Monthly Archives: October 2022

Weta Workshop Wellington

The Hobbit Hole Door at the Weta Workshops, Wellington.

For our last day in Wellington, we went for the tour of the Weta Workshops. These are completely different to the exhibit in Auckland, being less ‘theatrical’. You can’t take photos of everything, because much of it is still under copyright. You get a much better understanding of how wide-ranging are the efforts and output of the workshops. Because it was the weekend, the workshops were mostly deserted. Mostly – we did get to meet their aluminium foil sculptor, Warren Beaton. He did a skull in under a minute.

We were shown how they constructed the helmets for the Lord of the Ring movies, from sketches to the final product. It was explained that the helmets had a specially weighted ruff or spine so that they would move like an actual helmet. When you consider how many different styles of helmets were in the movies, it was eye-opening how hard they worked to get the details right.

I love pointy things. One of the exhibits we were allowed to photograph.

We were shown the mirror sword used in the live-action version of ‘Mulan’. It was much too long for the actor to fight with, but it needed to be large enough to reflect her face. Most swords and weapons are plastic, with a metal core to give them a realistic heft. There must be warehouse full of the armour and weapons from LOTR.

As mentioned, the workshop had supplied the gigantic sculptures of the people in the ANZAC exhibit in the museum. They use yak hair to recreate hair, beards, eyelashes, eyebrows, and even hair on your arms and knuckles. They thread each hair individually. So you need an artist who is also a hairdresser.

The second part of the tour was inspecting the models used in the Thunderbirds reboot.

Thunderbirds are go!

I was – and still am – a fan of the original Thunderbirds series. The creativity used in creating these sets – often using junk – was phenomenal. They had a lovely story about the sets from the original series. Some man complained about the use of a plastic juicer as part of the set in one episode, so they then used as many juicers as they could. They kept the tradition going when making the new sets. They also used washing machine bits, vacuum cleaner parts, computer boards, the caps from bottles and tubes, just about anything could be adapted for the futuristic settings.

The human-sized set of Thunderbird Two, complete with Scott.

They replaced Lady Penelope’s martini glass and cigarette with a pug. In keeping with that theme, pugs decorate her mansion inside and out. So cute! I remember wanting to be Lady Penelope when I grew up … but never managed to smoking part.

Late in the afternoon, we caught the ferry to Picton. I was excited to discover that you can see both the North and South Islands at the same time when crossing the strait. It was a smooth, uneventful trip, much to my relief. It was dark when we got into Picton, so didn’t get to see much until the next day.

Goodbye to the North Island.

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Filed under Lord of the Rings, New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington, Weta Workshop

Wedding Anniversary in New Zealand

Exhibit at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. And a wonderful view of my rotundity.

This was the day of our 27th wedding anniversary – and my husband’s birthday. So, we did out favourite thing and visited the museum across the road from where were staying: The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. We ended up spending six hours there, including meal breaks. We didn’t take many photos; most exhibits requested no photography.

The museum is also an art gallery. We started in the portrait gallery, which has a computer set up to explain who the people were in all the portraits. It also gave random facts about the restoration of the paintings, some of the meanings and symbology within the paintings, and historical context. Brilliant stuff. There was also a gallery showing by Robyn White.

The more traditional exhibits were about indigenous animals, the Maori way of life, the tectonics of New Zealand, and a tribute to the ANZACs with large human sculptures done by Weta Workshop.

We also visited the Wellington Museum, about four blocks away on the same street. It is a much smaller museum, set into an old wool storehouse. My favourite piece there was the memento mori wreath made from the hair of scores of people – very Victorian era; my Steampunk persona was fascinated by its complexity. Most hair used in this manner was preserved in lockets, brooches, and rings. There was a clever use of the hair colours to pick out the details in the wreath.

Human hair woven into a floral wreath.

There was an exhibit about the wreck of the ferry, Wahini, which made me cry due to so many little bodies lined up on the beach afterwards. Later on, I remembered we were taking a ferry to Picton and had anxiety over that. I kept checking the weather apps on my phone.

They also had an exhibit about the UFO panic of the late 1950s. Wellington has been paranormal for decades, it appears.

Victorian era baby carriage at the Wellington Museum.

After being on our feet for hours and hours, we headed back to the hotel for a nap. There was sparkling white wine on ice and little cakes waiting for us … the staff knew it was our anniversary. That night, we had a romantic dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. I love my husband more every day, and was pleased he had a fun day for his birthday.

