Scotland, Europe, the World

beit orming landscape

Go in search of Tolkien and explore the city of Wellington. Words: Susan Nickalls

ellington may be the capital of New Zealand. but

for a long time it was Auckland that had the

reputation as the biggest. liveliest and most happening city. But all that has changed I discovered on my first visit back home in twelve years.

Arriving a few days before the premiere of The Lord Of

The Rings. it was impossible to avoid the hobbit fever gripping the country from the local papers to customs at the airport. If you looked twice at the official posters telling you where to queue with your passport you realised the options read orcs. hobbits. wizards and. inexplicably. journalists.

In downtown Wellington. the Dominion and Evening Post building had been renamed Middle Earth Newspapers Ltd and the day after the LOTR premiere. the Post’s masthead simply read: Middle Earth. Then there‘s the Embassy Theatre itself which was the main focus of attention even if the red carpet did get soaked in the typical Wellington summer rain.

This is the heart of a thriving cafe’ and restaurant scene reminiscent of the atmosphere you're likely to find in any European city. Opposite the Embassy is the Brava bar. part of the Downstage Theatre complex and a well-known luvvies hang-out. It was here I had coffee with Melanie Lynskey who starred in Heavenly Creatures an earlier Peter Jackson film along with Kate Winslett. Not far away. in the less salubrious warehouse-lined back-streets. is another haunt of the famous. Cafe’ L‘Affare. I spotted both Jane Campion and Sam Neill lunching here the day after the premiere. Its food is fabulous as it is in most of the cafes and restaurants in Wellington. which range from Chinese and Cantonese to Thai. Greek and Indian.

For LOTR aficionados. there are plenty of sites featured in the film to see in and around Wellington. You virtually fly over Jackson’s studio in Miramar as you land at the airport. Places in and around the city were used as the settings for Bree. the Shire. Moria. Wethertop and Rivendell. Just twenty minutes out of Wellington in Lower Hutt. where I grew up.

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Haywards Hill provided the setting for one of the most detailed sets. Helms Deep. Paving stones. trees and statues were built into the old quarry: however you‘d be hard pushed to find any evidence of filming now on these sites. They also bear little resemblance to the digitally enhanced scenery that appeared in the film.

If you want to escape from LOTR. Wellington offers loads of other attractions. No trip to the capital is complete without a trip up the city’s cable car which takes you from Lambton Quay up to the botanical gardens and Carter observatory and planatarium. with spectacular views of the city and harbour.

Dominating the waterfront is Te Papa (‘Our Place’). the most vibrant and stimulating museum I’ve visited. Nearly everything is interactive. the Earthquake House is a great favourite with the kids and you can also take simulated bungee jumps in the Time Warp. It’s a wonderful celebration of New Zealand cultures.

New Zealand’s parliament. the Beehive. is also worth a visit. As the name suggests. it's been built in the shape of a beehive although it looks like an over-sized doo‘cot plopped next to the more elegant neo-classical parliament buildings.

A boat trip is also a must while in Wellington. particularly the ferry from the harbour via Soames Island a nature reserve to Days Bay. This is a popular beach with the adjoining Frank Kitts Park offering expansive picnic areas and sensational bush walks. If you fancy going further afield. the Cook Straight ferries and seacat also depart from Wellington for Picton. From here you can visit the wine growing regions around Nelson or hop on a train to on the east coast. This is the home of the whales and you can see them from boat. helicopter or as we did. by plane.

It may seem a long way to travel. but New Zealand is a paradise for those seeking adventure and with the current exchange rate this dream holiday needn't cost a fortune.

No digital enhancement required

Choose between whale

or wizard hunting

Places in and around the city were used as the settings for Bree, the Shire, Moria, Wethertop and Rivendell