Peter and I arrived in New Zealand a day early so we could spend a bit of time with a friend we hadn’t seen in years. It was a Saturday and Auckland was packed for the women’s rugby world cup. We had a wander around the general area but the weather wasn’t great. The sky tower was only just visible. We visited Countdown (owned by Woolworths Australia and using the familiar Woolies logo) because it’s always interesting to see what the locals are buying and what it costs. Besides we wanted mouthwash to take with us on the trip.
It seemed the area around Auckland’s sky tower is all part of the casino complex, including most of the hotels and restaurants. We were looking for somewhere to have lunch with our friend that wouldn’t lead to us mortgaging our house and decided the casino was a good place. After all, feed the players cheap and they’ll stay.
Out of simple curiosity we took the lift in our hotel to a few different floors marked on the directory to see what was there. That’s why we went to the fifth floor.
Oh my. We stepped out of the lift and I was staring at Bill (see above), one of the mountain trolls in Peter Jackson’s movie, The Hobbit. I’m a HUGE Tolkien fan. Adored the books, loved the movies. I felt I’d died and gone to heaven. I stared around at the other trolls (Tom and Bert) and found the entrance to the gift shop, dominated by Smaug the great red dragon. Here was Gollum with a salmon, the dreaded White Orc with his axe raised, and shelves of models and collectables of superior quality. They were seriously good, beautifully made dioramas of iconic scenes from the movies. Forty years ago I would have gone home with a lighter wallet and a bulging suitcase. But this time I settled for going on the Weta Workshop Unleashed experience. Peter, who had been ambling in my wake as I oohed and aahed and explained where that scene happened or who that character was, declined to come with me. He had better things to do, like watch grass grow.
Weta is a New Zealand special effects company which rose to prominence for its work on the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The tour isn’t about those movies: it’s about how the people who work at Weta bring fantasy to life. The visit looks at three very different films, all just about ready to be released. Fauna is a horror film set in New Zealand. Age of the Ever-Clan is a fantasy movie which imagines what might have happened if that meteor hadn’t wiped out the dinosaurs and they had evolved further. Origins, another New Zealand based movie, is science fiction involving a huge, alien robot.
The tour is very much hands-on. People are encouraged to try things out, to pull the levers that animate the models, play with chain mail, carve objects, press buttons, get involved. The kids on tour loved it and so did most of the adults.
As part of telling us about the horror movie, Fauna, they’d set up a section of set where we could walk through a scary bit to give us a feel for how it all works. We were warned it would be dark and claustrophobic and small children and pregnant women shouldn’t enter. People went in as couples or as individuals with a gap between entrants so we could have the experience alone. A couple of young women went in before me but just as I was about to start, they came back looking seriously scared. No way were they going back in there. I walked along a boardwalk into thick forest just like the temperate rain forest you can find all over New Zealand. I couldn’t hear the sounds of all the people I knew were out there. At the end of one path I walked into a shed filled with hanging sheep carcasses. That was uncomfortable, especially since there wasn’t an obvious way through. I reckon that was where the two girls decided it was a NUP. And that was before I got to the scary bit which I won’t tell you about. Spoilers, you see.
I managed to get all the way through without panicking.
Which brings me to something more directly related to our tour.
The first ‘meet and greet’ dinner is always a bit awkward. We were twenty people who didn’t know anyone except their own partner – and our two solo travellers didn’t even have that. Ten of our group were Australian, eight were from Britain and the other two were Canadian. The main thing we had in common was we were all retired. Some of us had more in common but on that first meeting we didn’t know that. Peter is much better at ‘social’ than I am and for me approaching a bunch of strangers is right up there with that simulation from the horror movie. So, I was delighted to recognise the big man standing with a beer in his hand as having been at the Weta Workshop experience.
A fellow geek! Hurrah! I automatically had something to talk about. Later I learned Chris was also a writer of fiction. Then during dinner John and Jane said they lived in Perth where I grew up. John and I had even attended the same high school, although not in the same years. We had some fun trying to remember names of teachers.
As the days went on, we got to know each other better. But it was an excellent start.
By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.