Wellington would be our final stop on the north island, and we had three main things planned: Te Papa museum, Weta Workshop for more geeking out over Lord Of The Rings, and taking the cable car up to the botanical gardens.
A visit to Te Papa is an absolute must on a visit to Wellington – and as our first day was rainy, it was the perfect chance to go. Te Papa is rated the best museum in the southern hemisphere, and I was excited to see what it had to offer to earn that title.
Well here are three things. An earthquake simulator, an almost mythical-looking colossal squid, and a cave you can go into. Add to that an entire floor of Maori history and culture (complete with a huge Maori boat and a meeting house that you can go inside), and you’ve got a pretty cool museum.
Our highlight? The temporary exhibition titled “Gallipoli: The Scale Of Our War”.
This whole area was both absolutely fascinating and heartbreaking. Given how often you hear of New Zealand’s involvement with any wars (i.e. never), this exhibition gives a huge dose of justice to those who gave their lives or survived with the terrible memories. So much detail has gone into all the stories of each soldier, lieutenant, even families. Each battle, failed strategy, loss – this is something you just don’t learn about in school in the UK or the US.
The best part of the exhibition was the totally life-like statues made over months by Weta Workshop (more on them later). The detail of these is just astonishing. All the blood, sweat and tears looks completely real, and I was taken aback every time I walked into one of these rooms – partly because all the statues are so big they almost reach the ceiling. Even the ones that are lying down.
You even get to go into a soldier’s “house”.
Towards the end of the exhibition, you are invited to take a poppy and write a message on it. In the next room, a huge soldier walks through the poppies. It’s an incredible and touching tribute to all those who have fought for their country or are fighting now.
Our second day had one item on the itinerary: Weta Workshop. Weta is the company behind all the costumes, prosthetics, weapons and most other props you see in Lord Of The Rings and more recently The Hobbit. It kickstarted a dream for Richard Taylor and his wife, Tania.
For years, Richard had worked with Peter Jackson on various movies, so it was almost luck that Peter should be the one to bring forward the massive project of Lord Of The Rings. Richard and his team at Weta couldn’t have asked for a bigger break.
They have since worked on movies such as Avatar, Warcraft, District 9, Thunderbirds Are Go and their repertoire is growing by the year.
So it feels like a huge privilege that you should be able to visit the company, explore collectibles and money-won’t-buy items, and take a tour around the workshop. Unfortunately although there are a few awesome photo opportunities outside and in the gift shop, you cannot take photos inside the workshop itself – because they are working on upcoming features in front of you.
However, let me tell you: THIS TOUR IS SO WORTH IT. If you have ANY interest in movies, how they are made and of course the particular features they’ve worked on, it is amazing. I held a gun from District 9, saw Merry’s helmet, Eowyn’s sword, the Uruk-hai crossbow that caused one of the saddest deaths in movie history, Sauron’s epic helmet… you name it, they probably have it on display. Gimli’s axe? They’ve got it. Chain mail armour? Held it.
Not only that, but you learn so much about the processes that go into making these. From the plastics and fibreglass to the metalwork and moulding, my appreciation for film making has risen quite dramatically. You learn that for The Hobbit, they spent twelve weeks making some armour to Peter Jackson’s demands, for him to turn around and say he wants it in gold, not silver. When they brought back the gold version, he said actually he preferred the silver. Weta design and create all of their costumes and prosthetics, so the whole process is long and sometimes – like then – very frustrating.
Of course, one of their biggest achievements was creating Gollum with groundbreaking technology and certainly pushed them hard into the digital side of the industry.
Happily, the next day was much clearer and we made a beeline straight for the cable car to take advantage while we could. The tram station itself is up a little alley way off a busy street, and it turns out it’s not just a “tourist train”. There are a couple of stops on the way up which locals use to save the hike up and down the steep hills.
And it is steep. But the views at the top are just as you’d expect from the top of a steep hill.
The botanical gardens are well worth a short stroll or even a long walk, though in winter it wasn’t quite as colourful as you imagine it to be.
Afterwards, we headed to Cuba Street, which we had briefly walked down the day before in the rain, and found that it has quite a lot more charm in the dry weather.
And then we discovered that New Zealand isn’t actually that expensive by going out for our first meal and drink. We made the most of happy hour deals, and managed to get four drinks and two meals for just $27!
Wellington was also another great couchsurfing experience for us – we stayed with a lovely lady just out of the city centre, and most nights she would cook us meals and we would help. She even gave us a lift to the ferry terminal on the morning we were leaving for the south island. We couldn’t have asked for a better host – along with our host in Auckland, New Zealand has given us a wonderful experience of couchsurfing!
We loved Wellington and would have happily stayed longer, but it was time to get to the south island – and I must admit I was more excited about the snow-capped mountains and jumping out of planes than I was sad to leave Wellington behind.