Thursday, 21 February 2019

NZ 2018 Day 3: Weta Workshop and Wellington Zoo

We woke up around eight on Thursday for what was quite possibly the busiest day of the trip, wedding day included!  Be warned, this post is going to be very long with lots of photos ^__^

Our first stop was breakfast at the Beach House & Kiosk, which was about fifty metres down the road from our Airbnb. It was a bright, clear morning, and we were lucky enough to be greeted by a rainbow over the ocean as we wandered down. I really like rainbows, and it felt like such an auspicious start to the day.

The Beach House was an adorable place. The male waiters were both bearded and wore denim aprons, it was really cool. And the food, oh my goodness, the food. I had the mushroom stroganoff on toast topped with a fried egg and was in heaven.

James also fed me some of his streaky bacon so I didn't miss out on my beloved bacon either. We ordered a side of duck fat potatoes as well because they sounded so good, but we couldn't make our way through them. We were able to get them put into a takeaway container though (but to tell you the truth, they ended up in the bin because New Zealand just kept throwing good food in our path).

Full of food we trundled back to the Airbnb and into the van, with Luke behind the wheel this time. We were off to our first scheduled thing - the Weta Workshop tour! It was nice seeing a bit more of Wellington in nice sunshine-y weather, it's a pretty city. We got to the Weta Cave at Miramar...and had to drive past for quite a ways to find street parking. They did warn on their website that parking may be difficult to find but wow, we had to get pretty far off! We were running a tad late, which made me stressed, but we parked and got to the Cave before the tour was scheduled to start...and we were the first people there so all was well.

In the end our tour group was the four of us, a couple from Brazil, and our lovely tour guide Zac. Which was fantastic because we got to take plenty of time and look at all the things in a lot of detail. And there were a lot of things to look at!

I had thought the tour would be more of a "backstage" affair, but instead it was more like a series of museum exhibits though we did get to peer through a window to see one of their blacksmiths at work on swords for the upcoming Mulan live action movie. We also got to see lots of props and costumes close up - I was mostly excited for the Lord of the Rings and Narnia things, but there were so many amazing things to see. Even a operational Warthog from Halo which a Weta employee apparently borrowed and showed up to his wedding in.

Best of all though, in the second last room we were able to touch things! Lots and lots of cool things. The room was set up like a series of workbenches for different Weta technicians so there were lots of bits of costuming, electronics and all kinds of things. It was very fun.

Throughout the tour Zac told us titbits of how things were working for Weta, and anecdotes about the work they did on various films. Because our group was so small we also all got to actually chat to him as a person, not just as a tour guide and he was very nice and very knowledgeable.

After the touching room we went into the last room where we could take photos...and pat some guinea pigs! I had to check first that they were real, and not some kind of animatronic that'd do something weird when I touched it. But no, they were real, and a lot of the room we were in displayed a large numbers of guinea pig hutches. That is, if you can call a miniature cathedral, castle or manor house a mere "hutch".

It turns out that when there's a lull in movie work, some of the Weta sculptors work on making these elaborate guinea pig houses for the owner's pets. And fantasy guinea pig sculptures...and illustrations...

And in the guinea pig paradise we met a sculptor named Kim Beaton, who was delightful and entertaining and taught us the marvel that is using aluminium foil as a cheap base for sculpting (Nat has already put the lesson to use in building miniature terrain). Kim showed us pictures of some amazing sculptures she had made with that method and they were just impressive! It turns out she has a dragon sculpture at the Wellington Zoo (which we got to see later) and all in all it was really great to meet her at the end of our tour.

Zac also did something special for us all here, which is secret, but I'm mentioning it so I don't forget ^__^

Of course, we also took a few photos here. Just sharing one here though!

After we wrapped up in that room we headed out into the real world and straight onto a bus, because we were doing the combo tour and part two was a few blocks away. This tour I didn't know much about, but it turned out to be very, very cool! It was a tour of the miniature sets that Weta built for the new Thunderbirds Go! series and given that I knew nothing about either the original series or the remake I found it a lot more epic than I expected.

It was really great to see the miniature sets up close, and we got to take photos, so rather than rambling too much have a couple of my favourite pictures.

Once we were done with the tour we got back on the bus and went back to the Weta Cave. We had a browse and all bought some things. I got a massive book on Peter Jackson and the making of LOTR, because I am a nerd. The Cave itself had a really cool ceiling.

James and I finished our shopping first, so we had plenty of time to take lots of fun photos with the trolls outside.

