Autumn had finally arrived in northern California when I boarded a plane to head into spring on the other side of the planet in New Zealand. To say I wasn’t frightened would be a lie. I felt very much like Frodo heading out into the wide world, for I was about to be away from my family and my continent for longer than I ever had. The weather in Wellington had been pleasant until I arrived, or so I’m told, and as more and more cold rainstorms blew into the bay off the Pacific, my co-workers at Weta Workshop teased that I had brought winter with me to their beautiful island nation.

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The flight from Auckland to Wellington, NZ

Like most fans of the The Lord of the Rings films, I had long dreamed of visiting New Zealand and seeing as much of its Middle-earth landscape as I could. However, also like most fans, the cost of such an adventure always held me back. As such, if someone had told me that I would have gone to Aotearoa twice in 2015, I would’ve thought they were as full of tall tales as old mad Baggins! But step out my front door I did, each time with a little nudge.

My first trip was in March. I spent the beginning half of the month exploring the North Island, including visiting Hobbiton! I chronicled my experiences as a tourist on the web show I produce with my sister, Happy Hobbit, and if you have not seen the Hobbiton episode, it is a must! The second half of March was spent at Weta Workshop performing what was the true purpose of the trip: historical assistance. Some of you may not know that Weta Workshop’s craftsmanship is not limited to film. They have created multiple public sculptures and museum exhibits, to say nothing of the individual artists and their original work that can be seen in such works as White Cloud Worlds. So when it came time to mark the centennial of WW1 in New Zealand, Weta was an obvious choice.

I have an abiding fascination with the First World War which has found its way into my storytelling. As such, I had the opportunity to contribute to both Weta’s The Scale of Our War exhibition at the Museum of Te Papa Tongarewa and to Peter Jackson’s The Great War Museum. I used my historical knowledge and researching skills that I had learned for my upcoming Afterworld book series to research objects and places, battles and living conditions to assist the artists in creating as realistic a portrayal of the war as possible. Coming from a nation that is only just now getting its first Great War memorial and museum, this was an incredible opportunity and an honor that I will never forget.

With one of the Gallipoli figures before it was installed in the museum
With one of the Gallipoli figures, Private Jack Dunn, in March 2015

I returned home satisfied, if a bit let down that I wasn’t able to stay long enough to see the finished exhibits. It’s no surprise then, that the day my plane touched down in Wellington again at the start of November, I was off on foot, running largely on adrenaline after the thirteen hour flight, and was at the doorstep of Te Papa ready to photograph literally everything I saw. The Scale of Our War is a deeply moving experience and I urge all who have the opportunity to visit to do so while the exhibit is there (until 2018). You can also explore the exhibit through the museum’s gorgeous website here.

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Entrance to Te Papa, November 2015
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Lt. Spencer Westmacott
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Pvt. Jack Dunn
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Sgt. Cecil Malthus

While it was a week or two until I could make my way to Jackson’s The Great War Museum, it was likewise worth the wait. While Jackson is better known as a talented film director and cinema buff, he is also a World War One enthusiast with an incredible knowledge of and passion for the subject which comes through in his museum. Each room is a different year and is a fully immersive experience that I also highly recommend (and yes, I may have literally taken photos of everything once more!)

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Exterior of the Great War Museum, November 2015
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Entering the first room of the war
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I could have spent all day there! To my great dismay, I accidentally left my booklet behind. 🙁
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Britons in a trench
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Using a periscope to look out at no man’s land

This second trip to New Zealand was for a writing job at Weta, and while most of you likely know me as “Kili” in Happy Hobbit, that is just one of my many fun hobbies. Like everyone on staff at TheOneRing, my sister and I are volunteers and the show is done entirely out of a love of the material. Any revenue from ads goes directly to TORn to cover server costs to keep the site running. My income, by contrast, is from writing.

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My author alter-ego!

I have my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, have published three books with many more on the way under the pen name K.M. Rice, and work as an independent contractor for companies needing my skills. My first big job was in 2013 on a joint project with Weta and Magic Leap, and the experience there and in March led to my current work. I provide this career background so that my fellow fans will understand not only how wonderful the Weta team is for valuing their fans as skilled individuals as well as people who, like them, appreciate Middle-earth, but also to convey that these opportunities were far from something that fell into my lap just because I had a video go viral of my sister and I squealing over The Hobbit trailer.

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Hobbitception!

That said, I am still a fan of Tolkien’s world and Jackson’s interpretation of it, and working at Weta is a privilege and a dream come true. Living in Wellington for two months and working on the Miramar peninsula meant that I was surrounded by Middle-earth, so having my geekdom be tied so closely to my career and workspace was a delight few can cherish! I tried to make the most of it by keeping our Happy Hobbit Facebook page and YouTube channel up to date with my hobbity adventures, but in case you missed them, here are some highlights of life in windy Wellywood!

Though I was working full time, I managed a few little adventures on weekends.

One sunny afternoon, a group of friends and I headed outside of the city for a glorious horseback trek. Having learned to ride before I could write and greatly missing our animals at home, spending such time amidst horses again was a boon to my soul. Even more exciting was learning that the man leading our trek, Mac Eparaina, was in the battle of Pelennor Fields, along with his beautiful gelding, Chassi. Needless to say, I was starstuck over getting to meet Chassi! If you ever find yourself in the Wellington area looking for an adventure, I highly recommend Coastal Views Horse Treks.

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Hello, Lower Hutt!
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A baby Mearas and his mother
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Kaha (“Strong” in Maori) because this foal was born early in the snow and survived the winter
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I could’ve stayed in the saddle all day
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Beautiful Hutt
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Chassi, veteran of the Pelennor Fields Battle
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Me and Chassi!
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Foxgloves and ducks on the ranch
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Mac and Chassi of the Rohirrim

Another weekend adventure that I deeply cherish was being able to visit with my dear friend John Callen, also known as the Dwarf Oin from The Hobbit. We had a spectacular time, as always, and he showed me New Zealand’s youngest volcano, Rangitoto.

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With John Callen
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Gazing out at Rangitoto

Alas that all adventures must end, but I had a marvelous time at the bottom of the world and will be back someday. The friends I made and the places I saw will live with me always. Easing every fan’s exit from the nation are remnants from Middle-earth, so before I left for the holidays, I was able to say hello and goodbye to some friendly faces.

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The Eagles are coming! (Wellington Airport)

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How we wish to catch a fish…
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…so juicy sweet!
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Anyone want a Smeagol for Christmas?
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Could it be Durin? (Auckland Airport)

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Farewell to Wellington… for now!

Hobbits love to give mathoms, and my mathom gift to you is this special set of photos from the Weta Workshop weapon’s wall. It is usually not allowed to be photographed but I was given special permission by Richard Taylor, so please, enjoy the beauty of these Lord of the Rings beauties!

I hope you feel like you’ve had your own little virtual trip to Wellington. Until my next Middle-earth adventure, farewell!

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