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‘Lord of the Rings’ tours sparkle in Wellington

December 11, 2011 at 12:23 am by MrCere  - 

Our story so far: Peter Jackson made three Middle-earth movies and people loved them. Now he is making two more and people already love them too. MrCere, Senior Staff, Writer and Photographer at TheOneRing.net (Forged by and for fans since 1999) went to NZ to see what he could see. Landed in Queenstown, found lots of LOTR stuff, drove north to see the people of the ring, visited Hobbiton set and now is in Wellington, center of NZ’s cinematic empire.

It is pretty important while in Wellington for me to participate in what any visitor might and especially activities with a Lord of the Rings slant. The city is one of my favorites around the world, situated as it is on a bay of great natural beauty. I like the size because it feels pretty easy to get to know, but it has the advantages of a big city’s variety with excellent food and lots of travelers and plenty of full-time residents and all kinds of attractions.

This trip I enjoyed walking around the city and thumbing through vinyl records (ask your parents if those foreign objects are unfamiliar to you) checking out a variety of automobile dealerships including an upholstery shop with some interesting old cars, a comic book shop and a burrito joint with great architecture and melted candles. The nightlife here is crazy, including the Saturday morning I woke up early and discovered the Friday night revelry with its thumbing bass and cocktails hadn’t ended as I sought out breakfast.

It also, with its proximity to Peter Jackson’s filmmaking empire, was an important area in the making of The Lord of the Rings, but not just because of the production and effects studios across the harbor. I ended up heading out with
Wellington Rover
on its half-day tour to make a visit to filming locations. I could have driven to them all if I knew exactly where they were and how to get there but for visitors it is a pretty tall order and a couple of the places require some imagination to see without a helpful guide like Jack. I would have loved to do the whole-day tour but time is short here in the capital city and I had many things I needed to sample.

After a mix-up, the tour van snagged me and we were off. A friendly tour guide named Jack introduced himself and the couple on the tour and we were off. The tours want to keep things small which really enhances the experience. But this guide Jack seemed to know a lot about me from the start and just as it was dawning on me that there was more to this guide than meets the eye, he revealed that he was the same gentleman Jack that I was scheduled to have a meet with in a cafe that very night along with TORn founder Tehanu. Awesome!

He has been giving tours for years and has done a whole lot of them. He lives in the Wellington area and shares a passion for film and for Middle-earth. Guide Vic James of Red Carpet Tours and a friend of TORn has the most tenure but Jack M. sometimes does two tours a day and several a week so its difficult to imagine anybody who has seen more people or talked LOTR with more people in person than Jack in the last decade. He also writes the Noldor Blog where he keeps his ear on the ground in Wellywood and reports what he hears. I was definitely in good hands.

He jokes around a lot, which is a great way to break barriers with strangers, even shy ones. I tend to observe more, especially when I will be writing about an experience, but with questions or comments that invite response, Jack is skilled at drawing people out. And, for any two people with LOTR connections, it is pretty easy to find common ground.

One aspect of the experience I found fascinating was that the folks with me on the trip weren’t hardcore Tolkienites. In fact, far from it: they were fairly casual movie viewers who had never cracked a book, had not watched the extended editions and certainly may not recall the difference between Eomer and Eowyn while on a tour. The idea that only big time geeks would be interested in a tour is wrongheaded. The cultural impact of LOTR on New Zealand was illustrated for me once again as it has been many, many times during my two week tour. Practically a marketing slogan but definitely the truth: New Zealand is Middle-earth.

I don’t want to give a play-by-play of the tour because its just better to discover it for yourself but Jack drove us around the Wellington area and showed us locations where cameras and actors once stood along with fake trees in forests, the last Homely House and Gandalf’s riding path to Isengard.

What must be mentioned is Jack’s knowledge of the sites and his clever presentation. He brought photos in organized booklets from either the production (some courtesy of TheOneRing.net archives!) or screen captures from the films to help us recognize places where our imaginations couldn’t quite make the leap or memories failed. This made everything easy and fun and then his own knowledge and humor supplemented everything.

We ended up visiting several sights that included the “get off the road!” path, Frodo in a tree chatting with Sam and tumbling Hobbits and their stolen vegetables, among others. We also spotted Anduin, Isengard and followed the signs to what once was Rivendale. The nation of New Zealand is quite content to mostly let the places stand without marking them or, when it does make a formal note, it’s all usually quite subtle but of course our guide knew all the spots.

He also put visitors in the right spots, sometimes with props, and took pictures of them so that they returned home with photo-treasures to show Mom and friends and LOTR geeks that they have stood exactly where actors stood. He even created a forced perspective shot that I wish I had replicated in retrospect. (Sorry world!)

In short, the tour was great and or visitors to Wellington with even slight interest in films or LOTR or The Hobbit, should consider it a “must” event. He also gifted a Daniel Reeve created map that really ended the half day quite nicely.

Sadly, that evening, I didn’t meet up with Jack at the Embassy theater café as planned (my fault and misfortune) but because of the tour, I was fortunate enough to meet one of the people actively promoting and protecting the legacy Lord of the Rings had on NZ. Tehanu and I still managed to chat about the little website started 12 years ago and the period when she was a media superstar and TORn kept growing bigger and bigger, always beyond what its founders envisioned.

Both of us chuckled that many readers and users of the site might not even know who she is today or what she did. Expect a story soon.

Now its off to the South Island to drive down the west coast of this amazing nation and see what I can see before I climb back on the plane and go home and figure out the next part of life. Lots of posts remain, but feel free to send interesting ideas, job offers or dinner / hotel tips to MrCere@TheOneRing.net. In New Zealand? You can reach me at: 022 1565 822.

Posted in Fans, Locations Sets, LotR Movies, LotR Production, MrCere in New Zealand, New Zealand, The Hobbit, Tours on December 11, 2011 by