The Movie Geek’s Guide to Wellington

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Movie buffs can explore countless shooting locations on New Zealand’s North Island, whose landscapes hold cinematic cachet.

The Piano (1993), by native daughter Jane Campion, starred Karekare, a black-sand surf beach in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. Fellow Kiwi Andrew Adamson transformed nearby Woodhill Forest into a witch’s camp in Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). Hollywood tapped volcanic Mount Taranaki, on the west coast, to play Japan’s Mount Fuji in The Last Samurai (2003).

But when time is limited, Wellington and its environs provide ample sites, lore, and glimpses behind the scenes of a robust local film industry.

Here’s a brief guide to the hot spots movie nerds should hit in the Kiwi capital:

Wellington features a vibrant and walkable core. Holding court at Courtenay Place, the Embassy Theatre has seen more than its share of movie premieres. Don’t be fooled by its quiet exterior: Inside, this 1924 theater has the sweeping marble staircases and glittering mirrors of a bygone age. Nearby, the elegant Opera House stood in as a New York vaudeville theater in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong.

On the southeast edge of the city, the Miramar Peninsula has a gem of an art deco theater, the Roxy Cinema; its stated mission is to bring back some romance to moviegoing.

Just down the road, the Weta Cave visitors center offers tours, artifacts, and merchandise on the site of the Oscar-winning Weta Workshop. Co-founded by Jackson, this props and costumes company works in tandem with the visual special effects division, Weta Digital. Check for talks and book signings by artists and technicians.

Within an hour’s drive of Wellington, Fernside—one of New Zealand’s oldest gardens—appeared as the Lothlorian forest realm in The Lord of the Rings. You can visit Fernside only on an official film tour, but anyone can book a night in the park’s three-bedroom Gatehouse. Also not far from Wellington stands the native forest of rimu and rata trees at Kaitoke Regional Park (aka Rivendell in Middle-earth). Fern-clad gorges drop into the Hutt River, used as the Anduin River in the Rings films.

Film cast and crew hang out at the Matterhorn (motto: “Eat Drink Music”), near Wellington’s Opera House, and at Fidel’s, an irreverent café also on Cuba Street.

This piece, written by Carrie Miller, first appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine to accompany the feature she wrote for the issue entitled “Cinematic Gold.”

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