Christmas to the New Year
The day after Christmas, we took a walk to nearby Mount Victoria. There are steep hills all around Wellington, which keep the city compact from both a population-density perspective, and from a distance-to-nature perspective. It’s an easy walk from even the heart-of-downtown where we’re staying, to forest land so awe-inspiring that it was used for some of the iconic scenes of Middle Earth from the first Lord of the Rings film.
We saw a handful of Lord of the Rings tourists like us, but the other 50% were just Wellingtonians enjoying their park. We continued on up the hill where there were considerably more tourists (most of whom had driven to the top) to take in the views of Wellington.
A couple days later, to keep ourselves somewhat in-shape during this holiday off-the-bike time, we went for a run in the opposite (southwest) direction. This time we were out of downtown and into the cute old-western-town vibe of the Aro Valley neighborhood in less than half a mile, and then a half mile after that, into the forest on the Brooklyn Wind Turbine Trail. Two miles of switchbacks through the trees on a narrow dirt path brought us 800 feet above Wellington, and 200 feet above Mount Victoria. So yeah, a pretty good workout, and incredible that you could live and work in Wellington’s Central Business District and do this near-wilderness 6-mile loop run every morning starting right from your front door. I planned city streets and pedestrian stairways and paths-between-houses for the steep downhill for the return (where much of it felt incredibly similar to the innovations built to navigate the steep hill that makes up Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, including the houses that would have entrances right off the zig-zagging pedestrian paths), but halfway through we got sucked into another forest park that dropped us deep into a river gorge with a half-dozen curvy wooden bridges that would cross back and forth over the stream every 20 steps!
Then on the day before New Year’s Eve, it was time to return to our Lord of the Rings tourism, this time visiting the Weta Workshop, the company that did all the practical effects and props for the films (and now for a load of other movies too, but they know where their bread is buttered, and the tour is 80% LotR-related). As someone who has watched all the bonus features and commentaries from the Extended Edition DVDs, it was cool to visit this what-still-feels-like-a-family-business run by Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger.
When the three films were all originally released to tremendous success, I said (and still believe) that it was one of the biggest payoffs from one of the biggest risks in the history of entertainment. It seemed like insanity to me (if not full-on corporate malfeasance from New Line Cinema) to hand responsibility for the massive project of putting Tolkien’s deeply-beloved story on movie screens, to a barely-known New Zealand director, working with a tiny company like Weta (at the time), on these barely-populated islands. So the fact that these underdog New Zealanders not only succeeded in bringing something to the screen, but something that likely far outshone what any “safer” team would have produced, is in itself a story nearly as incredible as the actual story where hobbits, the smallest and least-regarded race of Middle-Earth, are the ones who save the world.
And the tour (and our excellent tour guide, who hadn’t even been alive when the movies were being made!) was kind enough to reinforce that view of a 20-something know-it-all living half-a-world away. Just the fact that the company still sits in the middle of a super-normal residential neighborhood illustrates how unpretentious the whole gang was, and continues to be. They knew the responsibility that had been put on them, but just had an “eh, we can do it, let’s just get to it!” attitude.
After the 90-minute tour it was lunchtime, so we walked a couple blocks over to Double Vision Brewing. Rett got their Harry Potter-themed beer cocktail of the month, I got a flight of beers, and somehow we stumbled into their once-a-month bar-trivia contest…and tied for third place! (vs. teams three times our size). With our take-home 1.5L prize of Cocowbell (a coconut milk stout) under my arm, we began the 6-mile walk home, but started with a roundabout path to the Miramar harborside (again on Seattle-like pedestrian stairs and ramps up and down the near-vertical hills). I surprised Rett when then hillside fores trail we were walking down turned into the “Miramar Fairy Village” (at least that’s how it’s labeled on Google Maps, so thanks Google for surfacing this rather unofficial but on-target destination for me!) It’s just a bunch of fairy doors and other whimsical things planted in the woods, but it had Rett cackling with delight and racing from tree to tree to see what she could discover next (the only other people we saw there were a similarly-adult and similarly-excited couple).
Then we began the long walk home in earnest. Wellington is the windiest city in the world (part of the reason I wasn’t excited about riding our bikes all the way here!) and while the first few days were reasonably calm, there has now been strong winds blowing for at least three days straight. In our AirBNB apartment, the pattern is very strange, with the wind through the nearly-always-open window and patio door being barely-noticeable most of the time. But then about once every 15 minutes, a tremendous gust will barrel in, literally shaking the walls (it’s a concrete-block building, so I don’t think the building itself is shaking, I think the air pressure being blown in is strong enough to bow the interior walls).
Outside, on this now-clear afternoon, there were definitely still some higher gusts, but even the steady wind was enough to make it difficult to walk straight. When taking pictures with my phone, I needed to hand the beer jug over to Rett so that I could hold it with two hands to keep it from being ripped away. Some of the issue is that the north wind was sweeping right down the harbor separating the Miramar peninsula from the mainland (and piling up the heavy waves at the U-shaped southern end), so there were no hills to break it up for us. It would have sucked if it was rainy or cold, but the nice non-wind components of the weather allowed us to treat it as a fun adventure.