So sexy ^__^

Once we were all done, it was back in the van and straight on to Wellington Zoo, because we had a very important appointment coming up with some delightful furry bois. We found a parking space and headed into the entrance to get our close encounter passes. We were given our lanyards and maps with instructions on where to meet. At this point we still had about an hour to go before we had to meet up, so we decided to sit down in the café for a while before entering the zoo proper. Everyone got a drink, and James got a cupcake, but me being me I got some proper lunch. We had a nice dinner planned so everyone was “saving room” but I always have room for food!

James and I were starting to get pretty worn out by now, so while everything at the zoo was marvellous it was tinged by tiredness the whole time. Just saying it now so I don’t have to mention it as an ongoing thing. Being sick and sore and exhausted really does make jam packed vacation days a bit hard!

Anyway, we wandered into the zoo and the first animal I saw was the capybaras, who were getting fed. “Capybaras!” I squeaked excitedly, pointing. It was kind of amusing having a half-lost voice when I was excited, because when I’m excited I’m high pitched and the upper registers are what I lost. So I squeaked breathlessly a lot at the zoo.

But the capybaras (which were a bigger animal than I expected) were quickly forgotten when we could see the otters! They were stupidly adorable, all squeaking and cuddly. I could have watched them for ages.

However, there was a whole zoo to see so after spending some time with the otters we moved on. I don’t remember the exact order, but we walked by several primate enclosures and also entered a dark, red-lit indoor environment where we saw a kiwi! Well, the beak of one, greedily gobbling down grubs, at least. I really enjoyed getting to see a New Zealand icon while we were there.

We wandered into a theatre area which was playing an informative video on a loop, then headed towards the meeting place for our close encounter. We passed an enclosure with beautiful birds and golden marmosets on the way, they were lovely.

We had a bit of time to hang around at the meeting place as the zookeeper was a little late, so we looked at some nearby frogs and reptiles and took so more fun photos.

James's photo thing is to ride any large animal statues ^__^

And then  it was cheetah time! A zookeeper came and introduced himself (but I don’t remember his name, or anyone else’s, including the cheetahs...though I looked those up!) and led us to the cheetah enclosure, explaining a little about the experience as we went. How the cheetah close encounter works is that up to four guests enter an enclosure attached to the cheetahs main pen along with three handlers. The cheetahs, Cango and Kunjuka, are used to the routine and are made comfortable by their handlers being there, and stimulated by the different activity. So it’s good for the cheetahs as well as for us! The cheetahs also aren’t pressured at all – they come into the other enclosure because they want to (and they got a couple of treats). They aren’t brought to us and in fact one of the two (I don’t remember which was which) just lolled around a few metres away the whole time. Fortunately the other boy liked coming over for lots of pets and attention. So it’s a very humane way of doing it and all the while one of the zookeepers was telling us all kinds of information about cheetahs, and another one periodically took our phones and snapped photos for us.

It was a really wonderful experience getting to spend time with the cheetahs. Their fur was rough and thick, and their purrs were so deep and loud and powerful. They were really graceful creatures and it was a real privilege to be able to get up close and personal with them. James wore our GoPro for the whole thing, which was great, and the zookeeper caught some purr video for me on my phone as well.

After the cheetahs we wandered the rest of the zoo, but unfortunately James and I were flagging something fierce, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we otherwise would have. I also think we hurried Nat and Luke along a bit, oops. Though I’m making it sound like we just left, we still spent quite a bit longer at the zoo.

Next stop was the meerkats, who were ridiculously adorable and photogenic. And they squeaked so cutely! It also must have been breeding season as there were lots of min-meerkats running around, being all clumsy and adorable.

At this point, my phone ran out of space so I stopped taking photos. James had his proper camera and took lots of pics, but in the interests of keeping this very long post a tiny bit shorter I’ve decided not to nab any from him and will just quickly share a bit about what else we did.

We walked over to the chimpanzees (I’ve come to realise I don’t care much for primates) then through an Australian section. There was a cute sleeping kangaroo and Tassie Devils remain ugly yet cute. After that we went past the baboons (who started fighting only after James and I had walked away – missing a great photo opportunity). Then we looked at the giraffes, who were bigger than I somehow thought they were going to be, and passed some deer/antelope things. We reached a fork in the path and decided to head towards the lions, and on the way there we passed some beautiful chickens just roaming free. We actually encountered them a few times.

When we got to the lion enclosure a zookeeper was midway through a talk about them, but I didn’t have the headspace to listen properly. The lions (well, lionesses, I don’t recall seeing a male) were very cool to see up close (the zookeeper was tossing in treats to bring them closer to the listening visitors) but after having petted a cheetah I think I have a firm favourite in the big cat category, and it’s not them! However, still cool.

