From Sydney, JR & I took an evening flight (3.5 hours flying time) to Wellington. With the time difference in Wellington 2 hours ahead, we arrived to the YHA Wellington City hostel a little after midnight. Everything was fairly quiet when we arrived and as we were too exhausted to seek out any nightlife, we fell asleep quickly.
The next morning, we were refreshed and ready to explore Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. This compact, vibrant city is located at the southern tip of the North Island, surrounded by hills and coastline. Wellington is known as New Zealand’s arts and culture capital; museums, theatres, galleries, music and dance venues are plentiful here. Wellington is also known as the “Windy City,” although the meaning here is literal compared to the political implications of Chicago’s nickname. The weather was fairly cool and rainy when we were here, and it is generally that way most of the time.
JR dictated our first stop of the day – an All Blacks merchandise store. The national fervor for the All Blacks rugby union team is hard to miss, as you can see the team’s logo proudly displayed all over the city, not to mention the sheer quantity of All Blacks stores could rival the number of Starbucks in Manhattan. JR was set on getting an official All Blacks jacket; I even bought a hoodie for myself though I have never watched a game… I admit it was a poser move. I would love to see a live game someday, although primarily because I want to see the haka (Maori warrior) dance they perform before the game.
We then went to catch the iconic Wellington cable car, which provides service between Lambton Quay, the main shopping street of city center, and Kelburn, a suburb in the hills overlooking central city. The cable car runs every 10 minutes, and is a quick 5 minute ride past Kelburn Park and Victoria University to the upper terminal. Roundtrip NZD$5. There are nice panoramic views from the top, and visitors can also check out the Cable Car Museum and Botanic Gardens up here.
We ventured into the extensive grounds of the Botanic Gardens, whose area comprises of 25 hectares (62 acres) of native forests, unique plants, and floral displays. There were signs asking people to any report plant thefts as apparently several plants had been stolen for the gardens. Who does that?
In the afternoon, we went on a Lord of the Rings movie tour! Haha oh yes we did. The tour takes you all around Wellington to locations where scenes were filmed, including a trip to the WETA Cave. The tour shows movie clips on location (basically they have a laptop and show the scene that was filmed at the site) and have props so tourists can pose as the actors for photo ops. It’s pretty silly, nerdy fun but I’m a dork who loves the trilogy – I mean this blog is named after a J.R.R. Tolkien quote from LOTR.
Most of the scenes filmed in Wellington were amongst the Mt. Victoria trees, which provided the scenery for the Hobbiton woods outside the Shire from the first film. The location below is where the hobbits fall onto the road after leaving the Shire. We even got some people to pose as a Black Rider.
The Weta Cave is a mini-museum dedicated to the works of the award-winning Weta Workshop production studio. Weta is a global conceptual design and physical manufacturing facility for the creative and entertainment industries. Peter Jackson has worked closely with Weta for many projects, including LOTR, Avatar, and King Kong. The studio has also done work for the Chronicles of Narnia films and District 9.
After leaving Weta, we headed to Seatourn along the coast, where the village Bree was constructed for the first film.
For our second and last day in Wellington, JR and I went to check out the national museum, Te Papa, Our Place. It was a perfect rainy day activity and the admission was free! This museum is one of the best museums I have ever visited; the unified layout and diverse, interactive content kept us entertained for hours. The full name Te Papa Tongarewa loosely translated means “the place of treasures of this land.”
I loved the technology exhibitions, but the natural history collection was my favorite. The featured display there is the world’s largest colossal squid. The specimen weighed half a ton, was 33 ft long, and had eyes the size of soccer balls when it was first captured in New Zealand waters in 2007.
JR and I caught a late night performance at the Pacific Blue Note venue during the Wellington International Jazz Festival. The After Midnight performance featured all the performers that had concerts throughout the day, and they all came together for a late night jam session. We got to see Mingus Big Band and Fat Freddy’s Drop play that night. Tickets were NZD$25, or free if you purchased tickets for another performance.