I’m hurrying back to the media pen from my hotel for the big Return of the King premiere parade. But I know I’m not going to make it. I’m on the wrong side of the road and there’s too many people lining the route for me to get to the crossing point.

In fact, I altogether fail to recognise the landmarks and end up walking way too far. I end up almost at the Beehive — NZ’s parliament house and the beginning of the route. When I begin to hear the screams and cheers, I give up and go with the flow.

The scenes near the Beehive aren’t nearly as chaotic as later on at Courtney Place (near the Embassy), but people are still lined six deep along the barricades.

But there’s also hundreds (thousands?) of people up in office buildings, leaning out windows, lining the multistorey car parks of inner-Wellington and even hanging off trees.

Even the city’s stores seem to have shut down temporarily — many workers have dragged out chairs and stools to stand on so they have a better vantage point over everyone else.

The noise swells as each open-top car rolls past. I spot strategically placed tickertape cannons on many rooftops. Occasionally one goes off, dumping streamers on everyone below.

I miss many of the cast and crew, but spend a lot of time watching a group of four or five Black Riders, jogging alongside them. Apparently they were hugely popular at the parade for Fellowship, and their appearance is greeted by many ‘ooohs’ this time round as well.

‘Ooohs’ turn to gasps as one of the riders reaches out a gauntleted hand and menaces the crowd. If they’d shrieked as well, I reckon my day (and that of many others) would have been complete, but sadly they do not.

There’s a palpable … something … about the crowd. A depth of feeling that makes my spine tingle. Sure, there’s a fair share of foreigners, Elijah groupies, Orlando swooners or whatever, but from Wellingtonians, there seems to be a huge sense of communal pride in the achievement that Rings is.

Part of it is parochialism for the success of the local boy (Peter Jackson), but I think a large part derives from the fact that so many people know someone who worked on the production.

Sean Astin also hits on something when he says on the Red Carpet:

“There is so much darkness and villainy in the world that this city and this country are a beacon of hope — your huge smiles and friendly faces.”

“The love and adoration of the New Zealand people, the look on [your] faces. It’s incredible. God bless you.”

Estimates put the size of the crowd at upwards of 100,000 — not a bad turnout for a city of less than 500,000 people.

“I wish you could all see the film tonight,” Jackson tells the crowd.

“We should have just played on this screen,” he says, to huge cheers. “But we can’t.”

“There’s too many video cameras and you’d just pirate it. And it would be available on the corner of Cuba St tomorrow morning.”

“I’m sorry.”

The emotional outpouring of the crowd is matched by the response of the cast and crew.

Orlando Bloom tells everyone his shirt says it all. It reads: “I love NZ”.

“This has been, hands down, the single most amazing time of my life,” he adds. “Thank you so much, I hope to come back soon.”

Even Gollum is eventually forced to concede to the occasion.

“Wellington sucks”, he mutters.

Smeagol breaks in. “No, no precious, we loves you. Wellington is our friend!”

“Okay, just this once.”

The parade concludes with a pair of abseilers walking down the Embassy Theatre façade. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (O Fortuna) plays over the speakers. When the abseilers reach the balcony rooftop, they unfurl a pair of banners.

They read in Maori and English: “Only in Wellington.”

Sounds about right to me.