We made it through North Island! Hurrah! We arrived in New Zealand’s amazing capital in the evening rush hour… which doesn’t seem to exist apparently. Even on a Friday evening, getting around Wellington was surprisingly stress free and speedy. The Kiwi Experience is set up to drop it’s passengers off around 6 in the evening, then picks them up aggain at 7.30am the very next morning to get the ferry to the South Island. Ok… if you’re doing to the Kiwi Experience, do not only stay in Wellington for such a crazy short time. You need a couple of days here to really enjoy the city. Unfortunately, we only had time for one full day so there’s so much we missed out on… the museum especially is meant to be amazing (and free) and I would have loved to explore the waterfront area, but we just didn’t have time.
We stayed an extra night so we could have a full day in the city, as we wanted to properly geek out and have a Lord Of The Rings day. For those unenlightened ones who don’t know, Wellington is home to Weta Workshop – the amazing conceptual design and production studio which brought Middle Earth to life and helped to make Lord Of The Rings so realistic and successful. They make full on armour and swords, scale models, hairy hobbit feet, develop CGI amazingness and generally make films better. They’ve worked on a huge amount of films, but LOTR was their first biggie and the one they are most famous for. Since then, the movie industry has really grown around an area of Wellington called Miramar, and led to Wellington being jokingly known as Wellywood.
The geekfest didn’t end there though! We actually spent the morning climbing Mount Victoria to get brilliant views over the city, but mostly to go and see the filming locations. Blakey had us tramping up and down the mountainside for ages to find the bit in the Fellowship where Frodo shouts “Get off the road!” and the hobbits all go and hide under a treeroot. After what felt like a million hours, we found the spot. It’s not quite the same as in the film, as the huge treeroot they hid under was a prop, but it made Blakey very happy. The great thing about these filming locations in New Zealand is that they are really low-key and you’re usually the only ones there (except Hobbiton of course, which is so so busy). If you’re in Wellington and searching for that spot, there’s a bench right near it with a quote from Samwise on it. That’s all I’m saying though… if we had to go through all the pain of searching the mountainside then so do you, it’s more rewarding that way. Also, you can drive up to the top of Mount Victoria to the lookout point, but I would strongly suggest following one of the hiking trails up because it’s a beautiful walk, even if you’re not hobbit-obsessed.
In the evening we continued with our super-nerd theme by going for a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, which are a half an hour walk from the central hostels (Base, YHA). It’s one of the best botanical gardens we’ve been to (yep, we’ve been to a few, judge away). It’s huge and there’s loads of little trails through different vegetation types, with lots of hills, streams, and hidden corners. It’s open really late, so if you go in the evening it’s pretty much empty and you get the place to yourselves.
Although we do love a good botanical garden, the real reason we were up there in the evening is because it’s also home to Space Place and the Carter Observatory. They have a planetarium where they show short films on space-related topics, and then let you go up to the 150 year old Cooke telescope and have a peek through at the moon and various stars and other cool space stuff. By the time we’d finished with the telescope, it was nearly midnight and time to get an Uber back down to the hostel so we could get a bit of sleep before our 6.30am wake up to get the ferry to the South Island.
Wellington was the first place we’ve been in New Zealand where we thought “We could live here”. It’s so beautiful and there is so much to do… although it’s the capital city, it’s small enough to not feel overwhelmingly citylike, the center is welcoming and interesting, the night markets and bars look busy and cool, and you still have so much nature on your doorstep. Good effort Wellington, I’ve fallen in love.