Reach for the stars in the capital
"We're bound for Middle-earth," the flight attendant says over the speaker. This was the day of the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Wellington had turned into the middle of Middle-earth.
Even before I touched down the mayhem had begun. The aircraft was a Hobbit capsule, from the Hobbit-themed in-flight safety video to the onboard Hobbit-themed quiz.
Spot prizes helped build the anticipation and excitement; the lucky man in the seat in front of me won a pair of Hobbit socks (I didn't get a glimpse but I heard they had fake toes and foot hair printed on the top).
The height of Hobbit hype came with the hordes lining the red carpet in Courtenay Place for the world premiere. Here, it was almost the norm to sport a wizard hat, flaunt long, fluttery velvet sleeves, or carry an axe.
The premiere excitement may have passed but there are plenty of Hobbit-related things to do in Wellington if you have post-premiere blues.
This is the perfect place to see The Hobbit. Located in the heart of Miramar, Roxy has a multifarious history. Originally it was Capitol Theatre, purpose-built in 1928 for silent films, before being converted to house "talkies" in the 1930s. The last film was shown in 1964, when the cinema was turned into a shopping mall, then later revived as a community cinema and reopened in April last year. Enjoy pre- or post-movie coffees, drinks, or eat at the on-site restaurant, Coco. You can dine on a selection of "previews" (light snacks), "the shorts" (share plates), "the main feature" (main) and "the credits" (dessert). The dishes are creative and en vogue and, if you're feeling adventurous, you could order a cocktail from mixologist maestro Jonny McKenzie (Bret's brother). Try the Jean Harlow or the award-winning Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Hobbit link: Weta Workshop founders Sir Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, plus Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings editor Jamie Selkirk and his wife Ann, are just some of the names who have helped get Roxy to the fantastic establishment it is today. Weta's touch is everywhere, from the mural on the ceiling upstairs by Weta illustrator and designer Greg Broadmore to the Gollum and Gandalf statues taking up residence in the complex's foyer. It's not uncommon to see familiar faces pop in, indeed, today, Jamie and Ann Selkirk are sitting just a table away enjoying a coffee.
This bustling cafe stands alone on the beachfront. Located in the clubrooms of the Maranui Surf Club, the nautical theme continues inside and there are amazing views through the big windows over Lyall Bay. It has a bit of a surfing/diner feel and the menu offers homely and filling dishes. You can get a hearty eggs benedict and big breakfast here but I choose a fish tortilla which is huge and sumptuous, filled with fish, beans, guacamole, sour cream and more. Don't miss out on getting a thickshake - I can recommend the jaffa one.
Hobbit link: This was a popular cafe with The Hobbit cast and crew, and also with Lord of the Rings stars. Billy Boyd and Viggo Mortensen learnt to surf at Lyall Bay and, after a run-in with his surfboard, Mortensen had to be shot as a right-to-left profile for some Lord of the Rings scenes.
Havana Bar and Restaurant
Tucked away around the corner from Cuba St, Havana is located in two historical workingmen's cottages that date back to the 19th century. This award-winning bar and restaurant serves share plates and, four nights a week, you can catch local and international musicians performing. There's an astonishingly good menu and we order six share plates between the two of us. We wolf down garlic prawns; duck breast with sour cherries, watercress and a juniper dressing; asparagus with candied lemon; and chased it all with a nice local drop: Margrain sauvignon blanc from Martinborough.
Hobbit link: Havana was a favourite haunt for James Nesbitt, who plays dwarf Bofur in The Hobbit. You can read Nesbitt's culinary guide to Wellington at wellingtonnz.com.
Floriditas is renowned for its extensive wine list, which features labels from Italy, France, Spain, Australia and all over New Zealand. The clock has not yet ticked over to midday so I settle for a well-made Supreme coffee. Floriditas has an elegant interior with clean white tiles and dark wood accents. The food is appealing with platters, pastas and breakfast and dinner options. I order the broad bean, ricotta, mint and parmesan frittata with herb salad. It's simple, fresh and nicely presented, with the "salad" being greens delicately sprinkled on top of the frittata.
