The last day of 2014, it’s been about 30 years since I was in Wellington. I was scared, the winds howled down the streets, taking people’s hats away, I could feel my little legs lifting from the ground and I was sure they would sweep me away to my death.
After a sunny few days on the south island, Welly didn’t disappoint my second time around, the winds were up up and it was wet. But rather than dampening our spirits the rain and wind freshened our outlook, blowing away the old year to make room for the new.
We’d had to get up at 5 a.m. in order to get on the ferry from the south to the north, an uneventful trip that allowed a bit of rest, and by the time we’d dropped our luggage off we were ready for some breakfast.
We found the Plum Cafe. A nice little place somewhere around the trendy Cuba Street, which had a nice assortment of trendy looking locals reading papers,sipping coffees. The kids had some of the best, fluffiest pancakes I’d ever sampled, and I went for some avocado and feta smash, being middle-aged and watching my boring cholesterol, though the smash was anything but boring, and consuming one of the most divine coffees I’d had around the world.
“That’s one of the most divine coffees, I’ve had in my life”, I said to my wife.
“What dear?” She replied as usual.
“Wellington is a damn fine place”, I said to her sipping the last of the coffee.
“Yes it is”, she replied over her tea.
I can’t remember being at all interested in this sort of cuisine type of thing 30 years ago, but I sure as hell was getting into it now.
We’d planned only one tourist activity during our day in Wellington, a tour of the Weta Caves, a place where the Kiwis make stuff for Hollywood filums (by that I mean films) including that One called The Hobbit.
Having been to Hollywood I can tell you with great conviction that Wellington is much nicer, and, as previously mentioned, has very nice coffee to boot, a skill the American don’t seem to have mastered.
The cave, well the gift shop where you wait for the cave tour, was pretty full on arrival. Of course there was a man who looked a bit like Gandalf – not really but he had a beard and a staff – behind the counter selling Hobbit mugs and Legolas statuettes – not the ‘real’ Legolas of the books of course but something of the likeness of Orland Bloom. I was hoping to find a t-shirt with Gollum on it that said, stupid fat hobbitsess stole my precious but alas the store was small and the range of Hobbit paraphernalia rather limited and expensive.
Naturally my daughter wanted a crossbow, mace and sword, as girls in the post Hunger Games era all seem to want to do. She’s also looking forward to us perhaps being able to go to Las Vegas one day to shoot M-16s.
Having to breath in tightly just to fit into the place, now swarming with rain jacket clad tourists, we decide we should go visit the trolls outside.
“What are those?” My wife asks and the children walk away from her in embarrassment.
I whisper to her so as not draw attention to lack of Hobbit knowledge, “they are from the Hobbit movies, they try and eat the Dwarves and Bilbo, and they are also in the Lord of the Rings because they were turned to stone by Gandalf. One’s called Bert…” I can see she’s not taking any of this in so I give up. “Just go get your photo taken with one so you can put it on Facebook”.
“Which one is Bilbo?”
“None of these are Bilbo, Bilbo is a Hobbit, these are trolls!”
She has the tickets for the tour in her hands, “they said to meet by the golden statue?” she said, it’s meant to be at the entrance.
“Yes, golden statue.”
“I didn’t see any golden statue in there. There was a Gollum statue.”
“Gollum?” She asks.
“Yes, Gollum, the statue you got Oskar to have his picture with, he had the ring at some point and the filthy hobbitsess took it away from him and he had to try and take them to Mordor, but he was all torn up about it”, I sigh, “never mind”.
Indeed it turned out it was the Gollum statue where we had to meet and not the golden one that wasn’t even there. I explain to my wife that she needs to stop asking embarrassing questions about the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings at this place, otherwise we won’t be able to stand near her when we go on the tour.
When the tour begins we’re instructed that we cannot take any photos. The film people own the copyright on all the costumes and weaponry and such that they make in the caves.
Our guide is a hip cat, I can’t help thinking Welly is full of hip cats and cool dudes doing cool stuff like making costumes and weapons for international movies, and all in this little place named after an indigenous New Zealand cricket-like insect, in a little suburb of Wellington that’s just beyond the reach of tsunamis – as a line on the road outside the places indicates.
The tour guide is a pinter of sets and models used in various movies, he started his career doing graffiti art, or ‘vandalism’ to some, around Wellington. He was also an orc. I point out one of the orc costumes to my wife so she knows what he’s talking about. Of course she points to a costume from the film District 9 thinking this might be an orc too, to which I am so gobsmacked as to not be able to offer a verbal reply, simply shaking my head instead.
The guide gives us the background to the making of some of the movies the produce costumes and sets for here, including recounting the story of Orland Bloom’s blankie.
“On these tours I like to highlight the work of the stunts doubles”. Says the tour guide. “You know all those battle scenes they do, we’ll while the actors take the credit for them all and do the interviews, they don’t actually do the sciences themselves. Now it gets pretty cold in New Zealand and Legolas for instance, is dressed in those tights and things. We’ll what happens once Orlando Bloom does his lines, is that he goes and gets himself rugged up with his little blankie, sipping a hot cocoa while the stunt doubles come out for hours on end, firing arrows, waving swords in the freezing cold.”
I’m sure if Orlando heard about this he’d be whipping out his sword and smiting his criticisers like the manly man he is, although he might have to use one of the battle scene swords that are made out of plastic, painted to look like steel as the real ones are quite heavy and may damage his little precious nails.
Following the tour, even my wife is impressed and we’re all just thinking that Wellington is totally swell, but not in a sarcastic way, in a really, this place is freaking awesome.
Not to let the awesomeness of the day fade too soon when we head back into Wellington’s CBD we make our way back to Cuba Street for another gorgeous meal, this time at an Italian joint called Scopa.
Afterwards we are confronted by a crazy homeless man (who you can see standing barefooted on the curb in the picture below) but he’s an entertaining guy, not like those serious and dangerous homeless you find in Hollywood, but a down to earth and honest and carefree homeless man who just wants to tell the world about something in a garbled yell.
My wife thinks otherwise and as I take the picture she’s calling back to me, “keep walking!”.
It’s pouring rain by now and we just grab a bottle on wine and some Kiwi ciders to drink the remainder of the day away. We’re old, it’s wet and we’ve been up since before dawn, so none of us manage to see in the new year.
And as the day ends, I say to my son, as I tuck him into bed, “see in this weather it’s better to be wrapped up like Orlando with his little blankie rather than being out in the mean and cold wet weather”.
He rolls his eyes, “Yes dad”.
I look through the hotel window onto the street, it’s almost 11 p.m. There’s a guy with a blower cleaning up the street, as I sip on my cider thinking, I just love Wellington.