800 Words star Erik Thomson on family, Kiwi culture and single women
Beautiful beaches and quirky locals characterise the New Zealand small town of Weld.
It is a place where everyone knows each other and there is an excess of beautiful, single women.
Only, Weld isn't real.
It is the setting for the New Zealand-Australia co-production 800 Words where widower and newspaper columnist George Turner (Erik Thomson) is trying to make a new life for himself and his teenage children.
Thanks to the popularity of its first season, particularly in Australia, the drama series is prompting some people to enquire as to Weld's whereabouts.
"Apparently, Aussies pop into the Arataki Visitors Centre saying, 'We want to go to Weld'," says Thomson.
The centre is in the Waitakere Ranges, close to the West Auckland beaches of Piha and Muriwai which are used as locations for the filming of 800 Words.
"There is a little bit of Weld tourism happening but this part of New Zealand isn't the most famous part of New Zealand," says Thomson.
"Everyone heads to the South Island for Lord Of The Rings. But Auckland's west coast beaches are magnificent and rugged and interesting. I think a lot of people realise that there is so much more to New Zealand than mountains and lakes."
When 800 Words' second season begins, four weeks have gone by since George's teenage daughter Shay (Melina Vidler) ran away to Sydney. (This was at the end of season one.)
"George really wants to get her back and get the family back together," says Thomson.
"That's his first focus and then it's about sinking deeper into the community. He's getting to know people better, he's forming relationships. I think the super objective of George, whether he knows it or not, is to find love again. But you never know when is the right time in his situation to go into that.
"He may well go into that a little too soon and he may well try it and then realise it's not the right time. He gets a new job and starts to get more involved in the community."
George, whose wife died in a road accident, is a hit with Weld's single women – which begs the question, is there a man drought?
"We deal with that a little bit in the second series," says Thomson.
From volunteer ambulance driver Fiona (Michelle Langstone) to artist Katie (Anna Jullienne), Weld's single females seem to be drawn to George.
"They are all very beautiful," says Thomson.
"That's probably the thing that's kind of the oddest. But it's a heightened reality and a TV show."
Born in Scotland, raised in New Zealand and based in Australia, Thomson, who won a Logie for his 800 Words role, clearly relishes the chance to come back to Aotearoa.
During the making of 800 Words' second season, which consists of 16 episodes, Thomson brought his wife and their two children and even the family pet to this side of the Tasman.
"They spent a lot of time with my sister and just hanging out in Auckland in Cornwall Park and Mt Hobson, more times than I can remember.
"I even brought my dog over because she was only a puppy when we left so we had to bring her," says Thomson.
"She had a great time getting to know the dog walks around the place."
While home for Thomson is Sydney, it seems his heart is firmly rooted in New Zealand.
"I like a colder climate and I love the bird life and the trees," he says.
"Those are all the things I grew up with. I really just love seeing a tui in a tree and seeing a wood pigeon fly and all those little things which Kiwis probably take for granted, but when you've been living in Australia, where there are lots of cockatoos and really noisy birds flying around, it's nice to be back with a lush and lyrical kind of bird life.
"I also just love the culture of New Zealand, the vigorous democracy that it is.
"One thing you realise when you've lived in Australia for a while is the wheels of democracy move very slowly. Here it's very vigorous.
"People have a way of expressing themselves and they get listened to and things get done and then they move on to the next thing that has to get done. I really like that about New Zealand."
800 Words, TVNZ 1, starts Sunday January 22.
- TV Guide