Weta Workshop

Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company in Miramar, Wellington.

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Weta Cave is a mini-museum / shop attached to Weta Workshop premises. The best is that it is is free to visit.

The shops sells a wide range range of collectables and merchandise from small items, such as magnets and stationary, to large scale replica’s of props from films Weta has worked on.

The mini-museum includes props from films including The Chronicles of NarniaDistrict 9The Hobbit trilogy, King KongLord of the Rings trilogy, and Meet the Feebles.

A short behind-the-scenes documentary on Weta Workshop screens in the theatre every 30 minutes.

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Weta Cave is the departure point for two ticketed tours – Weta Cave Workshop Tour and Miniatures Stage Tour: Thunderbirds a Go. During the peak tourist season it is probably best to purchase your tickets online. I have read of tours being sold out when people have visited.

I did a combo tour but they also offer an evening tour with a three-course dinner and a Saturday hands-on experience with a Weta Workshop crew member. Check out the Weta Workshops’s Tours page for more information.

The Weta Workshop Tour is a 45 minute guided tour of Weta Workshop.

The tour moves through various rooms learning about the different prop and costume making processes. It is very interactive, there is opportunities to handle various materials and there is one area set up with various stations where you can touch the various products Weta uses.

Photographs are not allowed to be taken except for the last part of the tour where a Weta Workshop technician is working on a stage area.

When I visited a technician was working on miniatures for a private commission. Weta was designing a miniature village with approximately 50 models for a client’s pet guinea pigs to live in.

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The Miniatures Stage Tour: Thunderbirds a Go is a 45 minute guided tour of the miniatures shooting stages for the television series Thunderbirds a Go.

A van will transport guests from Weta Cave to Pukeko Pictures studios, which is located around the corner on Park Road.

The tour covers the history of the original 1960s Thunderbirds television series, the concept art for the new series, and a look at some of the household objects used to make the miniatures (or bigatures as they are called at Weta).

The highlight is the scale models of Tracy Island, Creighton Ward Manor, and the Thunderbird Hangers used for filming.

As the same with the Weta Workshop Tour photographs are only allowed to be taken at the end. There is a Thunderbirds a Go set that has been especially built for the tour.

While at Pukeko Pictures look across the road to Park Road Post, the post production facility owned by Peter Jackson’s production company Wingnut Films.

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As I mentioned Weta Cave, which includes the mini-museum, gift shop and short documentary is free to visit. There is plenty to see even if you don’t go on a tour.

Weta Cave is located on the corner of Weka Street and Camperdown Road, Miramar, Wellington. It is open 7 days (except Christmas Day) from 9am to 5:30pm.

Embassy Theatre

The Embassy Theatre is located at the eastern end of Courtenay Place on Kent Terrace.

The Embassey

The Embassey

The theatre, which was originally called De Luxe was built in 1924. In 1945 its name was changed to The Embassy. It has been renovated several times over the years. The most recent was for the world premiere of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

The building has an impressive interior that includes a marble staircase with tiled walls and floors. Even the bathrooms look impressive.

Marble staircase

Marble staircase

There is also a snack bar and Blondini’s Cafe and Bar on the upper level overlooks Courtney Place.

While the grey clouds outside turned to rain I watched James Napier Robertson’s second feature film The Dark Horse, starring Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston.

Wall poster advertising 'The Dark Horse'

Wall poster advertising ‘The Dark Horse’

Embassy Theatre

10 Kent Terrace

 

 

Hobbiton

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Outside Bag End, Bilbo’s home

Since a young age I have always had an interest in film. When I travel I always try and make a point of visiting film museums, studios, and take film related tours. Right here in New Zealand we have the largest “green” movie set in the world – Hobbiton. It is the location for the Shire, as seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit films, and it is only a few hours drive from Auckland.

As the story goes in September 1998, locations scouts discovered the Alexander family’s sheep and cattle farm during an aerial search. It was the perfect location as it had green rolling hills and a big tree by a lake, which was crucial for Bilbo’s ‘eleventy-first’ birthday party scene. Top secret construction began in March of the following year and filming started in December, lasting three months. The agreement was that the set would be removed and the farmland would be restored to its natural state once filming was complete. But due to storm weather the clean up was delayed. The intention was to return once the land had dried out and finish the clean up. During this time the Alexander family realised they had a potential tourist attraction on their hands.

