or three hours, while answering questions and taking photos.

It’s refreshing to see someone so dedicated to their work, and still so passionate about it even after twenty plus years. Not to mention his talent; the ability to just write perfect elvish or hobbit script (with differences between “Bilbo” and “Frodo” writing style). It was just a lot of fun and a wonderful experience.

Not really any photos today as there wasn’t much to photograph, but tomorrow we take the (Buckleberry) ferry over to the South Island, and sadly say goodbye to some of our tour group who were only here for the North Island part of the tour.

We had a great night out at Flamingo Joe’s with a bunch of them so we could spend some extra time chatting and hanging out with them before we depart tomorrow. We had some dinner, drinks and nerded out about LotR – my kind of socialising!

Tomorrow we have a super early start, so it’ll be tough getting ready and packed to leave by 7am, at least we’ll be cruising for 3.5hrs to the South Island, so plenty of time to rest and relax then.

To those leaving us tomorrow, thank you for the the past week, you’re all wonderful interesting people. Hopefully we cross paths again someday.

I bid you all a very fond farewell. Goodbye.

Day 6 – Boating to Nelson

What do they eat, when they can’t get Hobbit?!

Early start, and some final farewells before taking the coach to the dock. We said goodbye to our awesome coach driver Ray, and (eventually) boarded the ferry which would take us to Picton in the South Island.

The ferry ride was 3.5hrs, but with the waiting around before and after, it was the first half of the day. It was a fairly uneventful cruise, as a lot of us were pretty tired and slept for a lot of it. Some cheap food and a long while later and we arrived.

Most of our group had booked to do the optional Kayaking activity down the river where the Dwarves floated in their barrels, so we drove straight over to that. We paired up and after a brief verbal training session, we jumped straight in and set off. Some people struggled quite a bit, we even had one pair hit a rock and capsize which was scary, especially since one of them had a leg injury which meant she wasn’t a strong swimmer. Luckily they were okay, and we continued on.

It was pretty fun, especially when you hit the rapids and get propelled forward and bounce around a bit. Unfortunately we only went a short distance, before dismounting and listening to a bit of the presentation about what was shot where. Then back into the kayaks for another short journey and before we knew it, it was over. I would’ve liked to have had at least an hour on the water, but it probably only totalled 15 minutes. Also the mosquitoes were everywhere. Somehow I made it out okay though.

As we were prone to getting wet (being around water and all), I left my camera on the coach, so no photos sadly. Only the few that others took.

After the kayaking, we drove to our hotel in Nelson and all settled in. I tried to get in to do my laundry (desperately need to), but the machines were in use so I’ll have to try tomorrow. Also I was super hungry as I hadn’t eaten much at lunch, which was at about 11am for me, so I walked down to a nearby Turkish restaurant which was highly reviewed, and feasted on a delicious mixed grill. It was still early in the evening, so I had a walk around town.

Nelson is very nice, quite a small town. It was very quiet and peaceful, even in the main street. There is a nice river that runs through it, a park nearby, some quaint little streets and houses, and all surrounded by big green mountains and forest. I took a few random shots with my phone.

Upon returning from my walk, I ran into some of the group in the hotel lobby and ended up joining them for drinks. They then headed out to get some dinner at an awesome pizza place, Stefano’s, and I tagged along, even though I was extremely full. It was only a short walk away, and it was situated on top of a classic-looking cinema. They had great old music, movie posters lining the walls, and super cheap, large, delicious traditional pizzas. Super friendly staff too, they even gave us complimentary muffins for dessert which was lovely.

Tomorrow is a nice sleep-in, and we get to fly in some helicopters in the afternoon! Excited! Should be more photos then. I sleep now.

Day 7 – Rings & Helicopters

It’s just a whiff of cloud.

First stop today was at Jens Hansen in Nelson, the jewellers who made the One Rings for the films. Jens had sadly passed away just before the films were released, so his son Halfdan Hansen took over the business. He gave a presentation describing the work they did for the films, the different types/sizes of rings they made, and showed us some of their hero rings from the films. We then had some time to take photos and buy some rings (I managed to hold off).

We then dropped off the few people who weren’t doing the helicopter tour at the World of Wearable Arts exhibition (where our coach clipped a huge light-post and knocked it over), before continuing on to our departure point.

We drove through farmland and up hills to get to where the helicopters were up top. We had three choppers to fit all 17 of us, and after signing away our lives and going through the safety briefing, we climbed aboard and took off!

We had a short flight to our first mountain destination, Mt. Owen, which was used as the exit from Moria (though there was more snow since we’re still in October). The flight there was really cool, and we got to see the extensive farmland, mountains, valleys, forests, and lakes in the surrounding area.

We landed nearby and had a bit of time to look around and take photos. There were incredible 360 degree views, and it was very peaceful up there, though a little cold (not too windy though which helped).

We then saddled back into the choppers and flew to our next location, Mt. Olympus, which was used for the Spies of Saruman scene. The journey there was equally as stunning.

The whole surrounding area looked a lot like the above photos; lots of green forest and little lakes running between. But then we rounded a corner and suddenly saw the unique and distinct rocks of our destination. Strange, interesting formations, scattered along the mountainside.

We landed in small spaces between the rocks and fortunately had a decent amount of time to walk around and take photos. The pilots explained the places where things were shot, though I’m sure everyone already knew.

I would’ve loved to have stayed much longer and just walk up and down the mountain-side, finding new rocks and different angles. It wasn’t even that cold up there.

Eventually we had to wrap things up and get going.

We set off to Nelson airport, where we were going to get picked up from (much closer to our hotel than where we departed). We ended up having to do a few laps just outside of controlled airspace while we waited for a plane to land, so we got some extra flight time which was nice.

Finally we landed, gave our thanks, and headed back to the hotel. I did some much needed laundry and smashed out these photos before dinner, so I could go eat and not worry.

Tomorrow is a travel day mostly, so might not be too many photos. We are making our way to Christchurch, though I think we are stopping to see some kind of seals, so we’ll wait and see.

PS: We went out for Thai this evening. I had the Stir Fry.

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