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Filed under Adventures, Art, New Zealand, Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Art, The Museums of Wellington, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion, Wellington

Falling In Love With Zealandia

A Tuatara in Zealandia

I wasn’t expecting to be as delighted with Zealandia as I was, as I hadn’t really heard of it until we got to New Zealand. My bad. Zealandia is the previous town dam that has been converted into a conservation area, with high fences and the removal of nonindigenous species. They have also added a colony of tuatara to improve the chances of the species survival.

Now, I’ve always had a soft spot for tuatara, which look like a lizard but are actually in their own distinct Order. The animals have a third eye, which is covered in skin and scales, but does have a lens and retina and rods. I never thought I would see one on our trip, as they as close to extinction and found mainly on islands that don’t support a population of nonindigenous predators like cats and weasels. I saw them here and in Picton! In Zealandia, I saw them in their natural habitat, sunning themselves, as craggy and spiny as in any photos I’ve seen of them. I was as excited as a three year old at a party.

Still suffering from winter torpor. Or posing for photos.

The only weta we saw was crushed and dead; a female with an egg shooter. She might have been attacked by a bird, or stepped on unknowingly by a hiker. She was a big girl – I’ve only seen stick insects that were larger than her.

Then there were the birds. My favourites were the Kākās, a type of temperate parrot like the Keas and the flightless Kākāpōs (New Zealand really favour names starting in K for parrots). Kākās are brown and resemble corellas. At one of their feeding stations, a single kākā flew close enough that I felt its wing brush my cheek. They aren’t tame, just fearless.

At the feeding station.
A better view of a Kākā’s plumage.

As well, we saw several colonies of shags – which were attacked by an eagle. There were three species of shags. They panicked as they were strafed from the air. This is why so many New Zealand bird are plain, they are camouflaged from predators that attack from the sky. There was a supersized eagle that went extinct when the moa went extinct.

Speaking of moas, we were shown vegetation that changes shape as it grows, due to evolving to avoid being eaten by the moa. While a juvenile, it is spiky to discourage grazing by the herbivorous moa. Once it grows above the head height of a moa, the leaves revert to their adult form. With moas extinct, will this species eventually lose this adaptation? The moas were the equivalent of our Australian kangaroos or European deer – their loss is still impacting the overall ecology of New Zealand.

Spiky for a reason.

The bush reminded me of Binna Burra, but with more fern trees and moa food plants. Many more birds but no ground mammals. The only indigenous mammals – before the advent of man – were bats; tiny bats, not flying foxes. We saw many local species of birds, and a gecko, and even saw evidence of the kiwi population.

The footprint of a kiwi

After spending hours at Zealandia, we took the shuttle bus to the Cable Car Museum, and then rode the cable car back to the city. it had been a cloudy, drizzly day, but who noticed the weather when adventuring? We walked through the city, and had a late lunch, before heading back to our hotel. I slept like a log that night.

View from the Cable Car.

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Filed under Adventures, Kākā, New Zealand, Personal experience, Tuatara, Wellington, Zealandia

Wellington Zoo

A Kea at the Wellington Zoo

As some of the readers of this blog might know, I trained as a zoologist and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. I love animals. I’m not the biggest fan of zoos, because many zoos are poorly run and detrimental to the health of their inmates. However, I do love a well-run zoo. Wellington Zoo isn’t the biggest or flashiest zoo but it was still worth the visit. I got to see Keas close up for starters!

Otterly adorable.

I have to admit, I did enjoy our day at the zoo. We saw lions and tigers and bears – oh my. My favourite nonindigenous animals were the giraffes, the tiger, and the otters. I could spend hours watching otters. The one species of animal I would have loved to have seen was the snow leopards, but their enclosure is still under construction. I did get to see the Keas, the real reason for coming to the zoo.

Those eyelashes!
Pretending they can’t see the crowd admiring them.

Zoos exist to educate and preserve, as well as entertain. I consider their entertainment value well down the list of what a zoo should be achieving. For me, being able to go into the aviary with the Keas and see them up close was not just entertainment. In Australia, our local parrots are very colourful: lorikeets, cockatoos, corellas and so forth. Seeing an alpine species of parrot showed the differences between tropical Queensland parrots and Alpine parrots like the Keas. Their beaks are much longer, they are a heftier bird than a lorikeet, and their colouring is subdued (their predators are also on the wing). Fascinating differences. They are still raucous like my local parrots, so some things are the same.

