2 people airbrushing a large gorilla mask in the SFX area of the Wētā cave workshop tour.

Welly-would: a film buff’s guide to Wellington

A quarter of a century ago, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ put New Zealand — and Wellington — on the map as a hub of movie-making magic. Home to Wētā FX, and the filming locations of some of your favourite series and movies, Wellington is at the heart of New Zealand cinema and has iconic attractions to match. If you’re a film buff visiting for the first time, here’s where your journey should begin.

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The eastern suburb of Miramar is sometimes referred to as ‘Wellywood’, with a hilltop sign to prove it. For the avid movie lover, a visit to the Wētā Workshop and Wētā Cave offers you a behind-the-scenes experience. Wētā Workshop crafts special effects and props for some of the world’s most renowned films and TV shows. The team combines cutting-edge technology with hand-crafted artistry to serve up Oscar-winning props, costumes, and special effects. Tours range from 90 minutes to a half day. There are also workshops where you can get hands-on and learn to make your own special effects makeup. At the Wētā Cave you can buy authentic Wētā Workshop-designed collectibles, prop replicas, books, art prints, and movie memorabilia. 

Also in Miramar is one of Wellington’s wonderful boutique cinemas. The Roxy Cinema on Park Road was founded by a group of local film industry stalwarts. They have access to some amazing props and artworks and have decorated the walls with original classic movie posters. Gollum and Gandalf sculptures greet you in the foyer along with a real Oscar statuette. The barrel ceiling depicts a science-fiction fresco design, thanks to a team of Wētā Workshop artists. 

Best of the fest 

Back in the city, Wellington is home to the historically significant Embassy Theatre. The 1924 building has a capacity of 820, a huge CinemaScope screen, and state-of-the-art sound system. It hosts special events, Australasian premiers, and film festivals. Seeing a movie at the Embassy comes with plenty of nostalgia, even if it’s your first time. The art deco architecture and lush seating is a real treat. Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival is one of the many film festivals hosted here. A highlight of the winter event calendar, the festival is the largest of its kind in New Zealand. Covering a wide variety of genres and formats, the festival also brings Q&A and panel discussions. Filmmakers from around the world often take to the stage to introduce and speak about their work. 

On location 

The Embassy Theatre lies in the shadow of Mount Victoria. As part of the Wellington town belt its ridges are covered in native bush. This is where location scouts for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ found rich pickings for filming scenes for the three movies. A couple of minutes’ walk into the bush past residential areas reveals locations where you can relive your favourite film scenes. 

Many places around the city have doubled as locations for movies and television series. Scenes from series ʻWhat We Do in the Shadows’ were filmed in Courtenay Place, while the old-world charm of Maginnity, Stout, and Balance Streets have attracted many film shoots. Television series ‘Time Bandits’ is one such production. Hunter and Harris Streets formed the basis for scenes in the movie ‘Ghost in the Shell’.