NZ: Middle Earth, Matamata, wetacave, where Real goes onto the Reel
Auckland Airport International terminal is probably not where you'd expect to find a gigantic statue of Gimli, the fictional warrior dwarf character from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth epic saga, The Lord of the Rings.
The statue is also unusual in that its scale surely represents Gimlis' assumed confidence rather than his height, because it stands 7 metres high (about 23 ft) and welcomes visitors, albeit with a huge axe: “to a place where fantasy comes to life”... indeed. To the curious kids, it’s just a humongous dwarf. One got the impression that this other-worldly saga, could be just around the next corner.
A few months ago, we passed through Matamata. It's a sleepy township, with a big difference. It is the home of Hobbiton, movie set tour in the countryside, on the most picture-perfect private farmland. The Hobbit film trilogies; I thought of Gollum - visions of trolls, ringwraiths, orcs and balrogs, sent shivers down my spine. We drove into town. As we had to be in Wellington that day, we probably didn't have time to go on to the film set tour but we could pick up brochures and enquire.
Opposite the shops on high street was the information centre, the quaint building was shaped like one of the dwellings, a Hobbit hole, in Hobbiton. We couldn't help but take photos from every angle despite quite heavy traffic. We were interested to find out more... Inside there is memorabilia and more photo-taking opportunities. The friendly staff answered questions and we got the brochures.
''The set has been completely rebuilt for The Hobbit and will remain as it was seen in these films and The Lord of the Rings film trilogy....'' - cool! Experience the real Middle-Earth with a visit to the Hobbiton™ Movie Set, the idyllic setting for The Shire™ that featured in the Peter Jackson directed films, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies. Visions and aromas of freshly baked bread at the bakers, aaaahh! Rise and shine, barrels full ready to begin the day at The Green Dragon Inn; Millhouse filled bags of flour and delightful turning of the waterwheel, Bag End home of Frodo and Bilbo; even tiny lambs frolicking in springtime amidst daffodils. That had to wait till a more appropriate time, what a shame...
Meanwhile, while we're in the heart of the Waikato region, what else does Matamata have? Before the invasion of the LOTR, Matamata was and is a respected district for breeding thoroughbred equine stock (horses). Flatlands and rolling pastureland is perfect terrain for nurturing the next derby winners. Feeling peckish is easily remedied – a good range of quality cafes for such a small rural town, that even particular city folk will be surprised.
Matamata is also well-known in aviation circles as a great location for para-gliding, fixed-wing gliding and sky diving. Everything happens at Waharoa airfield, just north of the town. Also to the north but easterly direction of Matamata are the tallest and most attractive waterfalls. Wairere Falls is located in Kaimai Range, the falls' impressive views are from the waterfall's lookouts. Amid a lush fauna of native bush, the track winds its way up hill and down dale, leading to the top of the gorge with a magnificent view.
On the subject of water.... the Blue Spring is internationally acclaimed water source so pure it supplies around 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water – no kidding? The waters of the Blue Spring are perfectly pure and clean that it emanates a lovely blue colour while being virtually clear. And glimpses of fresh trout in the water make you think: hey, fly-fishing here I come? The spring located to the south of Matamata near Putaruru.
And who could miss Tirau? A quirky little township it is on the way south to Wellington, just in time to stop for a cuppa tea, scones, and lunch? Tirau has a special peculiarity - plentiful galleries and gift stores, Tirau is also known for its quirky corrugated iron design-masterwork.
Seeing that we were due in Wellington that particular extended weekend, the stop at Matamata reminded us to visit Weta Cave in Wellingtons southern suburb of Miramar, as one of the high-lights. Wellington; the coolest little capital and Sir Peter Jackson had his home there, best known as the director, writer and producer of the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies – awesome. We got into Wellington late.
That Saturday, was the day for the Weta Cave visit, Sir Peter Jackson’s studio in Wellington. Up early on we had a coffee and eggs benedict at a nearby cafe and got on our way. Miramar is just behind Wellington Airport, on a little peninsular. The homes on either side of the leafy peninsular have steep, wiggly roads leading up to them. I'm glad I don't have to traverse any difficult bits today. (See : stroke).
Weta Workshop has produced creatures and makeup effects for the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Some might say it was cult TV, back in the 1990's - I certainly watched it when we were in the UK, re-runs and re-runs later, it is still enjoyable.
Weta Workshop's output came to worldwide prominence with director Peter Jackson's film trilogy The Lord Of The Rings, producing sets, costumes, armour, weapons, creatures and miniatures.
Weta’s Oscar nominated work in The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies topped the VFX (Visual Effects) category at the HPA , Hollywood's Post-production Awards. In the Fast'n'Furious 7 movie, Paul Walker was taken from the world after a fatal car crash in 2013. Wanting to make a fitting tribute to say the best goodbye as well as complete the movie, Weta Workshop laid the essential fundamentals to round-off Paul's performance and finish the film.
Amazingly, Furious 7, when released in 2015, Weta used CGI technology to finish the transformation. We saw it at the movies not too long ago; it seemed seamless, a fitting farewell.
The Weta Cave studio provides a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into the workings of Weta Workshop. Once there, parked, it is free entry; oh, mind the Troll guards. Inside it's a treasure trove that would please any fanatic film-buff. It was a pleasure to browse, take photos and browse with wonder.
There’s a mini museum, gift shop, other special props and collector’s items inside the Weta Cave plus a choice of behind-the-scenes movie tours. So much other stuff on display and for sale that isn't part of LOTR realm that Weta uniquely created, or collaborated on. A wide spectrum of genres and styles: all of them really remarkable. Even Murray was impressed. I'll have to dig out the films and watch the Lord of the Rings at home again ...