Weta Workshop, The Paths of the Dead, and Wacky Welly Driving

Further south we go, travelers!

The three of us were finally out of National Park. Hannah and Luke had sorted out their plan, now it was just a matter of getting it done. Before our little group headed over to the South Island, we were spending a few days in the Wellington area. I was giving into nostalgia and staying at a hostel Mom and I had stayed at during our  first visit. Hannah and Luke were staying in the heart of Wellington. Nostalgia wasn’t my only reason for staying up on the Kapiti Coast. The other was avoiding city traffic. More on that later.

I enjoyed the drive as much as you can when you have to stay on the road but are also trying to sightsee. Even though I’d been around both islands before, it was so long ago now. This time everything felt new, it felt different. I saw the streets and towns differently, more like I belonged to them and they belonged to me. I pulled off once to get gas before making the final stretch to Paraparaumu.

Once I turned off the main highway, things began to look familiar. The hostel was right along the coast. I pulled into the drive and turned onto the grass to park. There were only a few other cars out front, at least one or two I assumed belonged to the hosts, which didn’t really surprise me since it was the off season. I went up without any of my things to check in. The former hosts, Bill and Aorangi, had since moved on, but the place was now being run by a woman named Barbara, who was living there last time I stayed.

Like the last few places I’d stayed, I had the dorm room all to myself. The place was near deserted, liked I’d expected. It was nice, but I was also getting a bit lonely, and was already missing Hannah and Luke. It was slipping from afternoon to evening when I finally had all my things in the room. I wasn’t feeling inspired to go out anywhere, so instead I crossed the street and went for a short walk on the beach. There was the tiniest bit of light still clinging to the horizon, turning the coast and Kapiti Island into a dramatic landscape of blues, blacks and oranges, topped with a glowing crescent moon.

After snapping a few pictures and admiring the view, I turned in and waited for tomorrow to start. The morning started off slow. I had breakfast in an empty kitchen. I killed some time in the room reading and scrolling through my Facebook wall. But then I was off to Wellington proper. Hannah, Luke and I (them more so than me) were going to spend the day at Weta Workshop and the Weta Cave. I had been to the Cave once before with Mom. I’m not sure they were running tours of the actual workshop three years ago. They certainly are now though, so it was worth the return visit.

Now, I mentioned crazy city driving earlier. That didn’t take place on the way into Wellington. That drive went just fine. It was post-Weta Cave things got scary. I found my Hobbit cohorts in a cafe just down the street from Weta. I sat with them while they finished their tea, and then we walked the few blocks to the Weta Cave, where we were greeted by Tom, Bert, and William. Luke and Hannah, who had been there longer than me, had already taken some photos. I’d seen Bilbo’s trolls before at the premier, but I did get a fantastic shot of a curious Hannah checking to see if the sculptors at Weta had made their creations anatomically correct (assuming they knew troll anatomy).

We poked around the shop while we waited for our tour to begin. I picked out a few postcards to purchase after the tour and debated shortly on whether I needed another keychain to add to my carabiner. Lego Bilbo continues to suffice as my LOTR-themed keychain, for before I had the chance to add another item to the collection, our tour guide was outside and ready for us. I feel bad because I don’t think I ever got her name, but she was really cool and easy to talk with, and was also a total nerd like Hannah and me.

If you’re reading this and are discovering for the first time that you can actually tour Weta Workshop, I’m gonna tell you to slow your roll for a second. If you’re like me and are a super-mega-ultra fan and are happy to see even the smallest of things, you’ll like this tour and will pay to take it. If you’re someone that has unrealistic expectations about everything, you probably won’t want to go because you’d likely end up walking away feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth.

Surprise! You don’t actually go in the honest to goodness workshop. Duh. People are working in there! Working on gobs of different movies, and movie makers like to keep things secret and tight under wraps (hence no pictures). However, you are directly adjacent to the workshop. There are several spots with windows that look through into different departments. I even caught a glimpse of famous swordsmith Peter Lyon through one!

The tour takes you around a fair-sized room that is filled with props, miniatures, weapons, armor, and costumes from tons of movies Weta has worked on over the years. Our guide talked us through the steps the creators take when they are approached with a new movie, everything from concept to finished product. We learned about the different processes and materials they use to bring these fictional creations to life and even got to handle a few of the pieces.

It’s amazing the amount of talent and creativity that is packed into one workshop. The tour was proof that a fair amount of things made at Weta do survive once the movie is done shooting, but the saddest irony of the movie making business is that an incredible amount of time is put into making everything look real and authentic, and it only spends a fraction of a second on screen or is ultimately destroyed. Like I said though, there was still plenty to see on the tour.

Luke and Hannah had booked the tour through Hobbiton, so they’d gotten to go for free. Me, I got to tag along. They had to change their booking anyway, so when they did that they asked if they could add one more person. They had also been asked if they wanted to go on the Thunderbirds tour. I had no idea what the Thunderbirds were, but it was free, so what the hell? Turns out, the Thunderbirds, or Thunderbirds Are Go, being the full title, is a TV show that first aired back in the 60s. It’s now been revamped and remade by Weta.

