Wellington: Theatre legend

By Kerri Jackson

Kerri Jackson visits Wellywood and finds a film star making a glamorous comeback.

The Roxy cinema has been restored to its former retro glory. Photo / Steve Unwin
The Roxy cinema has been restored to its former retro glory. Photo / Steve Unwin

There's a new film star in Wellington - a grand old dame who's undergone extensive remodelling and is now ready once again to bask in the limelight.

To be fair, the capital is crawling with film stars at the moment, most of them hobbit-y, dwarf-y and occasionally wizard-y, as filming starts on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit.

But with the city once again going all Middle Earth, it seems a good time to revisit Wellywood's movie history - and Miramar's swanky re-opened Roxy cinema is a good place to start.

She's been reborn in full 1930s art deco splendour - with a touch of steam-punk and retro sci-fi thrown in, not to mention artfully placed props and memorabilia from films such as Avatar, District 9 and of course The Lord of the Rings.

The derelict cinema building was bought and saved from a developer's demolition ball a few years back by Jamie Selkirk, best known for his role as editor on the LOTR films.

The building lay empty for several years as Selkirk busied himself with winning Oscars, then he enlisted the help of Tania Rodger, manager of Weta Workshop, with a view to rebuilding.

But that's not where the Weta connection ends. Selkirk and Rodger made good use of effects studio's creative talent and had them making everything from the centrepiece lead-light light fitting and golden Metropolis-style statues, to the stunning retro sci-fi ceiling mural.

Inside the 164-seat main theatre (there is also a 55-seat second theatre) the sweeping waterfall curtain lends a suitably old-school glamour along with the Art Deco-style speakers. But for all that it embraces the past, the cinema, as you would expect from the Weta crowd, is also at the technological cutting edge with state-of-the-art 3D capabilities.

However, in these days of immediate movie downloads, Selkirk and Rodger realised the Roxy would need to be more than a movie theatre. They sensibly joined forces with Wellington cafe queen Valentina Dias, who runs Hobbit hang-out Cafe Polo up the road from the Roxy, and cocktail king Jonny McKenzie, owner of Hawthorne Lounge and Hooch in the city, and the Roxy now has a full-service restaurant and cocktail bar. That, along with the old-school sweet counter and plans to bring back trolley service - even a champagne trolley - means the Roxy is set to become a Miramar must-visit.

Back at the bar in the foyer, visitors are trying to spot the weta in the Wellington mural on the wall, while arguing about who's seen the most dwarves - or at least the actors playing them in the The Hobbit - around town.

It's a reminder of just what a drawcard Peter Jackson's movie-making has been for Wellington. Jack, my guide on the Wellington Rover Lord of the Rings tour agrees. Despite it being 10 years since the release of the first LOTR film, demand for the location tours is still growing. This past summer was the biggest yet.

The Wellington Rover half-day tour starts atop Mt Victoria in Wellington's tree-filled town belt, which is better known to fans as the site of Frodo's first encounter with the Ringwraiths. From there we wend out of the city to the Hutt Valley and the picturesque stony banks of the Hutt River - used for shots of the River Anduin.

From there we drive into the beautiful Kaitoke Regional Park, home to Rivendell, and finally to Harcourt Park, filmed as the gardens and surrounds of Isengard.

Jack is a mine of LOTR filming information and can tell you all the details of how each location was transformed, and often blended with other locations, and brings along stills from the films to put what you're seeing in front of you in context with what you've seen on screen. He also comes armed with things like elf ears and swords should you wish to be photographed amid the trees of Rivendell.

It's also worth pointing out that if you're not such a LOTR film fan and are being dragged along by an enthusiastic friend or partner, the tours are a great way to see some stunning Wellington scenery.

Although, we suspect, such is the enthusiasm on the tours, that you would still find yourself getting caught up in it all, and before you know it you'll be back in the city trying to spot hobbits and dwarves - just like the rest of Wellington.

Ten ways to treat yourself in Wellington this Easter

1. Bisque on Bolton Easter breakfast buffet:
Bolton Hotel's restaurant does a mean breakfast at the best of times, so their Easter breakfast buffet next Saturday and Sunday promises to be something special. Think chocolate croissants, hot cross buns, milky hot chocolates and all the usual buffet favourites. $30, half price for kids under 12. Reservations essential.