Handsome and LOUD.
A glimpse of the bright feathers under their wings.

We were feeling adventurous after visiting the zoo, and took a bus back to the city centre. This might not sound adventurous, but we were able to sight-see better from a bus (we took a taxi to the zoo). There are so many beautiful old buildings on the way from the zoo to the city centre. The city centre is quite modern by contrast.

The view from the restaurant at the hotel, where we breakfasted every morning.

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Filed under New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington

Wellington Street Art

Even the manhole covers are art in Wellington.

The road trip from Rotorua to Wellington was the most interesting, scenery wise. We went from hot springs, through a rural paradise, through the ‘desert’ (it was very well covered in vegetation for a desert), into a modern city. The highpoint for me was seeing a snowy mountain. As a Queenslander born and bred, I’ve managed to miss seeing snow for sixty years.

Geothermal chimneys look remarkably like nuclear power plants.
My very first glimpse of snow.

We arrived in Wellington at night, so we didn’t get a good view of the city until the next morning. My word, the city is gorgeous. It has so much street art, it deserves a post all of its own.

The cat lady in the alley behind our hotel.
The bollards made to look like uncurling fern fronds.
A bridge just down from our hotel.

We spent four days in Wellington and I will share those adventures over the next few days.

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Filed under Art, New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington

Tall Trees and Kiwis – Rotorua

The Redwood Walk in Rotorua

I am a tree-hugger, so we had to visit the 55,000ha Whakarewarewa Forest next to the town of Rotorua. This is a forest of American Redwoods and native plants, and it is simply magical. There is a sky walk among the trees – which you can do at night – so that you can get up close to the trees. But you can’t get personal – touching the barks leaves the trees open to attack by insects and fungi.

The lanterns for the night walk through the redwoods.
Scraping the sky.
A slice of the trunk of a 150 year old tree.

While in Rotorua, we also went to the Kiwi Sanctuary. Alas, as the little birds are nocturnal, everything is kept dark and so photographs aren’t so good. However, we got to see an adult female, adult male, and juvenile male birds. This was a highpoint for me, as I had studied kiwis at university; they are stars due to their unique nature (Do your research). Alas, all the man-introduced animals seems to target the kiwis, either preying on the birds or eating their eggs.

The giant egg – with me lurking inside.
Kiwi feathers adorn a tradition Maori cloak.

We did a few drives around Lake Rotorua and its hinterlands. It truly is the most photogenic place, a glorious lake surrounded by lushly forested mountains. We stayed two night; we could have stayed a week.

One of the numerous streams and rivers in the mountains around Rotorua.

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Filed under New Zealand, Personal experience, Rotorua

Boiling Mud

Boiling Mud at Rotorua

Before we headed to Rotorua, everyone was warning us about how it was a smelly place. We lucked out and it wasn’t so bad while we were staying there. I have a poor sense of smell, but my husband’s sense of smell is just fine, and he didn’t find it unpleasant. Friends have since advised me that they found the fart smell unbearable. What creates the smell? The volcanic hot water vents that saturate the area (pun intended).

The yellow streak in the waters of Lake Rotorua is due to vents in the lake bed. The rest of the lake remains crystal clear.
One of the hot water springs in the Rotorua Botanical Gardens.

We went to a guided night tour of geysers. We were informed that the waters and mud can cook you in minutes, and that the indigenous people had specific precautions to prevent scalds. They cooked us – the tour group – a butterscotch pudding in seven minutes. The pools are that hot; you can’t bathe in them, you would be broiled to death.

The geyser pouring hot water into the chilly night air. Very dramatic.

This blog is a second go at recounting our adventures in Rotorua. I had written a much longer post – and a finger fumbled wiped it away. So, I’m breaking up the Rotorua adventure into three posts.

I will add that I had a friend from New Zealand in Grade One, and she was from Rotorua. She made the boiling mud sound magical, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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Filed under New Zealand, Personal experience, Rotorua

Concerning Hobbiton

Our next adventure was Hobbiton.

The drive from Auckland to Hobbiton it just over two hours (nothing to a Queenslander) and it was my first introduction to just how GREEN it is in New Zealand. After rain, it can get lushly green where I live, but it has nothing on the greenness of New Zealand.

Ireland may be second in the world greenest country award.
It’s very green in Middle Earth as well.

Hobbiton exists on an enormous family sheep farm. It’s upkeep takes twenty fulltime employees: gardeners, people to change the tiny laundry on the clotheslines, keeping the smokers going so the chimneys smoke authentically. The party tree is real, but the tree above Bad End is not. They did one day of shooting, and there was a storm that night. When they came back the next day, the tree looked different – so Peter Jackson had it replaced with an artificial tree that needs lots of care and attention. There is so much attention to detail!

Take the Hobbit holes. There are three different sized holes. There a tiny ones to give the landscape depth in wide shots. There are ‘realistic’ sized holes for working shots. And then there are huge ones to make normal humans look hobbit-sized. My family jokes that I am half hobbit, as I am short and round (but I have tiny feet). I felt very at home in this landscape, so maybe they aren’t wrong.

A hobbit in her natural habitat.

We stayed for the evening banquet at The Green Dragon – the only set that has a proper internal rooms and décor. I got to meet pretty Pickle, the Hobbiton cat. The bar supplies four sorts of drinks: a non-alcoholic ginger beer, an apple cider, a lager, and a dark stout. I tried the cider and it was delicious. I was also lucky enough to get a photo taken of my playing barhobbit. The banquet was suitably gorgeously gluttonous. We walked back through Hobbiton in the dark, with lanterns.
Our tour guides were locals, and had lots of gossip about the actual filming at the set. Many locals were hired to play hobbits in crowd scenes. And now locals are hired to tend to the set. Sounds like a dream job, gardening at Hobbiton!

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Filed under Hobbiton, Lord of the Rings, New Zealand, Personal experience, Pop Culture

Weta Workshop, Auckland – Weta Unleashed

One of the suits of armour on display at Weta Unleashed.

The Weta Unleashed tour is in the building across the road from the Sky Tower. This was convenient, as we went straight from the Sky Tower to our tour, across a sky bridge. We looked around the shopping cave first, and took photos of the statues of trolls and orcs lurking in the corridor outside.

Once inside the touring area, our first stop was a ‘reception’ area with animatronic Kevin, an orc. Kevin was the result of Disney wanting a fortune – AND YEARS – to create this sort of robot. Weta decided to do it themselves. And they managed to be quicker and cheaper. I prophesise that Disney will be trying to buy Weta in the near future. My favourite room was the Pinnie Gigs room, where Guinea Pigs were the overarching theme. They were part of the stained class, and there was a board that had sketches of LOTR characters as guinea pigs. My next favourite room was the miniatures room. The details were amazing. If I could work for Weta, this would be my jam.

Of course, I got to play with a sword and helmet and a throne.

This kingdom is MINE.

If you get a chance to go to Auckland, don’t pass up the opportunity to see the Weta Workshop. It is inspiring for writers and Steampunk enthusiasts.

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Filed under Auckland, New Zealand, Personal experience, Steampunk Art, Steampunk Technology, Weta Unleashed Auckland

Our First Night In New Zealand

Auckland by night, from the Sky Tower

It seemed to take all day to get from Brisbane to Auckland, since we lost two hours in the trip over. But my husband, Brian, didn’t want to waste time in seeing the sights. So, that night, we had dinner at the Sky Tower.

I wasn’t expecting to see much, with the sky overcast and no moon, but was presently surprised to be wrong. The restaurant revolves slowly, so that you get a view of the entire 360 degrees while dining. The highlights were a lime green crane, the dancing lights on the main bridge, the port with its red eyes all over, and the general fairy lights of the city. And the food was great.

View from the Sky Tower by day.

The next day. we went back to the Sky Tower. Auckland is a beautiful city, with it’s water views. I also did a virtual ride with a roller coaster set on top of the Sky Tower. That was delightful, because it gives you several ‘free fall’ moments while experiencing the ride.

The view through the glass floor of the Sky Tower.

I watched as a toddler wandered over the glass floor with no fear, until he looked down. Then he plopped onto his bottom and wailed. However, his mother was suffering from vertigo (I used to get it when my own children looked to be doing something dangerous) and couldn’t bear to step onto the see-through flooring. She tried to call her little one over to her, and was getting quite distraught. I was about to help when he was rescued by his sister, a girl about four, who had no qualms about bouncing on those see-through panels.

After the Sky Tower, we went to the Weta Workshop! I’ll save that for tomorrow’s blog.

Where we were staying was a place called the Fable, which felt rather posh.

The tea set in our room at the Fable.

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Filed under Art, Auckland, New Zealand, Personal experience