A giant tree, rugby players, movie icons and art on the streets

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited Pukeahu National War Memorial Park to lay a wreath and view the impressive WETA designed UK War Memorial.

During their visit to Wellington, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited Pukeahu National War Memorial Park to lay a wreath and view the UK War Memorial.  

While the occasion was sombre, the royal couple also admired the brilliance of Weta Workshop, the masterminds behind the creation of the five-metre tall monument.  

The special effects and props company that shot to fame for their work on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings has won copious awards including five Oscars and four Baftas. 

From humble beginnings in 1987 in the back room of founders Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger’s flat in Wellington, Weta Workshop has become one of the world-leading design and effects facilities designing outrageous characters and fantasy worlds for the creative industry. 

For over three decades the company has displayed its immense creativity and craftsmanship not only in countless TV and film productions, but also in statues and monuments commemorating and celebrating various events, from war to rugby, and of course the beloved Lord of the Rings and Hobbit characters.  

1. British Memorial at Pukeahu National War Memorial  

Revealed in 2017, the UK War Memorial is the latest addition to Weta Workshop’s creations around the city.  

At almost five metres tall, the monument joins together two of the UK and New Zealand’s most iconic trees. The trunks of a royal oak and a pōhutakawa (also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree) entwine to form one single leafy canopy, where leaves from both trees merge to create a shelter that invites visitors to sit and rest underneath it.  

A silhouette of a single soldier can be seen between its branches, representing the union of two countries who have stood side by side in war, and the millions who served in times of conflict, resolution and peace. 

Made from steel, bronze and polycarbonates, the memorial weighs in at a hefty two and a half tonnes. It is one of the largest sculptures Weta Workshop has ever created and took a team of 100 crew members to create it. 

2. Rugby World Cup Statue on the City to Sea Bridge 

Modelled on the muscled torso of Wellington’s All Black Victor Vito, the bronze statue commemorates the 2011 Rugby World Cup which saw the home team win the Webb Ellis Cup at the final in Auckland.  

The cast-concrete and bronze sculpture is approximately four metres high by eight metres wide, and depicts a lineout representing the celebratory pursuit of the ball. 

The central fissure represents Wellington’s earthquake fault line, and the waves at the bottom of the statue reference the crashing of tides of Cook Strait between the North and South islands on Wellington’s south coast. 

3. The Tripod on Courtenay Place 

The first of Weta Workshop’s public sculptures was created in 2005 to celebrate Wellington’s film industry after Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy had taken Hollywood by storm.    

It sits opposite the Embassy Theatre which hosted the 2003 premiere of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final installment of J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy, and the opening night of The Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012.  

Taylor describes the piece as "an out of control giant robot running amok… symbolising the ingenuity and unbounded imagination that the New Zealand screen industry thrives on." 

The assembled objects that make up the Tripod symbolise the country’s “number 8 wire ingenuity” – creating what’s required out of what’s available. Its legs are made from hydraulic pistons and recycled mechanical parts including old camera reels, Nintendo Gameboys and  controllers, toasted sandwich maker, a radio and railway sleepers, while the camera on top appears to be made from an engine block with a hairdryer for the viewfinder. 

4. The Eagles, Gandalf, Gollum and Smaug at Wellington Airport 

Visitors to Wellington’s airport, also known as the Middle of Middle Earth, are welcomed in appropriate fashion by a huge representation of Lord of the Rings character Gollum, two giant eagles, and a massive sleeping dragon.  

The two birds weigh about one tonne each, have a wingspan of 15 metres and are suspended from the roof of the main terminal building by eight cables, with Gandalf the Grey riding atop one of the eagles. More than 1000 feathers up to 2.4 metres long were moulded and cast for the eagles’ plumage.  

A little further along, a 13 metre long and 3 metre high Gollum glares down from the ceiling. The 1.2 tonne sculpture also features three 4-metre long fish, which were hand-fashioned using a fish sculpture from Taylor’s bathroom as reference. 

Finally, there’s Smaug the Magnificent smouldering across the Air New Zealand check-in counter. One of the dragon's eyes opens and closes lazily as smoke comes out of its nostrils. The sculpture is 4.25 metres from its nose to the back of its head and great for one last selfie before jetting off.   

5. Meet the Trolls at Weta Cave  

The Weta Cave in Miramar offers tours for film fans and the chance to buy some movie memorabilia such as Bilbo's acorn button, a brass orc tooth pendant, or a solid gold One Ring. It also has some great sculptures for the perfect photo op - this is the place to pose with a life-sized Gandalf, Gollum, trolls and orcs.  

6. The Roxy Theatre in Miramar 

The Roxy Theatre is a must for film buffs. Around the corner from Weta Workshop and the Weta Cave in Wellington suburb Miramar, the art deco cinema is the passion project of Oscar award-winning film editor Jaime Selkirk and Weta Workshop co-founder Tania Rodger. 

Its interior features were designed by Weta Workshop's master craftspeople, including 30’s style bas reliefs inspired by the silent film classic Metropolis. There is also a bronze statue of Gandalf the Grey inviting visitors into the cinema.  

Extra: The Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa 

Weta Workshop also created eight 2.4m tall lifelike sculptures of eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances in World War I, for the Te Papa exhibition Gallipoli: The scale of our war. The giant sculptures took a staggering 24,000 hours to create and the exhibition is still on show until March 2019.