We then went back to take the other path, tried and failed to see the sun bear in it’s pen, and barely caught a glimpse of the tigers. We walked through a domestic animal area (with kunekune pigs!) and arrived at the kea aviary. Keas are smart, with very pointy beaks and a mischievous, destructive nature. Their aviary had an airlock style door system where you had to locked the first door before you could open the second. And they were adorable birds, who gallops along the ground and seemed adorably tubby. One came super close to James and I as we sat down for a bit (Nat and Luke are more bird people than we are, so we had some time to rest) which was cute…but also mildly terrifying because of the wicked beak!

The keas where the last animal I really remember on the way back out. We passed the primates from the start again, but it was all just a bit of a tired blur for me. Once we got to the front of the zoo we handed back our lanyards and gushed about how amazing the cheetahs were. Then we browsed the gift shop, where James and I finally found a cute, clear umbrella for the wedding, and then James went to sit in the van while I grabbed us some juice and Nat and Luke spent more time in the gift shop. I joined James in the van, where I discovered I’d accidentally bought “juice drink” rather than juice…they were watery and gross. It was a bummer, but the others joined us soon enough and Luke drove us back to the Airbnb, where we rested for a little bit.

But not too long! In the lead up to the wedding Nat had said she wanted to take me out to get my nails done beforehand, then due to the move it never happened. So when we found ourselves with a few free hours I decided to call up a nail place and got manicure bookings for her, me, and also James! Luke did not want to join us, but managed to book himself a massage instead.

So we called a taxi, since none of us wanted to drive that night, and went back into Wellington city. After we got dropped off we had a bit of trouble finding the salon (and Luke said his massage place was also hard to find!) but we made it and then had to make the hard decision of what colour to get our nails done! In the end I went with a wine that was a perfect match for my wedding dress, James chose a colour shifting bronze-gold to pink to green one, and Nat went with a green to black to purple holographic colour. I’ll admit, I was a bit jelly of their fabulous shiny nails even though I totally made the right choice for mine!

Honestly, I’m not a massive fan of getting manicures (or haircuts, or any personal grooming stuff really) and this was only my second one, with the first also being for a wedding when I was a bridesmaid. But it was still fun to do it with James and Nat. We finished up and went out into the brisk evening, where I promptly ruined my left thumbnail trying to get my phone out of my handbag so I could navigate to the restaurant where we were going to have dinner. I was a bit bummed about it, but it wasn’t too bad. That was one of the best things about being totally relaxed about our wedding, things like that didn’t really matter.

We found the restaurant, Charley Noble, soon enough and went inside. You can’t make reservations here, but their website suggests waiting at the bar until a table becomes free, so we did. Luke’s massage was taking longer than our manicures anyway so it suited us fine. We all ordered a cocktail and sat around chatting. And oh my goodness, my cocktail. It was a house special called Adventure to Wonderland and I ended up snapping a picture of the description because I loved it so much. It was sweet and light and fruity and so very, very yummy.

After a little while we were taken to a table and shortly after that Luke arrived and we prepared to feast! This dinner was a special one, as it was our wedding dinner since we were going to part ways in the evening after the wedding the next day. It turned out to be the perfect restaurant for us, in an art deco building with a industrial, yet luxurious interior. Totally what I love in terms of décor.

Terrible photo, but it gives you an idea of the vibe.

And of course, the food was amazing. Everything was super delicious and so we ate, drank and were merry! I did take some shots of my food, but it was dark so they turned out badly. But everything was delicious. I ate the seafood chowder and then the duck breast, two things I don’t normally touch and through I discovered I don’t really like shellfish I still have chowder cravings. Everyone else’s dinners were also really good, but sadly none of us had room for desert!

After a truly delightful meal (also, our waiter Liam was an absolute delight and we said so when we paid) we headed back out to hail a taxi back to the Airbnb. Once back, we relaxed for a little while, took our showers, and went to bed not too late, as we had to get up on time the next morning for the big day!


  1. OMG, the cheetahs! They're too beautiful and magnificent, and I can only imagine the inner peace at hearing that deep purr. I normally don't go to zoos on holiday (where I grew up has two, which I visited pretty often as a kid), but I would've gone if I could pet cheetahs!

    1. They were soooo amazing! Such gorgeous creatures. I haven't been to a zoo in ages myself and I thought the Wellington Zoo was a wonderful place.