Wellington - Great War Exhibition, Weta Workshop and Te Papa


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Oceania » New Zealand » North Island » Wellington
November 17th 2016
Published: November 19th 2016
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During the planning phase for this holiday there was some discussion about rising early this morning to go up Mount Victoria to watch the sun rise. Well, we checked the weather forecast last night - cloudy, wet and windy with the chance of an early morning thunder storm - and decided that we would sleep in instead!!

We left the hotel with a plan to head towards the War Memorial and Art Gallery to see the Great War exhibition and eat some breakfast on the way. Rydges Hotel is quite close to the waterfront so we decided to head towards the water and try to find some food at cafe or restaurant with a water view. The sun was shining and there was only a light breeze. If there was a thunderstorm this morning we slept through it?! Maybe we could have braved the sunrise after all??

We found a cafe/restaurant/bar and ordered the Eggs Benedict. They were served with a bit of a twist - bacon rather than ham and over a spiced potato (and sweet potato?) hash. OK, but I think I would have preferred toast.

Breakfast sorted we started heading towards the war memorial. There really weren't any signs, but Bernie was sure if we kept following Cuba Street that we would find it. Sure enough, when we reached the top end of Cuba Street we could easily see the tower of the carillon and a glimpse of the roof of the art gallery - we just had to sort out which side the entrance was on. After a false start to the right we worked out that straight ahead would take us onto the forecourt.

After a quick foray around the forecourt which features an installation of impressive red rock (sandstone?) pillars we climbed the steps to the carillon tower which houses the war memorial. Very quiet and somber as these things are. From the carillon we ventured up the last flight of steps to the Dominion Museum building.

With only limited time we had planned only to visit the Great War exhibition so we purchased our tickets and headed in. The exhibition was similar to and yet different from the War and Sorrow exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. Although they are the NZ part of ANZAC, and they fought in the same theatre of war, they were deployed at different times and in slightly different places so there were some differences in their experiences and recollections of the Gallipoli conflict. They definitely shared the Australians' slightly irreverent 'colonial' attitude to being at war which meant that even in an exhibition recalling the horrors of war there was some humour.

One of the things we found most interesting was some of the slang that we use today that can be traced back to soldier's slang used on the battlefields during WWI. Who knew they were the first to describe being dunk as getting blotto?! I was also amused to learn that the Kiwi soldiers copied the Australian's idea of rigging their rifles to fire randomly to gain them extra time to evacuate the peninsula. Of course their recollection was that the Australian's may have devised the idea, but they improved on it! And I was astonished to learn that the Kiwi's also have a 'Weary Dunlop' character who carried wounded soldiers out on a donkey. In fact, I think they were suggesting that their bloke did it first. No matter, both were heroes who risked their own lives repeatedly to rescue wounded soldiers.

The life size models, that were made at the WETA workshop, were amazing. They were so incredibly lifelike. There was a couple standing by a post box that I looked at for a while trying to absorb all of the details, but I had to stop when I thought I saw her blink!! One of the staff asked if we had seen the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa where the mannequins are larger than life. We said not yet, but hoped to make it down there later in the day.

As we walked back downtown from the Dominion Museum a young girl asked us how to get to Pukeahu. We were fairly sure this was the Maori name for war memorial park so we pointed out the carillon tower and said that was where she needed to be. We explained that she could continue walking on the same side of the street and would eventually reach the forecourt which has been constructed over the road. Bernie thought that it was really funny that wasn't had my regular Thursday morning 'job' with the City of Melbourne, but I was still providing tourist assistance!!

Wellington's reasonably nice morning was rapidly deteriorating. It was getting very windy again as we tried to locate the bus stop where we were being picked up for the WETA workshop tour later in the afternoon. With the location clear in our heads we headed back towards the waterfront where we found ice-creams for late lunch/afternoon tea. It was a shame that it started to drizzle while we were trying to eat them!

With about 50 minutes to fill in we headed to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa. The museum is free (although they like to receive donations), but we weren't sure if the Gallipoli exhibit was also free. Thinking that there was an entrance fee we decided that 50 minutes wouldn't do it justice so we went into the 'Awesome Forces' gallery to find out all about New Zealand's earthquakes instead.

By the time that we left Te Papa the weather had turned foul again. We had to walk/run/jog to the bus stop in rain being blown sideways by the wind! Fortunately the minibus was already waiting for us so we were able to climb on board to get out of the rain as soon as we got there. Allison drove us up to the Weta Workshop while providing us with a commentary on Peter Jackson's early films through to his 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Hobbit' epics. The workshop's have been involved in many more movies than either of us realised.

At the workshop we viewed a short video on the history of the WETA workshops before being taken on a short tour behind the scenes. The process of making a prop was explained to us using one of the futuristic guns from the movie 'District 9'. Throughout the tour we were surrounded by JRR Tolkein's characters and costumes - think orcs, Sauron and several iterations of actor-friendly chain mail.

To, from and during our trip to the WETA workshops we kept hearing about the amazing characters that had been created by WETA for Peter Jackson's Gallipoli exhibition. With Alison telling us that Te Papa opens late on Thursday nights we thought that really should fit it in before our night excursion to Zealandia. After being dropped back in town we headed back to Te Papa. We scootched in the doors at about 5.25pm and discovered when Bernie went to cloak his camera bag that Te Papa doesn't open late on Thursdays any more.

With only 35 minutes until six o'clock closing we dashed back up to the first floor. There didn't seem to be anywhere we could buy tickets so we just presented ourselves at the entrance of the Gallipoli exhibition and asked if we needed a ticket. No, it's free, so in we went. Our time there was much too short (we really should have done this earlier when we had 50 minutes!) but the larger than life figures were awesome. We could totally see how it took the people at WETA five weeks to create a single eyebrow and years to make all of the exhibits. Unfortunately we only had time to look at the exhibits, virtually no time at all to read the accompanying materials. The figures were so well done that they conveyed the story, the brutality and the emotion of Gallipoli even though we only read snippets of commentary.

We walked briskly back to the hotel where we grabbed a quick dinner in the restaurant before catching a cab out the front to Zealandia. We were booked to do the night tour of the sanctuary in the hope that we might see a real life kiwi. We hadn't received any messages to say that the tour was cancelled due to the shocking weather so with layers of merino and down vests on under our raincoats we headed up there anyway.

On a very cold and windy and intermittently wet evening there were two intrepid volunteer guides at Zealandia waiting to greet the handful of tourists who were still committed to taking the tour. We waited until a little after the scheduled start time for a couple more people who had booked, but hadn't arrived. It seemed that they had decided the weather was just too awful to participate. After some introductory information indoors - including what to do if there was another earthquake! - we were provided with infra-red torches for seeing in the dark and radio receivers for hearing the guide's commentary.

With the light rapidly fading we headed out into the sanctuary. OMG, we all must have been crazy to be out in the dark on such a frightful night! The guide did say that if anyone felt too concerned about their personal safety they could leave and be issued with a voucher for a return visit on a more pleasant evening. I assume everyone else in the group was like us and it was a case of tonight or maybe never. We don't know if/when we'll be in Wellington again and the rest of the group were from Europe so even less likely to revisit NZ.

Our first wildlife sighting was a Paradise Shelduck and her ducklings. We were told that each year the pair (no sign of dad tonight) nests somewhere outside of the sanctuary, but after the ducklings hatch they walk the family up to the gate and wait to be let in. They remain in the sanctuary until the ducklings have fledged. Awww. As we headed further into the sanctuary we were shown a juvenile weta (sort of like a cricket or cicada), shags (cormorants), glow worms, an eel and some juvenile tuataras (lizards) in the tuatara nursery boxes. Other wildlife proved rather elusive tonight. You can't really blame the birds and reptiles for preferring to stay warm in their nests/burrows on a night like tonight!!

We were heading back towards the gate having pretty much given up any hope of seeing a kiwi when, all of a sudden, there was a rustling on the side of the track and a kiwi pretty much fell out of the undergrowth right in front of us. Of course that startled it and it plunged back into the grasses growing beside the track. The guide told us to be very quiet and hopefully it would get over its shock and resume its fossicking. Fortunately, despite a certain person with a camera making lots of noise trying to get his camera ready for a photo, the kiwi did resume its foraging in the vegetation along the path and we all got a pretty good look at it ... and a sort of fuzzy photo just to prove it!



Steps 18,949 (14.59km)


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