I won’t go on too much about this tour, but it was really cool to see all the miniatures they’d built for the sets. We saw the model of the full island where the Thunderbirds live, the close-up models of the house and the launchpads and the evil baddies lair. We saw the moving parts and learned how they moved (the swimming pool was opened up by two very small Weta employees pulling the platform back) and saw how convincing a set can be even when it’s made up of things like mattress foam, batteries, and old school lemon juicers.

Okay. Now it is time for wacky Wellington driving. After seeing and buying all we wanted to at the Weta Cave, we were off to grab some dinner back in the city centre. Earlier, Hannah had informed me it was Luke’s birthday and she wanted to sneak off and get him a cake. So before she and I met Luke at our chosen dining locale, I made up some excuse about getting a new bra while we were in the city and we instead made our way to New World for some cake and candles.

As soon as we were in the thick of traffic, at night while it was raining, I felt bad for Luke that he didn’t have anyone to be his navigator. Not that that really mattered. At one point Hannah and I ended up in bus only lane (that was a blast). And it took us ages to find a parking garage. Getting the cake was pretty simply, getting to dinner was the hard part. We did eventually get parked up and made the walk to the restaurant, and we all enjoyed a much needed meal, letting the stress of the drive roll off our backs.

When the meal was finished and we were left sipping on drinks, Hannah excused herself to the “bathroom” to get the cake ready. I went off a second later to make sure she had it all sorted, and then we both emerged from behind the wall and began singing Happy Birthday. Other people in the restaurant even joined in with us and clapped at the end, and the restaurant staff was nice enough to bring us plates. With our bellies full and cake on our plates, we were all feeling much better.

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Back at the Weta Cave, Luke had mentioned a street festival that took place in the evenings off Cuba Street. We went off in search of this after dinner but instead found a used bookstore, which I can never resist. While I was deep in a back room, browsing the general fiction, Luke and Hannah were up front talking with the clerk, where they found out the festival takes place on Friday, not Thursday. Oh well. I was happy to end the evening at a bookstore. And yes, I did buy a book. Two, actually.

After the bookstore we called it a night. It was getting late, and already dark, and I still had to drive back to Paraparaumu. Hannah and Luke saw me back to my car and we said our goodbyes. The next day was very chill for me. Hannah and Luke were spending the day taking in as much of Wellington as they could before heading back to the South, and I took care of a few things in Paraparaumu.

It was nothing very blog-worthy. I ran a few errands, like picking up an ice scraper I knew I might be needing soon, and sent a few more postcards. The thing I was most excited to do was to stop by the library and check up on my good friend Aldo. Back in 2012, Mom and I had stopped at the Paraparaumu Library to deliver a few books, thus bringing the library’s Aldo Zelnick series up to date. I wanted to see how the books had been doing in the years between my visits. There were only two on the shelf, a good sign in my eyes, and when I went to ask a librarian, she told me they had all been doing fairly well, more so at the main branch. Coincidentally, the woman I talked to was the same woman who had received the books all those years ago.

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Aldo arrives! 2012

Let’s get back to the fun stuff now, shall we? Our last day together in Wellington was spent exploring and taking gobs of pictures of the Putangirua Pinnacles. For my fellow LOTR fans, this is where they filmed the scenes of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli riding to find the Paths of the Dead. These pillars of ancient sediment and gravel are an amazing geological site. They are the remnants of the eroded Aorangi Range, exposed over thousands of years by the Putangirua Stream. Man, were they cool.

Hannah, Luke and I hiked up the stream bed until the trail dead ended in narrow fissures of rock, too treacherous to traverse. The place had that eerie, decrepit feel to it, very Paths of the Dead, but the sun was out and the green of the trees was vibrant, and the stream bubbled happily at our feet. It was an interesting juxtaposition of sounds and feelings. Once we came to the trail end, we spent quite a while taking pictures from every direction, posing under precarious pillars of half crumbled stone, and shouting really loud so we could hear the echoes.

We left the pinnacles behind and stopped in Featherston for a feed before Hannah and Luke were off to the ferry. Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that Hannah and Luke are from the UK, but if I haven’t, or maybe if you didn’t believe me, here is undeniable proof these two are so British.

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So British.

Again, we parted ways, the last time for a while. I gave them each a hug, wished them safe travels and luck with getting the new car, then climbed into my own car and drove back to Paraparaumu. I was catching my own ferry early tomorrow morning. After a long day of hiking and driving, I spent a quiet night in the Barnacles. The whole stay was bittersweet. The place was empty of people, but it also made me feel empty. I felt like I was haunting the place, there trying to grab hold of memories and moments that had long since faded away. But it was also a reminder. A reminder that things change, and people move on. It’s exactly what I had done, and what I had still to do.

~Ren

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