A Hobbit’s 24-hour guide to Wellington
Story and photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
With “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, part one of “The Lord of the Rings” prequel, set to premier in Wellington November 28, wannabe hobbits, elves, orcs and more are sure to make a pilgrimage to the city and country behind the epic films.
While in Wellington anticipating the long-awaited film, why not experience middle earth for yourself?
Home to Weta Cave, the special effects studio behind LOTR, Wellington and its surrounding areas are a hotbed of film locations. It’s the ideal starting place to any Hobbit holiday around the country and a LOTR lovers haven unto itself.
On top of seeing the city through the eyes of a regular visitor, see it through that of a hobbit, with this 24-hour guide.
8am Car rental
Since Middle Earth existed much further back in time, most of the film location stops included in this guide will have you venturing a bit beyond the Wellington city centre, to places like Miramar and Upper Hutt. For this reason, a car is required.
The city has plenty of car rental agencies to suit any budget, a lot of which are located around the airport, which is somewhat on the way from the city centre to our first stop. Some popular car rental agencies in the area include Budget, Avis, Jucy and Rent a Dent.
This guide was created in order of the simplest driving route. Time spent partaking in an activity as well as driving to it were considered when writing this piece. Note that insurance is not required in New Zealand, so it’s up to you whether or not to purchase it. Cost: $60 and up
Any good day in Wellington must start with a hearty breakfast. Cafes in the city are known for their breakfast, but one cafe outside is a favourite among locals. So take advantage of those wheels and visit Maranui Cafe in Lyall Bay, a favourite breakfast spot outside the city centre.
Serving up home-cooked and massive breakfast favourites, the restaurant is located in an old Surf Life Saving Club right on the beach. Inside the restaurant features a funky, vintage beach diner decor. It also has a few tables on a deck outside. Cost $18-25 (Breakfast and a drink)
9:30am Red Rocks Reserve
Take the scenic route and follow the esplanade along Lyall Bay, venturing further out of the city to Owhire Bay until you reach Red Rock Scientific Reserve.
Black sandy beaches and rusty rocks popping out of the blue waters dominate the mountain to sea scenery here. The rocks were formed about 200 million years ago due to a volcanic eruption below the sea. Read signage around here to learn more about the area’s geology as well as Maori history.
On a clear, sunny day, it might be hard to believe that this area was used for one of the darker scenes in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Tours”.
Sam falls and Frodo slides down after him on one of these mountains along the walkway covered in loose rocks and dirt. This is where Frodo, Sam and Gollum reach “The Black Gate”.
Park the car and take some time to walk around the beach. Walk about one hour along the path and you’ll reach a seal colony. Cost: Free
11 am Weta Cave
Pulling up to the small wooden building that has little more than a metal gate surrounding it for security, it’s hard to believe that this is the Academy-Award-winning special effects studio behind “The Lord of the Rings”.
Attached to Weta Digital Studios is Weta Cave, a small museum and shop featuring memorabilia from LOTR as well as other films produced here, including “The Adventures of Tin Tin” (2011) and “King Kong” (2005).
After taking a few photos with Gollum and an Uruk-hai. watch a 20-minute film about the studio and its history, including a behind the scenes look at the films produced here as well as interviews with Peter Jackson, the New Zealand born director behind LORT and “The Hobbit”. He is one of four co-founders of Weta Digital Studios.
Here visitors can also purchase maps and guides to LOTR/Hobbit locations all over New Zealand. Cost: Free
11:45pm Alexandra Road
Heading back into the city centre you’ll pass through forests surrounding Mount Victoria, Wellington’s highest point. Peter Jackson used a spot in these woods along Alexandra Road to film the “Get off the Road!” scene in the “The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring”.
While a walk to the top of Mount Vic is highly recommended, you’ll have to save it for another day. For today, a drive by or quick wander through the forest will suffice as elves at Rivendell await. Cost: Free
12pm New World, Wakefield Street
Since the next Hobbit stop is at a park, we recommend stopping at a food store in Wellington city centre to pick up food for a picnic. Two popular food store chains in New Zealand are Woolworths and New World. Since there is a New World on Wakefield Street, a ten minute drive from Alexandra Road, it’s an ideal shopping spot.
1:30pm Kaitoke Regional Park
Located about a 45-minute drive from the city centre, just north of Upper Hutt, Kaitoke National Park stretches 2,860 hectres along the foothills of Tararua Ranges. The green park along the Hutt River offers scenic valleys, walking trails and more, making it the ideal film location for Rivendell and the Great River Andulin, which is actually the Hutt River.
After spotting all these places as well as an actual platform Orlando Bloom once stood, spend some time exploring the rest of the park. Allow for at least two hours here and fit in your packed lunch whenever you find the best spot for a picnic.
When finished, it’s time to make it back to the city centre for one last sight, not featured in the film, but actually featuring it. Cost: Free
6:30pm Embassy Theatre
New Zealand is where it all happened and the Embassy Theatre in Wellington is where “The Hobbit” will first be shown to the world. Located in Courtenay Place, Embassy Theatre is where all three Lord of the Rings premiered and where “The Hobbit: an Unexpcted Journey” is set to premiere on November 28.
Those lucky enough to be in Wellington for this date are in for a show. The city is well-invested in the film’s premiere, actually renaming itself, “The Middle of Middle-Earth”. Expect a 500-metre red carpet, celebrities galore and plenty of people dressed in character.
But a premier of that measure deserves a day unto itself. Save this guide for another day and this visit to the Embassy Theatre can be spent either seeing a film at it or just wandering around the theatrecentretheatrefavourite, which was built in 1924 and taking in its history.
From here the rest of the night is up to you. One funny thing about this small city is that you might see more celebrities here than you would even in Hollywood. Stephen Fry and Elijah Wood spotted at coffee shops around the city. Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr out for dinner at Ancestry.
Not only do the tabloids have stories of where all “The Hobbit” stars have been seen here, so do the locals. So get your fill of Wellington nightlife, whether it be at a fancy restaurant in Courtenay Place or a music venue on Cuba Street. Some might even bump into a famous hobbit along the way.