2. Amora treat deal:
The freshly renovated Amora has Easter packages including a deluxe room, antipasto platter and icecream for two, a petit box of handmade chocolates, a bottle of methode traditionelle and a midday checkout. From $219. The Grill at Amora also has an Easter Sunday special buffet brunch.

3. Comfort (and quality) eating:
CQ Hotels has packages including a $30 food and beverage voucher, a midday check out, complimentary local calls and 20MB internet daily. Plus a sweet treat from the Easter Bunny; from $140 (Comfort Hotel) and $199 (Quality Hotel) a night.

4. Accor 25 per cent off:
A selection of Wellington's Accor hotels are offering a 25 per cent discount on accommodation in a king, queen or twin room. Conditions apply.

5. Museum Hotel's chocoholic high tea:
Indulge in a decadent high tea at Museum Hotel's lavish Hippopotamus restaurant. Chef de patisserie, Louis Sergeant, will create a selection of handcrafted chocolate treats, savoury amuse-bouche and mini-sandwiches. Savour with a selection of gourmet tea, espresso coffee, a glass of bubbly, or a chocoholic cocktail. $40 a person. Available Friday, April 22 and Monday, April 25, 2pm-4.30pm.

6. Choc stops:
Warm up with with a chilli hot chocolate at Ciocco - on Tory or Willis St. Or hit the famed City Market in Chaffers St for a block of gorgeous cranberry and pistachio 'gemstones' chocolate or maybe the Buzz, made with manuka honey brittle from Esque Fine Chocolate.

7. Sustain the enjoyment:
Only organic and sustainable foods are featured on a special menu offered at InterContinental Wellington's Chameleon restaurant in April. Executive chef Edmond Weicherding has designed a menu where every ingredient is sustainable, from the oil in which the meat is cooked to the seasoning. Reservations recommended.

8. Egg-cellent deal #1:
James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor's Eggstraordinary Easter package includes one night's accommodation, chocolate high tea for two, free valet parking and a 1pm checkout from $175.

9. Egg-cellent deal #2:
CityLife Wellington's family special includes a two-bedroom suite suitable for two adults and two children from $279 a night, with an overnight carpark and Easter breakfast.

10: Craft 2.0 and the return of the Jam-Off:
Celebrating its fifth birthday, Craft 2.0 returns to the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt for a special fair on Easter Saturday. Since its beginnings, Craft 2.0 has attracted a growing range of crafters and designers; products range from the edible to the wearable and all are locally made and environmentally friendly. Jam connoisseurs and fans should not miss the return of the Jam Off; judging starts about 2pm.

Go further:
Beyond Easter, foodies should mark May 27-29 in their calendars for the Wellington Food Show at Westpac Stadium. More than 200 exhibitors will have food and drinks to try and buy, and witness the Wellington Culinary Fare, where competitors race against the clock to complete challenges and win the coveted title Chef of the Capital. The show also features celebrity chefs cooking live, including MasterChef New Zealand judges Simon Gault and Ray McVinnie, plus Ruth Pretty, Terry Lowe, Lauraine Jacobs, Nici Wickes, Julie Biuso, Annabelle White, Alison and Simon Holst, Claire Aldous, Richard Till, Sophie Gray, and Julie Le Clerc.

IF YOU GO

Wellington has a thriving collection of boutique cinemas and And if film is your thing, the World Cinema Showcase is on in the capital until April 30 or visit in July for the Wellington film festival. In the meantime try: nzff.co.nz

* The Embassy Theatre, 10 Kent Terrace, Wellington city.

* Paramount Theatre, 25 Courtenay Place, Wellington city.

* Penthouse Cinema, 205 Ohiro Rd, Brooklyn.

* Empire Cinema, cnr The Parade and Mersey St, Island Bay.

* Lighthouse Cinema, 52 Beach St, Petone

* Lighthouse Pauatahanui, 3 Paekakariki Hill, Porirua.

* Roxy Cinema, Park Road, Miramar.

Rings tour: Wellington Rover offers full- and half-day Lord of the Rings tours around various film locations in Wellington. Prices start from $95 an adult for a half-day. The company also offers other Wellington tours.

- NZ Herald

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