Hobbit link: With a glamorous interior and sophisticated menu, it's no surprise that Australian model Miranda Kerr and her husband, Hobbit star Orlando Bloom, used to frequent Floriditas when they lived in Wellington.
A longtime favourite and icon of Wellington's culinary scene, Matterhorn recently had a menu makeover. Chef Dave Verheul has designed 28 share plates which all sound equally appetising. The atmosphere is always buzzing here and you can expect high quality food brought promptly to your table, thanks to the fabulous service. We order a bunch of share plates which take up all available space on our table. Manoeuvring around the dishes and swiping things with forks is a skilled operation that we quickly master. Without realising it, the share plates we have ordered constitute a roast dinner, with outstanding new potatoes and the most tender beef cheek.
Hobbit link: Matterhorn was a favourite spot for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings stars.
I visited Weta Cave on the day of The Hobbit premiere and so, it seems, did every other Hobbit tourist in Wellington. On this hot day the air was as thick as matted dwarf's hair but the staff were handling the chaos well. Weta Workshop staff toil away in nearby unbranded sheds, where much of the prop-making occurs.
To see the exquisite final products, a visit to Weta Cave is a must-do. Not only can you ogle the tiny hobbit/wizard/elf/orc statues that are hand-painted with magnificent detail, but you can view Weta's other projects such as District 9 guns, prop replicas from The Hobbit, Tin Tin memorabilia, King Kong statues, plus work from Peter Jackson's cult hits Braindead (remember that ghastly rat monkey from Sumatra? Look it in the eye here) and that alien from Bad Taste that's flipping the bird. I'd hate to attend a costume party alongside Sir Richard Taylor, he'd blow everyone out of the waters of Anduin.
Also at the Cave, there's an unbeatable number of movie guides, books about The Hobbit, books about Peter Jackson, a Gollum sculpture and a huge statue of the frightful uruk-hai Lurtz.
On a quieter day you can watch a behind-the-scenes video about Weta, containing interviews with Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jamie Selkirk. Today however, the Cave is filled with other fans gasping for a look so I have to give it a miss.
Half-day Lord of the Rings location tour
To the untrained eye, I'm standing in a forest on Mt Victoria. But any Lord of the Rings fan worth their wizard hat will recognise this location as the "get off the road" scene when hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin almost get captured by a rider. There's the little nook where the hobbits hide which we can access, and there's the dusty path littered with leaves and sticks and those now film-star trees, all strong and spiky.
Our tour guide is Jack Machiela, a founding member of the New Zealand Tolkien Society, huge Lord of the Rings fan and all-round film buff. He tests our trivia on the road trip to the different filming locations. The link between James Bond and Lord of the Rings? Sir Christopher Lee starred in both franchises.
We arrive at the second location, the Great River Anduin, here in its natural state as the Hutt River. We gather around Jack as he talks through the scene via the magic of an iPad. It's a handy addition to the tour that allows us to watch the scene with the location so we can place it. Watching the footage and then standing where it was shot, you really get a feel for the overflowing creative vision Jackson and his team had. The river is tiny but in the film it looks huge and dominating. The footage was shot here over two weeks but only five one-second shots made the final cut.
Of the 150-odd locations, only Rivendell - the Elven dwelling - is recognised as an official scene location from the films. It's a beautiful setting with buttercups, daisies and ferns lining our path. Apparently Jackson had to remove a lot of the plants from this area and, when they were all replanted after filming, they were in better condition than before. At Rivendell you can take a fan photo where all the Legolas promotional shots were taken, in a small clearing just off the track. Bring your own bow and arrow.
Kate Mead visited Wellington courtesy of Positively Wellington Tourism.
Sunday Star Times