On Sunday, October 17th, all my dreams came true. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but some of them certainly did! This past weekend I took a 9-hour bus ride, solo, from Hamilton to Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. Why would I put myself through this, you may ask? Because there was no way I was going to leave New Zealand without going on a proper Lord of the Rings film tour! The verdict? Absolutely worth it! Of course, there were a few bumps along the way.
When I arrived in Wellington on Saturday evening, I wandered around for a bit looking for my hostel. After getting blown over by gale force winds (they call it "Windy Welly" for a reason), I decided it would be a good idea to ask for directions. Luckily, Downtown Backpackers was right across the street from the Wellington Transport Center.
That night I shared a room with a middle-aged couple from Australia. They were very nice, but both were loud snorers. At 8 am the next morning, I was picked up for my LOTR tour. Due to some unusual circumstances involving a cruise ship in the city, I was the only person on my tour. Although it was a bit awkward at first, it turned out to be really nice because I had more control over where we went than I would have otherwise. My 50 year old guide was the epitome of everything that is Kiwi. Prior to this winter, he was living in his bus (he now rents a room at Downtown Backpackers), and he likes to attend Shabam dance classes on the weekends :) After beginning the tour on Mt. Victoria where they filmed the scene in which Frodo and the other hobbits encounter the Ringwraith after leaving the Shire, we went to the Weta Workshop in 'Wellywood.' Here, I took pictures with Gollum and Uruk-hai Lurtz, as well as with a replica of one of the guns from District 9. There were a lot of cool things in the gift shop, but I didn't purchase anything because it was all really expensive. Before leaving Wellywood, my guide showed me a soundstage with a green screen where certain scenes from LOTR and Avatar were filmed.
Next, we left Wellington for the Hutt Valley. We stopped at a location along the Hutt River where closeups for the River Anduin scenes in Fellowship of the Ring were filmed. Next, we went to Kaitoke Regional Park. While I checked out one of the small walking paths, my guide organized a snack next to the river. He fed pieces of chocolate to 3 water eels- 2 of which he had previously named Charlie and Gollum- while I ate a blueberry muffin. Then, we visited the section of the park where the Rivendell scenes were filmed. Although none of the set remains, it was still a very cool experience. Part of the tour involved posing for pictures with a cape, elf ears, and a replica of Frodo's sword Sting, in the same spot where Orlando Bloom posed for promotional photos for the first movie. Although I was supposed to look like an elf, I was definitely all hobbit!
Our next (and final) stop was Harcourt Park, which was used to depict the Gardens of Isengard in the films. The flowers were so beautiful. In fact, the park was more scenic when I visited than when they were filming, because everything was in bloom.
During the afternoon, I went on Wellington city and coastline tour. Although it did not live up to the LOTR tour, I was able to briefly visit some iconic Wellington locations like the Beehive, the Parliament House, and the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. I also got to experience a Wellington cable car ride. Some homes in Wellington actually have their own personal cable cars so residents don't have to walk up flights of steps to reach their porches (the terrain is extremely steep). To my surprise, we stopped at the Weta Workshop on this tour too. I had been regretting not buying something during my first visit all day, so I was very glad I got a second chance to make some purchases. One of my splurges was a LOTR filming locations book. Did I forget to mention that it was raining practically the entire day? At the end of this tour, the sun finally came out, and I was able to get some great shots on top of Mt. Victoria.
That night, I became sick again. I felt a bit better by the time my new roommates for the night showed up- 2 Kiwi guys my age- but after eating breakfast the next morning, I "relapsed." I missed my 7:45 am bus back to Hamilton. I thought I might have to spend another day in Wellington, but luckily I was able to book a ride home through another company for 9:00 am. I got through that 9-hour bus ride and made it back to Waikato in one piece. It was not exactly the way I wanted to end my journey, but - again - it was well worth the pain. Moral of the story: in the midst of your study abroad adventures, drink plenty of water!