Thursday, March 14, 2013

One ring to rule them all

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future" - Galadriel

OK, we admit it.  We are big fans of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," and New Zealand is just the place to immerse ourselves in our love of these movies/books.  For much of the past decade, we gathered as a family with Jack each Christmas season to watch Aragon and Frodo realize their destinies. What we have found to be amazing, though, is the effect that not only these movies, but the legacy of their director, Peter Jackson, have had on this small country. 

Tourism is a vital part of the New Zealand economy.  Of course there are other industries such as agriculture, forestry, and fisheries and all of these in total make for a diverse and usually stable country.  During the last thirteen years, however, tourism has had a significant shot in the arm due, in large part, to the efforts of Sir Peter Jackson.  His trilogy, "Lord of Rings" became so popular that many of the movie locations are advertised and marketed as tourist attractions.  There are tour companies that exist only to provide tours of these sites for the visiting public.  Visitor information centers added personnel to handle the additional visitor traffic seeking anything they could visit concerning the trilogy, and we talked to employees who "had a job because of the trilogy."  Books have been published that detail (with GPS coordinates) site locations of the film and these books can be found in all bookstores and visitor centers across New Zealand.  Things are not slowing down for the movie buffs, as "The Hobbit" locations are now becoming just as popular.

Jackson, along with two other founders, has also located his Weta special effects business in his hometown of Wellington, on the North Island.  This studio/workshop/museum/office is an amazing wonderland that, until recently, was not accessible to the public due to patent concerns.  However, a portion of it is now open for guided tours, and topics such as false faces, armor and swords, stunt doubles, camera tricks, costumes, creation of/aging process of props, etc. are presented, explained and demonstrated----fascinating stuff for those of us who geek out over special effects and the wizards who create them.  Visitors come in droves to this small, inconspicuous building, and spend their vacation money touring this facility as well as for food and lodging in this quaint, bustling little community.

Probably the most surprising aspect of Jackson's influence came to us as a "must see" encouragement from other travelers and locals we met in New Zealand.  We were told more than once as we decided to meander through the wine country in the northern part of the South Island, that the vineyards and wine tasting were good, but the vintage avian heritage center in the same area was fabulous.  "World class" is the term brochures used to describe this museum that Peter Jackson has helped develop, but often we do not agree with the brochures, or with the people we talk to after we have actually visited a site.  However, we decided to see if Jackson's fingerprint could be identified here.  "Surprised" is not nearly a good enough word to explain our experience in this museum as we entered a dark and magical journey in the skies over Europe a century ago.  Jackson, who apparently is a World War I aviation buff, and his Weta studio, put together a fascinating journey beginning with early aviation through World War I with life size planes and figures in dioramas that are as detailed as real life.  There are biographies of many of the pilots, from Eddie Rickenbacker to Baron von Richtoffen. We were mesmerized and amazed as we stepped back in time and lived some of the moments depicted in the dioramas.  It was a stunning and unforgettable experience. The greater unforgettable experience will be a growing understanding of how one person supported by a team of creative geniuses with vision and passion can change the world.  

Images are of Frodo's famous hairy feet at Weta Cave, one of dozens of displays at the Avian Heritage Center in Blenhein, and the "Beacons of Gondor" film setting at the Franz Joseph Glacier.

Posted in Moeraki, New Zealand


  1. Sounds amazing-- Chris would love that museum! He's such a WWI and WWII enthusiast. New Zealand is a country I've always wanted to visit and heard was beautiful, but not being a Hobbit or Ring fan, didn't realize there was this association.

    In all your travels, in all you've seen, how do you keep your wonder fresh? Do you ever go on sensory overload or find yourselves feeling blasé over your new experiences?

  2. Julie, we keep expecting that we will become blase or overwhelmed, but we continue to be blown away. Perhaps the one case of it we have is that we cannot help but compare all glaciers to the Perito Moreno one in Argentina and others just don't come close!