New Zealand Diaries #9 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

New Zealand part 7: WETA! Gardens!

4 Jan. Up early. I make scrambled eggs and lamb/mint/rosemary sausages for breakfast. Hot cocoa, tea, OJ. Use the tiny drawer dishwasher (oh, isn’t izzums cute?) and get ready to go. When we arrive at WETA this morning there is a crowd outside of the doors. What’s up? Oh dear, the electrical is out so the Cave isn’t open. Since we already have our physical tickets for the tour, we’re OK. About 09:50 the electrician gets things up and running (wish he’d waited another 15 minutes which would have made for a much smaller tour!). Around 20 people for the 10:00 tour. Our guide is an American named Bridget, though she uses Kiwi phrases.

Window into WETA is AMAZING! AWESOME! We shook Sauron’s rubbery hand and lifted the Witch-King’s mace. Lots of cool stuff from LOTR, Hobbit, Narnia, and District 9. Kelly put on Thorin Oakenshield’s  forearm prosthesis: how sweet is that? Picked up a gun from D9, very heavy plastic. The real film Sauron armor was rubber, though a steel suit was made for about 2 seconds of filming. That one lives with Peter Jackson. A huge robot was built for D9 but never used since it looked too human. They use ZBrush and Adobe for the computer end of things.

One relic from Indiana Jones 4–a piece of armor. The armory is a one-man department. He made a suit of armor for the workshop’s terrier, but the pup has never worn it. There is a working Warthog from HALO with a dead Sam Neill body cast at the wheel. The CNC room is also a one-man department. A huge robot called MAX was a car-building robot but has been repurposed. The castle from Prince Caspian is here, about 2 meters long by 1 meter wide.

Three types of chainmail, two steel and one plastic. There is a new silicon-based fake flesh to replace the older dragonskin. Very realistic looking, but it tears easily. Some of the Hobbit dwarves poked right through the ends of their arms. A woman is at work at a bench with lots of junk drawers around. Her name is Abby and she is creating a miniature for the Thunderbirds TV show. She uses a lot of random spare parts. The main tower is made from an old toner cartridge; the human figure is about a centimeter tall for scale (thumbnail size). There is a 3 or 4 meter tall figure of the Demon Queen, and another huge piece being prepared for an art installation.

The walls here are covered in weapons, sculptures, art. Not just the walls, but the ceilings, the rafter beams, every available space. But none of the weapons are sharp–it’s earthquake territory. Huge roller doors were installed in every area since occasionally a department got excited and built something huge that wouldn’t fit through the regular doors. Sculpting from Plastilene clay–our guide, Bridget, is big into sculpting.

Lots of art, sketches of King Kong’s faces with different expressions. Trains and maces and helmets and turrets and, and, and. So much awesome stuff! And most of it we could touch, some we held. This was such a cool tour! An hour of seeing into the behind-the-scenes work for some great movies.

When we finish, we go back to the hotel and walk to the nearest iSite to finalize booking our LOTR tour for tomorrow. Then we head to the Cable Car Station. There is a funicular cable car running up a big hill from the harbor to the gardens above. (Remember I said most places were hilly?) Welly is up and down and up and down. The queue for the cable car is long but moves fast. At $4 for a one-way fare, it’s cheap entertainment, and the walk down from the top is supposed to be beautiful.

The ride up is short and unfortunately too crowded for great views, but we do get a few good looks at the city. And it spits us out at the top of a hill with stunning, gorgeous views of the city and sea. We choose the longer walk down via the Botanical Gardens. A short gift shop stop for a wine bottle holder, and then we walk.

Holy crap. (Actual swearing redacted.) These are by far the best botanical gardens we’ve seen anywhere in the world—it’s not even close—and we tend to go to the garden in any city we visit that boasts a garden. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Stop dead in your tracks gorgeous. We probably took half again as long as the walk should take because we were in awe of the environment we were walking through. An exuberance of hydrangeas gives way to a carpet of a tall flower with purple blooms (native, all over the place). The trees! Oh, the trees, majestic and ancient and stately. The rose garden captured us for at least ten minutes.

We eventually wended our way through, past a cemetery (it only needed that to completely win our hearts) of settlers. A peace lantern gave me shivers: the flame came from the fires of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is supposed to burn until there are no more nuclear weapons.

We make our stunned way out of the gardens and past the Parliament building. It’s a fanciful building called the Beehive. Our goal is St. Paul’s chapel, supposed to have great stained glass. It might, but we didn’t see it. There was a wedding taking place! We smile goofily at the wedding crowd. An elderly woman using a wheelchair is being escorted out to a car: her elderly male companion has a hand on her head to keep her hat from blowing away. It is sweet.

It is quite blustery. Cloudy, but no rain today. We walk past the Cathedral, which is quite impressive. We look up a bookstore and find Arty Bees books, a nice large store with SF advertised on the front window. Good selection of SFF, though no McCullough. Kelly drops off a business card with an employee.

Getting closer to our hotel, we stop in at The Library, a pub and lounge. Lots of books on the walls, as though they bought out a charity shop. There was one Elizabeth Moon hardcover! We get a cheese board with half GF bread, half regular bread. I get a local Riesling, quite dry. Kelly has Aberlour A’bunadh cask strength, which is among the strongest whisky he’s tried. The cheese board has 4 types of cheese: goat, blue, brie-type and cheddar-like. Also figs, apricots, walnuts, cranberries, and prunes. A small dish held caramelized onions (popular here) and another had a tasty tart marmalade. A great dinner! For dessert we go back to the organic food store and get GF carrot cake.

Back at the hotel, we let them know we booked online for one more night. The two clerks discuss upgrading us to stay in the same room. One isn’t willing to possibly piss off the manager, but the other says fine and grabs the keyboard. Into our lovely room, sort out receipts, do laundry. We’ve spent $1156 so far on stuff to bring home. Eeek!

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I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.