Saturday, February 10, 2024


Friday morning, we prepared for the breaking of the fellowship. Most of us were staying until Sunday, while a few had to return earlier. Tanner’s car rental was off-airport so he had to leave extra early and arrange for a shuttle back. Later in the morning, I got a text, “Hey, we missed you guys so much we decided to stick around.” Knowing their flight should have taken off by then, I assumed it was a joke. Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the airport and there they were, standing on the other side of security waving at us. As it turned out, some of the flights got confused, but they were able to catch the next one to Auckland (and their flight home) with out issue. No harm no foul.

The rest of our group proceeded to Wellington for a long layover before continuing to Auckland. Adam decided to officially promote JetStar to the top of his budget airline list because they gave him the exit row on this flight. We landed in Wellington (“Home of Middle Earth”), saw Gandalf and the eagles hanging in the lobby, and then piled all seven of us (and our luggage) into a single rental car. Yet another example of, “Pack light, travel fast.”

The Eagles!
We stopped at a restaurant called Cafe Pollo for lunch, which was in a quiet residential neighborhood and felt like it was mostly patronized by locals. We each ordered a lunch in keeping with our personalities: Justin a massive sandwich, Gabby a bagel with lots of greens, and, myself, a meat pie with beans.

Our first planned stop in Wellington was Weta Workshop, the special effects shop that has worked on numerous productions, including Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Avatar. Weta was just around the corner from our lunch stop, in the middle of another neighborhood. Your main hint that this place is… different, would be the statues of three monstrous trolls in front of the unassuming office building.

Bilbo's contract
We watched an introductory video from Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger (the cofounders of Weta) before entering the workshop, and, once it finished, I bumped into Justin while getting in line. He said, “After you!” The tour itself was a lot of fun, but a little light on the actual workings of the workshop and processes themselves, since a lot of what we would see would be under a non-disclosure agreement until a movie is released.

Bilbo's hobbit feet

Chronicles of Narnia props

There were several demonstrations throughout, including one on how face casts are made. There were a couple of artists stationed throughout the tour who would give us an overview of what they were working on. One guy hated video games and went on a bit of rant centered around that. Another was sculpting things out of tin foil, which was really impressive. It seemed like the folks who end up working at Weta are characters unto themselves. I also find it interesting when they are certain people who really seem to enjoy something that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. In this instance, both Adam (architecture, drawing, and model building) and John (fabricating, 3D modeling, and printing) were the ones who seemed to really appreciate this tour. At the end of the day, I managed to make it out of the gift shop spending less than $20, despite considering the $15,000 sword for sale.

Bag End model

Our next stop was downtown Wellington, and, specifically, for Adam, Gabby, and I, the Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand, which was quite extensive and elaborate. The Shiffletts and John went to ride the Wellington cable car and explore the botanical gardens while we were in the museum. This museum was really well done (think, the Smithsonian of New Zealand) and included an exhibit on the “The Scale of our War,” which detailed the New Zealand Army’s engagement alongside the Australians in the battle of Gallipoli during WWII. Weta created eight, two-and-a-half times human size statues for this exhibit, which were quite impressive.

The Scale of Our War
Public diving platform

After the museum closed, we reunited with the rest of the group and went for dinner on the wharf. Along the way we passed a public (semi) high dive where a bunch of young guys had gathered. We could see this diving board from the 2 Stages restaurant, where we had dinner, and watched for a while what seemed to be a male-dominated endeavor, until a lady jumped in as well. We finished the evening by driving up Mount Victoria to get a view of all of Wellington. No drones allowed here either, unfortunately.

Sunset in Wellington

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