As soon as you touch down in Wellington, you’ll be swept up by the city’s movie magic. The Lord of the Rings’ Gandalf, riding a Great Eagle, greets travellers at the airport, and the villainous dragon Smaug keeps an eye on what’s happening at check-in. Created by Wētā Workshop – creators of the special effects in the iconic trilogy as well as The Hobbit – the characters are a taste of what “Wellywood” has in store.
See how the magic happens
At Wētā Workshop – where the team has also worked on Hollywood movies like Avatar, Blade Runner 2049 and The Chronicles of Narnia – you’ll see the lifelike props that featured in your favourite films. Take a guided tour at Wētā Cave to get up-close with Oscar-winning costumes and creature effects, from hairy hobbit feet and orcs to Scarlett Johansson’s bodysuit from Ghost in the Shell and handmade suits of armour. You may even spot a certain Ring…
Sip cocktails and catch a classic
After touring Wētā Workshop, head to the nearby Roxy Cinema to continue the Wellywood journey. Time your screening for a Sunday when a special Feast Your Eyes event is held. Classic movies, from Amelie to The Fifth Element, are shown on the big screen alongside themed cocktails and desserts.
While bar-hopping around buzzy Courtenay Place, you’ll spot 1920s-built Embassy Theatre, the location of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King world premiere. Across the street, spot the gigantic Tripod Sculpture made by Wētā Workshop (from hydraulic pistons, old camera reels, a toaster) in celebration of Wellington’s film industry.
Visit famous film locations (with a view)
For any movie buff, a visit to Mount Victoria, east of the city centre, is a must. This is where Peter Jackson began filming his trilogy, including the sequence where Frodo Baggins and his friends hide from an evil Black Rider bent on stealing the One Ring.
Afterwards, head south to Lyall Bay. This picturesque surfing hotspot is the setting for Dunharrow in The Lord of the Rings and Skull Island in King Kong.
Follow in Frodo’s footsteps along the Red Rocks Coastal Walk
Not far from Lyall Bay is Red Rocks. This imposing area along the south coast – where waves slam into the rocks and steep, green-clad hills/mountains meet the shoreline – is where Frodo, Samwise Gamgee and Gollum reached the Black Gate of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Fortunately, you won’t encounter any evil orcs, but you might eye seals, penguins or whales. It’s also a great spot to see the Southern Cross at night – this close to Middle-earth there’s no light pollution to dull your view.
See the Pinnacles in person
Two hours by car from central Wellington, the Putangirua Pinnacles are the epitome of otherworldly. These towering rock pillars mark the Paths of the Dead from The Lord of the Rings, where battle-weary Aragorn finally embraced his destiny as king. About 30 minutes south-east lies the red and white-striped Cape Palliser lighthouse, which was built in 1897 and is home to the largest fur seal breeding colony on the North Island. Return to Wellington via one (or more) of the wineries of the Wairarapa region, acclaimed for its pinot noir.
Image credit: WellingtonNZ (Smaug and Red Rocks); Miles Holden (Gandalf and eagle); Steve Unwin (Wētā Cave and Roxy Cinema Theatre); Destination Wairarapa (Putangirua Pinnacles)