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Looking across the lake towards The Green Dragon Inn, the double arch bridge and the watermill

It was this tourist attraction that I visited over 10 yeas ago. The lake, the party tree, and the remains of a couple of hobbit holes was all that was there to see. Nothing flash at all really. In 2009, the Shire set was rebuilt for The Hobbit films with permanent materials. There are now 44 hobbit holes, gardens, a double arch bridge, a watermill, and The Green Dragon Inn.

I choose to take a day tour to get to Hobbiton. There are several different companies offering tours from Auckland. I chose Bush and Beach’s Hobbiton Express Tour.

They offer pick up from inner city accommodation. Living in the city, I opted for the 6.55 am pick up outside 172 Quay Street, opposite the Ferry Terminal building. This morning after picking up one more passenger from the Crowne Plaza, our group of 17 made our way south.

It was pouring with rain as we left but our driver and guide Dion reassuringly joked that “Hobbiton looks more English in the rain”. Dion provided excellent commentary on the Auckland and Waikato region. His factual information and trivia was peppered with just the right amount of jokes.

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We stopped for a short refreshment break just before eighty thirty at the Firepot Café in Gordontown Village before making our way through Cambridge and onto Hobbiton.  By this time the sky was clearing and by the time we arrived at Hobbition the blue sky and sun was out – I was glad I put on that SPF 50+ this morning.

At Hobbiton we meet up with another Bush and Beach tour van with a party of 11 and met our Hobbiton tour guide Kendall. There was the potential for everything to turn to shambles first thing because three cruise groups, which were meant to visit yesterday, had to reschedule for today due to the recent nasty norovirus outbreak. Kendall and the other guides coordinated it so we were not shepherded around like sardines.

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Outside the home of Samwise Gamgee

We started at the Party Tree and Party Field and then made our way around the 44 hobbit holes and gardens, including popular stops at Bilbo’s house “Bag End” and the home of Samwise Gamgee.

Kendall was an excellent guide offering various interesting tidbits of LOTR trivia and always offering to take photos.

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Guides pour guests a choice of Amber Ale, Traditional English Ale, Apple Cider or Ginger beer

After making our way across the double arch bridge and past the Watermill the tour concluded at the Green Dragon Inn, where we were offered a complimentary ale, cider or non alcoholic ginger beer.

As a private tour group we had lunch in a themed marquee behind the Green Dragon Inn. Bush and Beach advertise lunch as being at Shire’s Rest café, which is not on Hobbiton set itself, so we were very lucky to have this opportunity. After lunch I had the opportunity to walk around and take a closer look at the interior and exterior of the Green Dragon Inn and the Watermill and Bridge.

Bush and Beach offer a $10 voucher to use in the gift shop. The Shire Store sells Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit merchandise including Tolkien books, DVDs, posters, clothing, Weta Collectives and bottles of that ale, cider and ginger beer enjoyed at the Green Dragon Inn. We did not have to spend more than the $10 voucher as there were postcards for $2, fridge magnets between $5 and $10 and shot glasses for $8 each.

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At least one of the hobbit holes is open so you can peek inside

We left Hobbiton a little before 1pm and on the way back we passed through Matamata, a small rural town that promotes itself as being the gateway to Hobbiton. We made a quick unschedule stop at the Matamata i-SITE, which is modeled after the Green Dragon Inn. Those who wished could pop inside for a quick photo with Gollum (a statue).

A little after 2:30 pm we made a stop for ice cream at Pokeno Village, which is about 35 minutes out of Auckland City. You can get a large one scoop ice cream for $1.50 or if you’re feeling really adventurous a jumbo ice cream for $12.

We got into Auckland City a little bit after 3:30pm, which is a little bit later than the advertised time of 3 pm. Word of mouth would suggest this is quite a common occurrence but hey if that is the only criticism one can make about Bush and Beach they are not doing too bad.

Essential facts:

Bush and Beach Hobbition Express Tour
7:00 am – 3:00 pm
$275 per adult, $140 per child

Hobbiton Movie Set Tours
501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata