Kiwi Film Favourites

 

 

Set jetting around New Zealand’s famous movie sites by David Whitley 
Visitors to New Zealand may be forgiven for thinking that, in terms of famous filming locations, the country is non-stop Lord of the Rings. However, while there are plenty of areas milking the Baggins buck, there are many other sites on the Kiwi movie map. Set-jetters can follow in the footsteps of Tom Cruise, great apes and noble lions, as well as check out the scenery from locally made hits.

King Kong
 
After the success of Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson returned to New Zealand for his next big project. Much of the 2005 hit was made in studio in Wellington, but other parts of the country had a starring role too.
 
Skull Island was a combination of Lyall Bay and Shelly Bay (both in Wellington). The wall that separated the giant gorilla from the rest of the island was created in a large set that took over Shelly, while establishing shots were filmed at Lyall.
 
Meanwhile, most of the on-ship scenes were shot in the Cook Strait between the North and South islands, and near Kapiti Island. The latter is a protected bird sanctuary, off the coast from Wellington. Meanwhile, to sail the Cook Strait yourself, the scenic ferry between Wellington and Picton can’t be beaten.
 
And the New York scenes? Well they were in New Zealand too. The depression-era Big Apple was recreated in Seaview, Lower Hutt, while Auckland’s Civic Theatre played the interior of the New York Theatre.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 
Peter Jackson isn’t the only Kiwi director to shamelessly showcase his home country to multiplex audiences across the world – Andrew Adamson has been at it too.
 
The Shrek director decided to come home when shooting the first of the Chronicles of Narnia series, and utilised locations across the country for the big budget epic.
 
The White Witch’s camp (boo! hiss!) can be found in the Woodhill Forest, north-west of Auckland. It’s an excellent spot for mountain biking as well as chilling out with Mother Nature.
 
Meanwhile Aslan’s Camp (hooray!) was on the South Island, and more specifically Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley. Nearby is the Vanished World Centre at Duntroon, which explores the unique geology of the area, including the rather odd boulders where Aslan hung around looking regal.
 
As for the big battle scene, that takes place in the Southern Alps, about an hour and a half’s drive from Christchurch. The area is known as Flock Hill. It’s close to a few of the major ski resorts, so it’s a perfect distraction from the slopes for a few hours.

Whale Rider
 
One of the finest films to come out of New Zealand in recent years, Niki Caro’s movie made a star out of Keisha Castle-Hughes. The youngster received an Oscar nomination for her stunning performance, but the other star of the film was the North Island’s East Cape.

 

The Maori village where the story unfolds is Whangara, a small but gorgeous place just up the coast from Gisborne. It’s worth visiting to get the views, but to learn more about Maori customs and lifestyle spend a while in Gisborne, which hosts the Tairawhiti Museum. This offers an excellent exploration of East Coast Maori history, while the nerby Te Poh-o-Rawiri meeting house is one of the biggest in the country. Go see it for the carvings.

 

The Last Samurai

 

It may seem a little odd that there’s a self-styled Samurai village in the middle of rural New Zealand, but you can blame Tom Cruise for that. He was the star of The Last Samurai, a 2003 film that did iffily at the global box office but was huge locally.

 

Instead of actually filming in the country in which the film was set, they decided that various sites across Taranaki were a perfect substitute for 19th century Japan. Mount Fuji was later added on in the background using special effects.

 

At the hub of all the filming action was Uruti, which was transformed into a Japanese village. Most of the sets were pulled down after filming, but enterprising locals have recreated some of them.

 

Much of it was done on a remote sheep and cattle farm, and that’s now where you can do tours of the filming locations. And, if there’s a group of twenty or more, it’s possible to watch the Gumboot Gully Movie Stunt Horses and their riders performing stunts from the movie.

 

Now it’s not every day you can go to a farm and watch a Samurai battle, is it?

 

Willow

 

Way before Lord of the Rings put New Zealand on the sci-fi film map, there was Willow. The 1988 film, written by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, has become a cult classic - and was partly filmed on the South Island.

 

Major sequences (ie. just about anything with mountains or lakes in) were shot around Queenstown. Glenorchy was the main focus, and local farmers were dragged in as extras on horseback. It’s a tiny settlement today, but a starting point for all manner of adventure activities, including jet boating on the Dart River.

 

Other parts were shot in the Tongariro National Park in the North Island, which would later find fame as Mt Doom in – you guessed it – Lord of the Rings.

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here

 

One castle, and a lot of controversy

 

Just outside Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, is one man’s dream castle. But that dream turned into a nightmare, as David Whitley finds out

You don’t, it seems, need to be a member of the aristocracy to have your own castle. It never stopped William Larnach, after all.

New Zealand may seem like an odd place to find a castle. It has no history of medieval warfare and no reason to assume it will come under siege from trebuchets at any point soon. But Larnach, an Australian-born banker who came over to Otago during the gold rush in 1860s, saw a perfect spot on the Otago Peninsula and decided he wanted to build one there.

Larnach Castle, of course, is suitably ludicrous. Fabric wallpapers and intricately carved wood-panelling were shipped in from England, the supposed verandah was glassed over when they realised that the south of New Zealand doesn’t quite have an Australian climate and a tower was built to ensure they had a prime position to take in the views.

But traipsing through the castle to see the rooms and old furniture is only moderately interesting, despite the extraordinary efforts of the current owner to track down all the original pieces that were sold off when Larnach’s children sold the estate. What really makes the castle worth a visit is the story of the Larnach family. And frankly, you’d not be surprised if one of them was haunting the place.

It all started going a bit weird after a family trip to London, where William’s wife Eliza gave birth to their sixth child, Gladys. When they came back from London, Eliza’s sister Mary joined them and came to live in the castle.

Alas, Eliza had grown to hate the isolation of the place and being left alone while Larnach was in Wellington, strutting his stuff as a power-behind-the-throne sort of MP. So she got a townhouse in Dunedin, where she promptly died at the age of 38.

Larnach didn’t have too far to look for a new wife, and married Mary, promoting all manner of tutting from respected members of society. It also was the start of legal wranglings over Larnach’s will – suffice to say the children didn’t want Mary getting her hands on anything.

But then Mary died, again aged 38, and Larnach took a third wife – Connie – soon afterwards. But there was a substantial age gap between the castle-building MP and his new wife. She was closer to his children’s age than he was.

It seems one of the children spotted this. Rumours started circling that Larnach’s son, Douglas, was having an illicit affair with his stepmother. Keeping it in the family had become something of a family tradition.

The tale goes that Larnach didn’t know about this affair until he received an anonymous letter warning of it. And he shot himself dead inside the New Zealand parliament building the day afterwards.

He died intestate, so this triggered off huge rows about the inheritance. Connie and Douglas lined up against the other kids, who eventually won. Although a fat lot of good it did them, as they inherited a pittance – unsurprisingly for someone who sees fit to build himself a castle, Larnach had been living beyond his means for quite some time and was virtually bankrupt.

The Larnach children decided to get rid of their dad’s castle soon afterwards. Luckily neither it or the story behind it have crumbled into obsolescence.

 

Disclosure: David was a guest of Tourism New Zealand.

by David Whitley

  

  

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal