Birthday surprise

For my birthday, D.C. gave me (us) the chance to take part in a Sunset and Night Phototour. This necessitated an unexpected trip to Auckland, with the unusual luggage addition of a tripod, but it was worth it.

(I think – hope – that if you click on a photo, you’ll see a larger version. I may have to go and have a play with Flikr.)

When in Auckland we stay at the Econolodge City Central, because it’s so, erm, central. Only one block from the Aotea Centre, across the road from the Civic Centre, around the corner from the InterCity bus terminal, and, most importantly, within bag dragging distance of the Ferry Buildings for trips to Rangitoto Island. It’s an old Art Deco style building, and is showing its age somewhat, but the staff are friendly and helpful, the rooms largely comfortable, and the breakfast tasty.


Brett Lees from Unique Visions Tours turned up at in the minibus at 5.30pm, like he said he would, and managed to call me Louise in the first minute of meeting us. We set him right. We were the only ones on the tour, which was good as D.C. had the front seat, and I had the middle seat behind and we could all see straight ahead. It was even better as Brett was able to devote all his attention just to us. And when D.C. decided that her (otherwise excellent) point and shoot didn’t have the capabilities to photograph at night (I did say she could use my Gorillapod tripod) it meant that I got some one on one tuition!


We had a good chat on the way to the North Shore on the other side of the Waitemata Harbour. Brett was very interested in the bach situation on Rangitoto, and we were more than happy to tell him all about it.
Our first stop was Mt Victoria. Brett can’t have done the tour for a while, as he wasn’t sure if cars were allowed to the summit any more. So, he left us as far up the hill as he could, and we walked the rest of the way while he went and found a place to park. Our first photos were (funnily enough) of Rangitoto. We’d got them by the time Brett caught up with us, even though there wasn’t much light.

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Brett led us to the other side of Mt Victoria (where we interrupted a courting couple) and we got some photos of the city and some car light trails.

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Once Brett told me to turn the image stabilisation off (believe it or not) and with a little composition guidance, my photos started to look more in focus and I was able to concentrate on the exposure triangle – exposure, shutter speed, and ISO – and composition.

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Looking up the harbour towards the Naval Base and the Skytower.


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I often wonder if photography had never been invented, and some bright spark came up with the concept today, if we’d still have to deal with all that. One thing that I am sure of is that it wouldn’t be so confusing. F2.8 actually creates a bigger hole for light to pass through than F16 – but F2.8 results in a smaller area in focus from the focal point. Confused? Try contemplating that in the field.

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I liked the way the trees framed the view on the way down the road from Mt Victoria…


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…that was until someone shone their torch at the stop sign


We walked back down the hill to the van and our next stop was Stanley Bay wharf. There we got the lights of the city from “sea level” with a shed in the foreground for a focal point. Then we walked down the wharf and got more photos from a different angle.

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See the differences in the water between this photo and the one below?


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This photo was taken at a faster speed, which meant the lens remained open for a shorter time, not causing the water to blur.


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See the difference in the water between this photo and the one below? In order to allow this photo to have a more ethereal feel to the lights on the water, I had to increase the length of time light could enter the camera, whilst decreasing the size of the hole that light passed through – so that, in effect, the same amount of light entered the camera.


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Back in the van and around to what was known in years gone by as Fisherman’s Wharf. There was a wedding function going on here, but we went behind the building to photograph the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It looks even more impressive now that it’s got the new LED lighting decorating it… Maybe a thought for the old Kopu Bridge?

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See the difference in the street lights on the bridge – how in this photo they’re star bursts…?


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…whilst in this one they’re softer? That’s a result of the depth of focus. And now I’m going to have to remind myself if that’s a shallow depth of focus or not.


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The wharf at Fisherman’s Wharf. I like the symmetary.


After that it was back in the minibus and across the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Westhaven Marina – next to the Auckland Harbour Bridge – and an overpass over the motorway to photograph light trails from cars passing underneath. We weren’t the only ones there – there were a couple of guys getting their own light trail photographs. But everyone happily kept out of each other’s photographic way.

At the moment Auckland is hosting the Haier Big Hoot.

“The Haier Big Hoot is a large scale art trail event that is now swooping through the streets of Auckland City and its surrounds for nine weeks from the 3rd of March to the 6th of May 2018.

There are 47 bespoke-designed, fiberglass 1.65m tall Owls being displayed on the trail. Each owl is sponsored by a business, educational institution, community group or individual, and bespoke designed by artists, both established and emerging artists…

At the end of the event, each large Owl will be auctioned to raise funds to help support children with cancer and their families throughout New Zealand.

This project is presented by Child Cancer Foundation in partnership with the International creator of the event, Wild in Art.”

They’re all over Auckland, but during Easter, when we were coming back from Rangitoto Island, and this weekend, whenever I’d see an owl, I’d get a photo. They’re a lot of fun.

The following day we went to Escapade – The Kiwi Escape Game. You are “locked” in a room and have to solve a variety of puzzles to get yourself out of there. As I’ve played something similar on an “app” I’ll use that to give you an idea, so as to not spoil the fun if you ever decide to go. You have a combination lock with four numbers and there are four pictures of kittens on the wall. The first picture has four kittens, the next six, the next two, the last five. You enter 4-6-2-5 into the combination lock and it snaps open.

The two of us took 1.33 hours (and quite a few hints) to do what you normally only have an hour to do it in. But we both enjoyed it.

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Well – it was only taken by an i-Pad – and put onto Facebook by Escapade.



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I think this one is my favourite


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Captain Owl: This owl is looking smart and getting ready to go places! Inspired by concepts of natural flight and man made travel. Owls can fly, but this owl can really fly! Preparing to travel higher and further than any owl before it!


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Owl-Black: In this design, the owl takes on the iconic black jersey, which is no longer just a sporting symbol, but representative of the values and pride of a whole nation. Something not only recognisable by us as Kiwis but internationally recognised as respect for our achievements as a nation. It is a recognisable legend, and in this representation signed here by many legends… He’s got a nice face, even if his jersey’s signed by All Black rugby players


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Whirikoka (Strength): meshes broad-ranging references from traditional Maori weaving, European tapestries, to modernist geometries and DNA sequencing, to the pixilation of digital images. Larkin’s attraction to repetition is paralleled by her fascination with the notion of ‘the other’ in opposing binary pairings such as indigenous/colonist, science/art, male/female or cultural traditions and cutting-edge technology.


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I’m Puzzled: illustrates the timeless romance of balloon flight. This almost organic escape to the heavens will always belong in the domain of the romantics where even the most factual of us will be allowed to live our dreams.


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Enchanted Frosty River Owl: nspired by the majestic interior of the latest Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Ship with its beautiful dusty pink and gold, Ema added a touch more ‘Frost’ with her well-known favourite blue/green that represents the river this ship sails on. Her signature hummingbirds adorn this River Owl giving it a dreamlike, whimsical feel that her works are known for. Check out the back (back, back) ground.


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Kintsukuroi is the name of the art of repairing pottery with gold. It treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise and be ashamed. Embracing the flaw of imperfections in life itself and coming back stronger in the weaknesses. This is a metaphor for porcelain patterns reflecting that life is beautiful and fragile.


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To the Land Where the Ponga Tree Grows: inspired by the famous Owl and the Pussycat poem by Edward Lear. By depicting the Owl and the Pussycat in the boat this design is focussed on the journeys that are part of life both internally and/or physically. The land and the sea are painted with a strong and obvious influence and celebration of the beauty of New Zealand colours and landscape, seas and skies. The use of gold has layered suggestions from the artist about what we can contribute, and also the value of compassion and charity as part of society. The ponga tree is a central and strong element, yet with its own twists and turns. The stones are indicative of being grounded and focussed, and again a nod of antipodean respect to rivers and coastlines of this wonderful country and landscape.


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Ruru Kakotea: the legend of Pounamu and perfected a faux finish technique for the polished and the uncut rock. Kakotea, a particular shade of greenstone, applied to the owl, along with faux wood and shell finishes to the eyes with glittered claws and pupils and plaited leather rope creates an oversized souvenir. A modern trinket for the supersized age of the last remaining native owl.


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Full Moon Ruru: Away from Auckland’s city glow, moonlight becomes obvious and a full moon shines a bright light over the bush, casting a blue hue over the world of the Ruru and other bush creatures. The dapple pattern that covers the owl is made up of different bush creatures representing what the Ruru may hunt.


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Geometric Owl: Inspired to explore abstract forms to create a composition in the style of geometric abstraction, the design draws on a palette of matte, metallic and fluorescent paints to bring a contemporary edge to the design. There was a dog and families day on at the Silo Park in the Wynard Quarter. Just as I clicked my first photo, a lady’s dog went behind the owl and crouched – much to the owner’s embarrassment. I was just laughing.


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BB-Owl: the shape of the owl makes a perfect BB8 owl.


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The Guardian: channels the delicate and intricate nature of patterns, using their natural language to converse with audiences. In honour of Child Cancer Foundation, Taren’s creation illustrates the concept of comfort for children and the families who walk alongside them on this journey. Drawing from her homeland Cambodia, and with respect to the symbolism of a mandala, Taren delved into her cultural roots to manifest a visual representation of inner strength and protection. It struck a chord with this young child – I was a bit slow clicking the shutter to catch the kiss.


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Big Hoot: A contemporary, colourful and abstract design. This owl features bright geometric graphics in an Aztec style and is the iconic face of the Haier Big Hoot Bold and exciting, the Big Hoot owl celebrates creativity and imagination, and was designed by OWB in the UK for the Haier Big Hoot art trail.


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Hipster Hoot Hipster Hoot is inspired by independent thinkers, dreamers and creativity. Hipster Hoot is trendy, hip and fun!


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Athena of Aotearoa: In Greek mythology, the owl is the symbol for Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Anna’s design celebrates the beauty of multi-culturism with the Land of the Long White Cloud.


 Two I’d wished I’d seen – and we were only about 100m away from them!

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My new toy

Paid for today. Name to be decided.


Photo courtesy of D.C.’s camera. Photo courtesy of Andreas of Scootling. Red face courtesy of a very hot sticky day with a lot of walking (and a little bit of riding through Bunnings’ carpark.) As D.C. said, I was chuffed to finally find an e-scooter that I liked – two weeks after the Pink Purrer died.

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Scooting home

I tried to post this last night, but for some reason WordPress, or maybe Firefox, wouldn’t let me. Tonight I’m (sadly) using Microsoft Edge. Fingers crossed it works.

I’ll say one thing. The Grand Mercure is a hang of a lot noisier than the Chateau Tongariro. There is a difference between being in the heart of the CBD of a city and being on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

We packed up this morning, and then went hunting out breakfast. As nice as it was, we weren’t going to spend over $25 each at the Mercure again, so we went to a café known as the Shaky Isles Café Co. I had pickelets with berries, lemon curd, crème fraiche, and maple syrup. Plus a drink called “Purple Comfort” made of roasted apples, blueberries, cinnamon, apple juice. Very nice.

Then we went up and checked out, leaving our suitcases there to catch later. We then hurried to catch the Inner Link bus, only to discover that it was going to sit there for a few minutes while the bus driver changed over. The bus goes the long route, looping through various points of interest in the central city area – with D.C. telling me potted history about the various points as we go (most of which I’ve heard before.)

The buses now have a recorded lady stating which stop is coming up. I think she’s the same lady who give the commentary on the trains. We got confused by Ponsonby Road though, as she was a little late speaking up and we’d overshot the mark. We got out at the next stop, along with a very nice Polynesian lady who offered to point out where we needed to go.

Today was another hot day, and it was even more hot walking in the sun along Ponsonby, and then Great North Road – D.C. saying, I think we should be going that way, and me going, I think we should be going this way. This way won. Our coinciding discussion was whether the shop was next to Bunnings or over the road from Bunnings. D.C. got this one right when it turned out that Scootling was right next door to Bunnings Grey Lynn – the worst Bunnings store in the country for suppliers. But that’s another story.

We went into Scootling about 10.30 and met Andreas who owns it. He was very helpful, but said that the Niu scooters wouldn’t be arriving until 12.30ish and wouldn’t be unpacked and ready until about 1.30ish. So we said we’d entertain ourselves in Grey Lynn until then.

What can you do in Grey Lynn?

So we next door to Bunnings and did some secret shopping. Apparently Natural Paving grass grn, is so called because the product is grass green. Not because you grow grass in it. And you put your pebbles, of any size, although maybe not the big flat ones, into the cells. Wrong!

Other products available is Cirtex Surepave (the opposition – which ironically makes their product in Kopu.) The only colour options were green and black. As they are a small to medium format store (small to medium! How big are the warehouses?) they didn’t carry the Natural Paving with the weed mat. And neither did Mt Roskill, where she’d worked a year ago. Wrong! And Wrong!

The guy who served us over wheelbarrows was slightly better. He said the Tradesman was better than the Handipour, but that it was a good garden barrow, suitable for an elderly lady (D.C. did the elderly lady bit.) The Garden Buddy was in the wrong place (right next to the Tradesman, Handipour and Concreter) and he wasn’t sure what the price was. The Concreter probably had too deep a tray for our needs.

We had lunch in the café, which wasn’t bad, and then decided to buy a gutter cleaning scoop for $4.95. The price tag didn’t work, so we could either go get another, take a photo of the SKU, or not bother. We didn’t bother, and just bought some hose attachments.

They had some solar Christmas reindeer that I’d like to get, but they were on stakes. Like the solar Santas on stakes that are “easy to install”. Unless you’re trying to install them into a scoria field.

We still had half an hour to go, and it was still hot, so we went back to Scootling. They were just unloading the Nius. D.C. read her book, while I checked my emails on their free WiFi and played a hidden object game and ran out of battery. Then Andreas brought out the manual of the Niu for me to read. And a fan to keep us cool.

Problem. If I couldn’t have pink, I wanted yellow. China didn’t send yellow. I could wait about three weeks for replacement panels if I liked, or have blue or grey. Erm…

Finally, the Niu was ready for me to try, and Andreas brought a blue one out. I have to admit that the blue is a nice colour. It’s a good size for me to sit on (D.C. stayed inside in the “cool” and read) and great fun to drive. I drove around Bunnings’ car park, and got some funny looks from staff members. But the torque going up the car park ramp was great! No issues whatsoever. I would have been lucky if the Pink Purrer had managed to turn the corner to start the climb.

D.C. had a sit on it, and a chat to Andreas and I think she agrees that it’s a good one too. As the staff hadn’t seen it yet, they were keen to have a look too.

So this is my new e-scooter.

It will get a box on the back.

They’ve still got to get NZTA approval and do the rego and insurance, etc, and of course send me the bill.

It was after 3.00pm by the time we left. We had planned to be at Denny’s restaurant by 3.00pm, having collected our bags from the Grand Mercure, and then have dinner finished by 4.10pm, so we were over the road, waiting for the bus, at 5.10pm.

We were lucky in that the bus for City Central came around every ¼ hour, so it wasn’t a long wait. I was thinking, as we were boarding, I hope that D.C. doesn’t have problems with her gold card AT Hop card, since it’s after 3.00pm. Then I got on board and it declined my card. We were stunned as it had worked this morning. (We thought. Having checked the web site, I’m not so sure now.) Between us we forked out the $3.50 cash, and went for the ride.

It stopped in Albert Street. That was the end of the line. So D.C. carried on up the two or so blocks to Denny’s in Hobson Street and I dashed down Queen Street and into the Grand Mercure. Fortunately, they had “storytellers” free and they got my bags. One of the ladies who’d served us asked if we’d done our Christmas shopping. I replied that yes: I’d bought myself a $4000 scooter.

Then it was a dash, towing two small, rolling suitcases, up Queen Street. It was stop, go, step to the left, step to the right, mind the toes, get out of my way – so I turned up Swanson Street. Short and steep, but with few people. I don’t know that easier is the word to use, but I think it was quicker. Then it was across Albert Street – and the dirty great hole in the road for the City Rail Link. Along Albert Street to Wyndham Street, along that to Federal Street, along that to Kingston Street, then down to Hobson Street, across the road and to Dennys. It was a little before 4.00pm by the time I got there and I was hot and sweaty… sorry, glowing.

We ordered salads, because they’d be quick and easy, and lemon, honey and ginger drinks, and paid in advance so we could eat and run. And then we ate and ran.

We were the first ones at the bus.

It was a new bus and had only done 1000 km. The old bus had done 800,000km. We were running on time, but had to wait at Manukau because the driver had been held up behind an accident, and they were going to do a driver swap there. (Not Grumble Guts.)

We got caught up in some of the commuter traffic, but otherwise it was a good trip home, with a slight detour to drop someone off at Waitakaruru.

We had a Trumpet ice cream as soon as we got home.

It turns out that last night’s amazingly huge and bright moon was the precursor to tonight’s Super Moon, so we went over the road and got some photos.

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The Super Moon and the Thames War Memorial Monument. I’m quite pleased with this photo as the camera was hand held. I wish I’d got the moon and the monument more in line though.

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Unwinding ourselves

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Kally in her flapper headband, ready for dinner last night.

It wasn’t such a rush this morning, but we went down for breakfast – in the Ruapehu Room. There were various fruits available, bacon, scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, sausages, hash browns, hot cakes, pancakes, mushrooms, baked beans, pastries – small Danishes, croissant, banana bread, muffins – toast, various teas, coffee… It was all buffet, so you could eat as much or as little as you liked. The lady at the desk ticked us off as being eligible for our meal, by asking which room we were in. Naturally I had 402 in my mind, so I kept on saying that instead of 603.

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Pukekohe Travel were offering a trip up to the Bruce for those who were interested. D.C. decided that she didn’t want to go, but that I could go by myself. I didn’t know what it was, so I did a Google Maps search, and discovered that Bruce Road is the road up to the Whakapapa Ski Field. This morning dawned lovely and clear and I convinced D.C. that we should go on the trip, so we paid our $15 each.

I’m glad we went, and so was D.C. The trip from the Chateau was only about 15 minutes long – and we managed to score a front seat, much to D.C.’s relief.

Once we got to the ski field, we could have hung around Whakapapa or paid the $35 each to take the ski lift. Once again D.C. did the “you could go by yourself” bit, to which I replied with the “it’s no fun by myself” bit. So I paid for us both.

I think she was a little worried about the getting on and off the seats as the chair lift circled around, but they stopped the chair lift on the bottom ride and slowed the top one right down, so it wasn’t an issue. Especially as the men helping us were so friendly and eager to help. I had my daypack camera bag, and I had to wear that on my front so that I could get on and off “quickly” and easily.

The first leg was on the newest ski lift and this one had soft cushions. But, because most of our group were in the older age group, they had to stop the ride to give them a chance to board. This meant that those of us already on the ride had to hang, swaying, in mid-air until we set off again.

The second leg of the chair lift was the original one and had slatted, slightly bucket-shaped, wooden seats. We were joined on this journey by a young man who was planning to walk to the top from this point and then ski down. He was also taking photos as we did the journey. We wished him well on his upward, and downward, leg.

Up here the clouds were beginning to move in, but it was still largely sunny. It wasn’t too cold either, although we were both glad that we had our jackets on the downward trip when a cold breeze blew in. (Mine’s my usual raincoat, which is also a three-in-one jacket, which I’d “lined” with the warmer jacket from my “winter” “ski jacket” three-in-one. The problem with this time of year is that, although we’ve had brilliant, warm weather, anywhere – National Park, Whakapapa, or Auckland, could be cold and wet.)

There’s a café at the top of the ski lifts, so we had a hot chocolate each. $6.50! The poor lady serving us, started squirting chocolate out of the bottles, only to have it leak all over the counter. She had to clean up several times in the process, but we eventually got our drinks – and then attempted to get photos of us drinking them. If D.C. hadn’t gone on ahead when I’d taken a photo of a couple of Asian men for them, they probably could have got a photo of us for us.

The trip down was a lot smoother. Probably less unsure people trying to board all at once.

I checked out the Whakapapa shop, whilst D.C. had a toilet stop. I was taken by the monogrammed ski jacket. It would be fun to have one with “Burton” written on it.

Everyone sort of arrived back at the bus at the same time, so we left earlier than anticipated for the Chateau. After a bit of an explore there, and some more photos – I wanted one of D.C. in the picture window from the outside. She thought I wanted it from the inside and was facing the wrong way waiting for me to appear – we boarded the final bus back to National Park.

Here, many members of our tour bought and had lunch in the station café while we waited for over the hour until the train arrived. D.C. and I had already decided, in part because of the queue in the station, to wait until we were on the train and enjoy some Wishbone delicacies. Which we did – D.C. had potato gratin (I had a square) and I had Indonesian rice (D.C. had a forkful.) Later on the train and Pukekohe Travel crews came around with tea, coffee, hot water, packets of three bliss balls, and, as a special treat, two chocolates – one with Santa on and one with a sprig of “holly”.


We’re in seat 7A and B in carriage D, and my commentary headphone jack was broken. Either someone had jammed something into it, or the jack was warped. D.C. and I had to listen to the Raurimu Spiral commentary, firstly with each of us twisting the earpiece of the Kiwirail supplied headphones so we could both hear it, and then, after a bit of hand sanitiser, my noise cancelling earbuds.

We had brilliant weather all weekend – until we got to Auckland, then we got spots of rain on the windows.

We got to Westfield and got held up. I’m not 100% sure why, as it wasn’t a recognised stop, but the step into our carriage had jammed on the platform and we couldn’t move. The steward was trying to get as many people as he could to put weight on the footplate above it, but that didn’t work, so he had to get the driver out to have a look. I don’t know how they got it shifted, but we were stuck here for about ten minutes. Long enough for me to take the headphones double adapter back.

Frank, or Pukekohe Travel had arranged for a shuttle bus to pick those going to the vicinity of Quay Street, to be taken to Quay Street. As that was only two blocks away from the Grand Mecure, and we didn’t have to pay, we took advantage of this. We also walked with Frank to Customs Street.

We booked into the Grand Mercure – room 611 this time – with a little problem that they hadn’t remembered D.C. paying cash for yesterday’s breakfast, which she had. They got that sorted and we went up to our room. After a quick unpack, as it was after 7.00pm, we went back up to the Vue again. We wanted to get some evening photos this time. The two male wait staff were both very nice and helpful. One appears to have a mild case of cerebral palsy or something, but it wasn’t stopping him. It just goes to show that, frequently, all that’s required is for someone to show some faith in them.

I had a chicken on pasta dish, and D.C. lamb. Then she had a hazelnut desert, and I had chocolate tart. It was all much more high class than that, (and more expensive than it should be, even if it was very nice), but you get my drift.

And then, having taken tons of photos, most of which will be out of focus as it was dark and we didn’t have tripods, we came back to room 611 and went to bed.

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Spiralling to the Chateau

I didn’t get much sleep last night. I got up soon after putting the light out to turn the air conditioner on. They had it at 16˚, which I thought sounded a bit cold, so I turned it up to 18˚, but when D.C. got up at one point during the night, I also got up and put it back down to 16˚. I didn’t notice any difference.

I know I dozed off a couple of times, but it wasn’t for long.

We got up at 5.30am, got washed and dressed, and then went upstairs to the Vue restaurant for breakfast. And then promptly came straight back down again to get my camera. The sky was clear, there wasn’t a breath of wind, the light was beautiful, and the Spirit of New Zealand was motoring out in the harbour. I knew I should have taken my camera up. I even mimed it to D.C. as we waited for the lift.

Breakfast was nice, but expensive (as we thought it was going to be.) Fresh melons, fresh pineapple, Weetbix, yoghurt, apple juice, toast, butter, marmalade. And the view. Shame about the tall buildings blocking it.

We came back down and finished getting ready to leave.

Our taxi had just arrived when I got downstairs and the driver was very helpful, even though he couldn’t get his boot to open. We got here in time and, as we’re part of the Pukekohe Travel group, were directed to offload our bags at the luggage car, and then go through the first door after that – to carriage D. We did this, and it was almost full with our group members. We thought we were early! We found a seat and made ourselves comfortable. They came around and ticked our names off.

9.30am they came around with morning tea – tea/coffee/ hot water and a muffin.

Saw a New Zealand Wheelbarrows wheelbarrow hard at work. I think it was a Tradesman XP, with the flats free wheel.

As we went past Ngauruwahia, there were three people waving to us in a paddock. The kid waved and then turned and mooned us.

Coming out of Te Awamutu there was a worker in a yard. He had his hose firing full blast into the air as a salute to us – he was also waving.

Just before Te Kuiti, I went out onto the observation car, and remained there, until 12.00. When I returned to my seat, my lunch was there. – small filled roll, mandarin, grapes, savoury, cheese and crackers. So I scoffed that down.

We stayed in the car and listened to the commentary during the Raurimu Spiral – or that spiral thing, as one guy said. The only problem is, we think the commentary’s out of synch, because she talks about the cutting between the tunnels before you even enter the first tunnel. Then you’re told to look back at Raurimu, but you haven’t got there yet.

We got into National Park about 1.10pm, where we disembarked. They offloaded our cases, which we had to collect and take to the bus with the luggage trailer. I would have thought that, as we were given red ribbons and name tags for our bags, it would have been quicker and simpler for someone from Pukekohe Travel to take control of that, rather than have all of us wait around.

We got on a bus and travelled the short distance to the Chateau Tongariro, including past the gate where we nearly lost Kally, when we visited here with Pen in 2011.

People are right. The Chateau Tongariro does seem to loom up out of nowhere. The bus pulled up and there were two valets waiting outside, looking very dignified in their uniforms, and I felt very underdressed.

resized_IMG_5231 (2)

We went through to where all our room keys (key cars) were laid out and got our keys and went up to our rooms – this time room 603. Our bags arrived a short time later. Sadly, we’re in the newer Tongariro wing, not the historic, haunted, original wing.

It’s a nice, roomy room, with a roomy bathroom, but people are right. It is looking a bit tired. The hand basin and toilet flush are both cracked, and it doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of quality as the Grand Mercure, but it’s still very nice. All the toiletries are called Forest and Bird and the manufacturer donates a portion of sales to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. No endorsement by the society on the packaging though.

D.C. wanted to show me a short walk that she’d done when she’d been to a Forest and Bird conference in the Forest and Bird hut, so we (with a stop off at the i-Site) found that and had a wonder. The beech forest with all it’s mossy, odd-shaped trees, is beautiful. The i-Site said we might see some Whio (Blue Duck) in the stream, but no such luck.

When we’d arrived all the mountains were in cloud. When we went for this walk, Ruapehu, behind the Chateau, was revealed in all its snowy glory.

Back to the Chateau and we had a shower (That’s not a shower. It’s a massage!) and got into our Christmas dinner clothes. I’d been tossing up between my flapper outfit, since the Chateau Tongariro was built in 1929, or red blouse, Christmas waistcoat, black “formal” skirt, and freshly made macramé Pohutukawa necklace. Both outfits used my flapper shoes, so that wasn’t a problem. In the end I went the Christmas route, and I didn’t regret it. No one else made a real effort to do anything, aside from some flashing earrings and some were even wearing clothes that wouldn’t have been dreamed of being wore in the Chateau’s heyday. Very casual jeans, t-shirts, sandshoes etc.

Ngauruhoe came into view, clear as a bell, except for the cloud wafting from the summit…

There was a happy hour before dinner and the two of us were just sitting together, when Frank Beech came over. He’d been on the last rail trip we’d done to Napier and “Gisborne” (and had seemed to do all the work) and kind of remembered us, so we had a chat. When the time came to go to dinner, he told us to go down first and choose our table. He then suggested that we sit at the table that he and John and Wendy Graham, the other organisers, had reserved, so we did. Along with three and another couple from Auckland.

The meal was nice but, aside from the Christmas crackers (I got a steam roller and my joke was “What do you get when you cross a cow, a sheep and a goat…? A Milky Baa Kid.” D.C. got a train and her joke was: “Where do young fish go in the morning…? Plaice School.”) and attractive table decorations, it didn’t feel that Christmassy. The food was nice with ham and potatoes and salads, but it just felt like a good buffet meal. Not a Christmas dinner. No one else had made much of an effort to dress to celebrate the season.

There was soup, hot ham, hot beef, hot chicken, prawn salad (I gave D.C. the prawn I put onto my plate), comb honey, orange glazed pumpkin, and all sorts of other mains like mussels and some kind of fish dish.. Desert was two kinds of ice cream (the orange was nice), Christmas pud (rectangular and pre-sliced), fruit salad, apple pie (2” square), carrot cake (ditto), banana cake (ditto), Jaffas, Pineapple lumps, Pavlova. It was all very nice and filling. Also, because it was buffet and we weren’t waited on, it didn’t feel Christmassy.

Part of the tour is made up of about 46 members of the Howick RSA (Returns Services Association) Line Dancing group. So they put on an exhibition. Line dancing seems to be something that would be more fun to do than to watch.

Once that was over we came up to our room, with a stop off to listen to an excellent pianist. I don’t know how good his singing was, as the piano overrode it, but I wasn’t complaining. He belting out a very energetic version of “Hotel California”.

It was an enjoyable day, but it doesn’t seem like a group tour. Just a lot of people heading in the same direction. We haven’t got name tags, so we don’t know who else is in the group, and there’s been no introduction of/by the guides.

But it’s fun.

I tried to decide which socks to wear tomorrow. I’ve bought a couple of pair of black merino/synthetic. One pair I wore today. The other pair I was planning on wearing tomorrow. They both look the same. They are both getting thin at the toes. And, bizarrely, they both smelt the same. I couldn’t tell them apart and by the time I’d checked and rechecked, I’d lost track of which pair was the pair that I thought was more likely to be clean. Good stuff, merino. My shoes are merino too, so that probably helped.

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Chateau Grand Mercure

I know, that’s not a very exciting heading, but I haven’t had time prior to this to try to get this entry into my blog sorted. I’ve been too busy with trying to create this year’s Christmas card (fail, so far) and real life in general.

Anyway, D.C. discovered that Pukekohe Travel were hosting a train trip on the Northern Express to National Park, followed by a shuttle to the Chateau Tongariro. (Once the premier hotel in New Zealand), and Christmas dinner. The following morning, it’s the train back to Auckland again.

We couldn’t resist. And so that’s why I’m typing this in a bed in the Grand Mecure, Custom Street, Auckland.


We caught the 9.50 bus to Auckland and our driver was Grumble Guts. We loaded the bags into the bus and then got on board. The front two seats behind the driver both had reserved on them, and, as I’d emailed Intercity and requested front seats (since we’re poor travelers) and told them that we accepted that it wouldn’t always be possible if unaccompanied minors were on board. I received an email in reply, assuring us that the note would be made on the driver’s waybill. Naturally, we assumed that the two front seats were reserved for us. The last time we had this driver, and had done this, he went butchers. And he did it again today. We told him that we had booked the front seats, (Not that he was listening to me) and that every other driver’s waybill had said that we’d booked the front seats. He said that there was no note on his waybill (why him and no one else?) and told us that if we took the reserved seats again, he’d kick us off next time. We told him that if he did that, we’d report him. It wasn’t even as if there were any children or obviously invalid people who would have a right to claim the front seat. I’m going to write a letter of complaint when we come home.

But for all that, it was a good trip up.

We got to Auckland and walked to the Grand Mercure Hotel. The staff here are very nice, and looked after our bags until our room was ready. We went over the road to The Coffee Club and had banana bacon pancakes. Very nice, although it could have done with a little more maple syrup. After that we went over to Queen’s Wharf to see if anything was happening there. Nothing was, so we came back and sat in the foyer of the hotel for a short time. By then our room was ready and a male member of staff (they are all called “Storytellers”) brought our bags up. He looked cute with Kally on his shoulder.

We were just getting ourselves settled when there was a knock on the door. It was a male storyteller with two, much appreciated, bottles of water. A short time later there was a phone call and it was a female storyteller to check that we were happy with everything.

We relaxed for a while, watching the TV show “Tipping Point” and I typed this.

At 3.30pm we went and caught the Manukau train to Glen Innes. (That was fun.) We were met at the station by Aunty Sally and Karen. They took us back to their new place, via our old places in 4 Hilton Place (still there, including our Rangitoto Pohutukawa) and 10 Taniwha St (Gone to make way for new developments.)

Their new home, in Coral Place, is very nice and roomy and they started out by giving us the grand tour, and the exchange of Christmas gifts. They don’t have any pets of their own, but are surrounded by dogs (barking), cats (came in to stand on its hind legs and get a photo from the bird bath), and doves. Dinner, as expected, was wonderful. Orange chicken, boiled potatoes, stir fried vegetables, strawberries and blackcurrants, ice cream, Christmas mince pie, and custard. Afterwards we sat and talked, before, at 8.30pm, Uncle John and Karen brought us back to the Grand Mercure.

Tomorrow we’re on the train!


We packed up what we could, made ourselves a cup of mint tea, and then went to bed.

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The Weta Workshop – Thunderbirds are Go Experience

Behind the doors of a top secret base on a South Pacific Island…

 A short note:

As I’ve used a number of Maori words in this report, I will try to give you some idea of how to pronounce them. But I’d like to apologise in advance to any true speakers of Maori. It’s only been in the last few years that New Zealanders have been encouraged to try to pronounce words correctly, so I wasn’t brought up listening to, and developing an ear for, the correct Maori sounds. Because of this it’s hard for me to know the true and correct way of saying words and translate them into sounds that any English speaker can understand.

The first time I visited England for a Fanderson convention, I was asked by someone doing a survey what ethnic group I identified with. I responded: “Pakeha.” (Pa-key-ha = New Zealander of European decent). The poor man looked very bewildered.

So how do you say Weta and Pukeko? Both words only have short vowel sounds and, as is standard with the Maori language, are said without emphasis on any syllable.


Photo taken by Wolfgang K – Copied from Wikimedia. Public domain

Wē – Like the same two letters in “wear”.
Tā – tuh.

Or the lazy way is Wet-a


pukekoCopied from Public domain

Pū – Like the Pau in Paul.
Ke – Like the Ke in Kevin.
Ko – Like the co in cocoa.

Or the lazy way is Pooh-kek-ko

It’s a guide, anyway.

Let’s go!

Should I thank Weta Workshop for giving me an enthralling, amazing, FAB experience before I begin this report, or leave it till the end?

I’ll get it out of the way. Thank you to Magnus, Amy, Reece, and Steven for giving me an enthralling, amazing, FAB experience.

As you can imagine, a company from a place the size of New Zealand (population 34.6 million – 30 million of which are sheep) that makes it big on the Hollywood scene, is going to be big news. Even in a country that suffers from the “Tall Poppy” syndrome, and has a tendency to cut overachievers “down to size”, Weta Workshop is universally admired. This means that it pays to book in advance if you intend to join either of their tours – the Weta Cave Workshop Tour or the Thunderbirds are Go Behind the Scenes Experience.

We had booked a week before our visit to ensure our place, and it’s here I’ll make a confession. I told you all that I was willing to ask your questions whilst on the tour. Well, the questions you gave me weren’t really of the sort that I expected a guide to know the answers to off the top of their head, so I forwarded them in advance to my Weta Guy contact, asking if he would be willing to give them to our guide as an advance warning of what to expect.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in reply.


As I said, Weta Workshop is a big name, and the chance of getting up close and personal with some genuine Hollywood memorabilia, and to see how it’s made, is a big drawcard for both local and overseas visitors. Having said that, there weren’t as many people on the Weta Cave Workshop Tour as I had expected. Whether that was the maximum number they could handle, or it was too early for most people, or because it was the week after the school holidays, I’m not sure, but it was great for little shorties like us, as it meant we could fight our way to the front.

I won’t go too much into this tour, as I covered it back in 2014.

Oh, what the heck. I’ve got new information.

resized_img_9881Some of the other visitors on the tour, eager to get started.

This time our tour guide was Taylor, a self-confessed Weta baby. That is both his parents worked for the company and he’d practically grown up here – including taking his first steps. Now he is one of the prosthetics creators.

One of the first things we were told was that there could be absolutely no photographs (which was why I took notes.) To someone who’s a shutterbug, this was painful. But they’ve made this rule because Weta Workshop don’t own the copyright to the characters/props on display and they don’t fancy some hot-shot American lawyer slapping a lawsuit onto them when a photo appears on the Internet. Which I guess I can understand. They’ve got more important things to do than appear in court.

One of the first things we were shown was Sauron’s armour from Lord of the Rings. This character is supposed to be 14-foot tall, but, as it’s quite difficult to find a 14’ actor, the actual person who filled the costume was a seven-foot-tall Wellington policeman. And Taylor revealed that this wasn’t the only movie “cheat” relating to Sauron. The armour looked to have been hammered out of heavy metal, but was actually created from lightweight foam.

This same policeman was also the body double whenever they were filming conversations between Gandalf and the much shorter dwarves. The cop would be dressed in Gandalf’s costume, and they would film looking over his shoulder and down on the “dwarf”. To film the other side of the scene and give a sense of scale, they’d film upwards at Ian McKellan looking down onto a child stand in, or a 3’5” actor.

For the fight scenes, because for some reason everyone agreed that killing off or maiming your cast isn’t a good idea, the swords were either made of soft foam, or CGI’d in afterwards. This was mandatory for everyone, except for one actor was such a proponent of method acting that he refused to have anything except for real chainmail and a real sword. He also wouldn’t take the helicopter to the set, preferring to walk or ride a horse to location. He found himself arrested a couple of time for carrying a weapon in public.

“Statues” can be manufactured out of lightweight materials, such as fibreglass. They are then painted gold, overpainted with browns, scrubbed down to reveal the gold highlights, and then sprayed with green to simulate verdigris. To me it looked like a genuine brass statue, and I guess that was one reason why we weren’t allowed to touch it, because they didn’t want to spoil the illusion.

That’s not to say that Sir Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop haven’t been involved in creating genuine statues. This is part of the Dyslexia Discovery Exhibit in Christchurch on the South Island. It’s called “Inner Struggle”: Celebrating the imaginative power of the dyslexic mind. (Note the letters streaming off the page and away from the young girl?)


One thing that Taylor admitted, is that no fancy American lawyer can sue anyone over copyright breaches of the use of the human anatomy – either in the present or the past. Weta Workshop have a replica skull of “Lucy”; the human species’ earliest known link in the evolutionary chain. They used her facial shape as a basis of the Orc’s skull for Lord of the Rings.

Further on, Taylor introduced us to a castle that had been used in the Narnia series of films. At 1/100th scale, it stood taller than me on its platform and was constructed out of high-tech materials such as tin cans, takeaway containers, and toilet rolls for the turrets. But this wasn’t the largest model of this castle they’d used for the movie. They’d also made what they termed a “Bigature” – i.e. a model that’s bigger than a miniature. The tower of this castle was so tall that it couldn’t fit under the ceiling and had to be built, and filmed, lying on its side down the length of the room. Once the filming was completed it was CGI’d onto the top of the castle.

Other points of interest that I scribbled into my notebook:

  • Some of the plastic that they use is APS. The same as used in Lego.
  • When making prosthetics such as masks and gloves, they make it out of silicone. It moulds to the actor’s body; so if the actor’s got a bit of muscle, their character’s built too!
  • Silicone for skin is impregnated with red flock (or blue for aliens) to simulate the blood vessels under the skin.
  • It costs $150 to manufacture a silicone nose; and this can be used only once. (Wouldn’t you hate to sneeze and have it disappear somewhere over the horizon?) Some actors needed three noses a day. And we wonder why films are so expensive to make nowadays.
  • Foam latex is also used, but can be toxic to some people. So much so that one actor in Lord of the Rings was mainly filmed using a body double.
  • Real, metal chainmail (not the plastic chainmaille that Weta Workshop developed) can give you frostbite in the cold. Not everybody knows that.

I kind of covered this last time, but when Weta Workshop started making its own chainmaille it used plastic tube which was sliced up and linked together. Staff members did this assembling job for two years, at the end of which they’d worn away their fingertips and fingerprints. Something else that you may not have known is that the fingerprints do return – in a different pattern.

As it’s 100 years since WWI, Sir Richard Taylor helped create a display, Gallipoli: The scale of our war, at Te Papa – our national museum. Eight real people involved in the Gallipoli campaign were selected to have their story told, and to be reconstructed in Weta Workshop’s workshop. Each figure is 2.4 times human scale – so chosen because that’s the maximum height Te Papa’s rooms could handle – If there’d been more room, the scale would have been even more impressive.


It took the ladies six weeks to do the hair. That’s not just creating a new hairdo, but installing every individual thread of hair on the head or body. They listened to a lot of audiobooks to while away the time, including the complete Harry Potter series.


But that, for us, was in the future. The tour we were on in the “present” only takes in one room of the entire Weta Workshop complex. One side of the room, and the first part of the tour, is where you can get a close look at models from previous shows. The second part of the tour gives you the opportunity to actually see the craftspeople in action. This time we saw the sword maker that I mentioned in my last report, working on his latest creation. As they work behind windows, I wondered if he, or anyone in the CNC department, feels like an animal at the zoo? Or is it one-way glass they hide behind?

But, as last time, the second part of the tour also introduces you to future projects, and Taylor introduced us to a sculptor working on a Chinese dragon… Using Plasticine to sculpt the base of his creation. This is hardened by spraying it with “Freeze Spray”, which freezes surfaces to minus 51 degrees Celsius. To make the Plasticine malleable again, they heat it.

But I suppose all you model makers know that.

That tour took approximately an hour, and was worth the $25 price of admission. But I was waiting for the next event at 10.45am…

We followed the numbers painted onto the path leading from the Weta Cave door to the minibus: 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1…

resized_img_9875Note the line and the number three on the path

We were the only ones in the bus until right up to 10.45. Then another man got on board, and then a couple more, and then a group of six, and then…

And then there were more people on Thunderbirds are Go tour than on the Weta Workshop one. At this point I was a little disappointed, as I thought it would make it difficult for me to see what I’d come to see. (And had had people encourage me to go and see).

Not a problem. The tour is designed to be accessible and inspiring to Thunderbirds are Go’s target audience; even though there were no kids in our group… Except for one “biggish” one.

We were transported in the bus on a short jaunt, that almost seemed to double back on itself, to a rather non-descript warehouse-type complex with only a small “Pukeko Pictures” sign high on the wall to mark it out as anything special.

That was until we exited the bus and found ourselves facing a door with the Thunderbird One logo on it. We were invited inside.

The first thing that we saw was a model of Thunderbird Two.

THE Thunderbird Two! The original. Not the Thunderbirds are Go variant.

I wish I could take photos.

We were greeted by Amy, who informed us that we were in a top secret location somewhere in the South Pacific (no wonder the bus trip seemed convoluted). She asked how many people knew Thunderbirds and Thunderbirds are Go and a remarkably small number put up their hands. Of course mine went skywards as fast as Thunderbird Three’s launch.

Leading the way, Amy took us into another room which had more models of original Thunderbirds, FAB1, the Master Elevator Car and other International Rescue machines. All these had been kitbashed by David Tremont, after years of collecting bits and pieces off Trade Me (New Zealand’s version of Ebay), Ebay, and from other sources. He’d been looking for the exact same parts that Derek Meddings and team had used on the original models and, at a guess, he found them.

I want my camera!

But my camera had to remain in my bag and my bag was returned to the first room. Which was when I told Amy that I’d sent through your questions and asked if my helpful contact had passed them on. Amy said she’d explain more about what had happened to those questions later.

And so shall I.

We returned to the rest of the group and Amy started explaining the rationale behind making Thunderbirds are Go. Apart from the fact that Thunderbirds was one of the shows that had got many of Weta Workshop’s craftspeople interested in model making, they wanted to encourage young people to be creative. And if you’ve followed the Thunderbirds are Go web site or the magazine, you will see that both publications are continuing that ethos.

The creators also wanted to create a series with no weapons nor violence. They wanted to show a group of people who were anonymous, who helped others, and didn’t wait around for thanks. Anyone want to know why I love Thunderbirds and Thunderbirds are Go so much?

And I won’t mention that Amy said the series was from 1963.

After being thrilled by seeing vacuum cleaner tubes and other bits turned into the original Thunderbirds craft, we were introduced to the updated version. On a wall were various pictures of design sketches and drafts of how the various characters and craft could look.

I want my camera!

Amy pointed out that Gordon Tracy, with his love of loud beach shirts, wears one not with Hawaiian palms, but one with New Zealand Nīkau palms! (Knee-Cow) Tracy Island is clearly near to New Zealand as I’ve since noticed that it and its outlying islands also have Nikau dotted about the landscape.

resized_IMG_0525I had to wait to get back to Auckland’s central business district to get this.

She said to keep an eye out throughout the show for the odd bit of Kiwiana. Translation: Items iconic to New Zealand’s people: aka Kiwis.

I asked if Virgil’s wearing a Swanndri when he’s off duty, and Amy didn’t know what that was. (Her’s wasn’t a Kiwi accent.) I told her it’s an iconic heavy woollen bush shirt; something I don’t think he’d want to wear on a tropical island.

Tin-Tin, of course, has become Tanusha ‘Kayo’ Kyrano, because they didn’t want to cause any confusion between our Tin-Tin and Hergé’s Tintin. And because ITV wanted to keep the big money lawyers at bay.

Thunderbird Shadow was designed by Shoji Kawamori, the lead designer on Transformers. He’d heard that Thunderbirds was being remade and sent his design in to Pukeko Pictures on the off chance that it would be of use to them.

They loved it.

Another thing that I found interesting, amongst all the interesting things on this wall (I want my camera) was a silhouette of the original Thunderbird One with the silhouette of the new Thunderbird One superimposed over the top of it. The similarities were clear, with the most obvious differences being the new version’s “dropped wings” and “tucked tail.”

Just a little plastic surgery.

Amy pointed out some hand drawn storyboard pictures… Including a hint of what’s coming up next season… 😉

Like the original AP Films team, the Pukeko Pictures team use various everyday items altered so as to be unrecognisable. A CD rack becomes a skyscraper. A circuit board becomes a futuristic city. (Think London in “Unplugged”.) A plastic, lidded, soap container, with a latch glued onto it and painted silver, becomes a safe door… One that Parker has to break into.

Since then, every time we’ve seen something that’s evocative of something else, we’ve thought, “I bet Weta Workshop would love to use that.”

Coloured mattress foam was handed around for us all to feel, as we were told that, in powder form, it’s used to add texture to structures. Shredded it becomes bushes.

Expanding foam is used everywhere; coloured in all sorts of ways; to create all sorts of shapes. It could be lava. It could be rocks. It could be expanding foam…

And of course we can’t forget the lemon squeezer! Amy asked what its relevance was. I was the one who explained that it was on the wall of the hangar of the original Thunderbird One and, as an homage, it’s also in the new Thunderbird One’s hangar… And that it’s the kind of thing that fans loved seeing.

Moving on we learned that we may be in the 21st century, but 3D printing and printers are used sparingly at Weta Workshop. If for no other reason than at this time it’s inordinately expensive. But it does have its uses.

As she passed around a 3D-printed model of a seated Lady Penelope, Amy explained that shadows are hard to replicate accurately in the CG world. So a scene is set up in, say, the model lounge of the Creighton-Ward manor, and then the plastic model is seated where the CGI Lady Penelope will sit. This gives the camera something to focus on and provides an accurate shadow for the digital team to work with. A model of FAB1 with functioning headlights and tail lights was used in a similar fashion to shine realistic beams of light through the CGI car.

Now it was time for the big reveal. We faced a sliding door.

A black door…

A door with the markings of International Rescue and Thunderbird One…

This was the door to the secret base. This door could only be opened by a voice activated password.

Anyone care to guess was it was?

I was saying “Five, Four, Three, Two, One. Thunderbirds are Go” as soon as Amy was. Everyone else was a number behind. (And the majority of the group were probably rather bemused by it all.)

The door slid back and I was the first to be allowed to enter. I think by this stage, the rest of the visitors had got the idea that I was something of a fan and were quite indulgent in letting me get to the front and take more of an active role. It wasn’t that I was wearing my interest on my sleeve or anything… More like on my jumper’s front and blouse’s lapel; both of which were adorned by the hand across the world International Rescue logo.

I entered a cavernous warehouse. “I’m in heaven.”

And I want my camera!

To my left was the model of the Tracy Villa used in filming. To the right, Tracy Island. Further on… Well, we had to yet discover what was further on.

To stop this from being a complete Purupuss epic (too late) I’ve bullet-pointed some of the things I learned.

Tracy Villa:

  • 1/12th scale
  • The only things that were not built by hand were the chairs.
  • It’s built in moveable segments to make filming scenes easier.
  • There’s a trapdoor behind the piano that can be opened up to allow a lipstick camera to pass through for a different filming angle.
  • When the first Thunderbird One launch scene was filmed, two ladies had to get underneath the set and slide the swimming pool back. It took three attempts before they could do it without splashing water everywhere.
  • A smoke machine is used to create the smoke at launch.
  • A leaf blower blows the deck chairs away from the swimming pool.

Tracy Island

  • Modelled on the Society Islands’ Bora Bora and New Zealand’s White Island. (Not learned today, but the cave at the waterline that Thunderbird Four exits out of is modelled on Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula. That’s my neck of the woods.)
  • The model has 3000 trees.
  • It also has some “straw huts” and I don’t know why they are there.
  • The famous palm trees are made up of screws and palm fronds.
  • The water around the island (it sits in its own pool for filming) was coloured by ten litres of blue food colouring. By the end of the shooting it wasn’t only the water that was blue. (And the air was possibly blue when they discovered the staining.)

Further on was Thunderbird One’s launch bay – including the famous lemon squeezer. (“Juicer” said Amy) This particular model is actually a fraud, as they couldn’t find one to the right scale and had to make one.

At the base of Thunderbirds One and Two’s launch platforms you will see some round fire extinguishers. These, partly as a nod to the original show, are made from animatronic eyeballs.

Next stop was the Tracy Island runway with its cliff face and iconic palm trees. I was beckoned forward. Would I like to pull on that lever?

Would I? With a: “Hold this,” I shoved my notebook into my companion’s hands.

I had the pleasure of rotating the lever up and over, as the cliff face retracted into the ground and the palm trees fell back. Now I can’t watch Thunderbird Two’s launch without thinking: I helped make International Rescue go!

But then I was thinking… I want my camera!

On to the interior of Thunderbird Two’s hangar. One of the craftspeople, Sophie, spent three weeks preparing this model. She was the only one small enough to fit inside the cavern.

If you watch the scene where the pods/modules slide along beneath Thunderbird Two before the required one is selected for the rescue, the “tractor” at the front was, at the time of the first series, the only model vehicle used. As we know, series two is going to make a greater use of models.

The model of Thunderbirds Three and One’s hangars used an extractor fan tube for Thunderbird Three’s launch tube, and “Kinder Surprise” egg cases at the base of Thunderbird One’s storage platform, because they looked good painted.

Standing next to this model was a rocket ship that looked similar to SunProbe in the original series’ episode of the same name. This is Jeff Tracy’s rocket.


“Who’s Jeff Tracy?” Amy looks at me.

“The father of the boys and the creator of International Rescue.”

For the first series, the makers wanted children to realise that it was possible for kids to go out and help others without being told to do so. This is why Jeff has disappeared.

However, for the next series………

The Hood’s ship, which was also on display, is made out of (appropriately) rubbish.

  • The main body is made of two washing machine drums.
  • Dyson vacuum cleaners form the side bits.
  • The tail is a rubbish bin lid.
  • And some of it is made out of car parts.
  • When the ship “flew”, it was lifted by a crane.

The next model was the Creighton-Ward mansion. The grounds are created by astroturf lawns, mattress foam hedges, and fabric flowers.

The gateposts’ figurines and the door knockers are modelled on one character: Lady Penelope’s dog Sherbet. Why has Lady Penelope, much to Parker’s disgust, acquired a dog when the 1965 version didn’t have one?

Amy: “What did Lady Penelope always have that she couldn’t have now?”

Me: “A cigarette.”

So Lady Penelope holds a Sherbet instead of a cigarette. Instead of having a puff, she has a pug.

The other side of the warehouse had the interior of the Creighton-Ward mansion. You will have spotted that there’s a picture of Sherbet on the back wall with a Banksy-inspired mural. Amy confided that a lot of Weta Workshop’s craftspeople were former graffiti artists… I’m not sure if that’s the legal term for what they did or not.

It was at this point that my pen ran out of ink. If I could only use my camera… Being a good Girl Guide, (thanks to those who offered me the use of theirs) I had a spare and was able to make these notes about the Creighton-Ward manor’s interior.

  • The furniture inside the mansion is hand sewn.
  • The teacakes actually been baked.
  • There is a lot of Kiwiana such as Koru (an unfurling fern frond) and a Hei-tiki (a symbolic small carving) decorating Lady Penelope’s shelves.
  • A sculpture of Sherbet inside the house has a nose that lights up blue when Lady Penelope is called.
    Amy: “Instead of what used to be used?”
    Me: “The teapot.”


Koru – Cou as in cough, roo as in rumour.
Hei-tiki – Hey-tick-quay

We were then shown some models from future episodes. I won’t tell you which, but if I say that one thing we saw was three scale models of the Hoover Dam of differing sizes, whilst another was a geodesic dome bioresearch facility, you may get an idea where we’re headed…

And that was the end of the tour.

As the rest of the group departed to get on the bus, Amy asked if we’d be able to stay behind.

Stay behind? Do I really want to? Stupid question!

One of the other people with us, Reece, was a trainee guide. He was one of those craftsman who’d made chainmail and had lost his fingerprints. Ever since then he’d been able to crack his knuckles. (Which he demonstrated.) He reckoned it was a small price to pay for the chance to be a part of something as exciting as a major motion picture.

That was something that was obvious and commented on; the enjoyment people got working for Weta Workshop and its subsidiaries. Someone would be working on their own project, and they’d look across at another craftsperson, who could be doing something fiddly like painting a miniature, and there would be a huge smile on the other person’s face. It’s a job that they all love.

Reece presented me with a gift from Pukeko Pictures of a Thunderbirds are Go poster, a Thunderbird Two logo badge, and a Thunderbird Two toy. Brilliant! (And thank you.)

I was allowed to wander around and look at anything and ask questions. By this point I had serious Thunderbirds overload and I wanted to look at everything, but was taking in next to nothing. I wish now that I’d asked to go back and look at the storyboard and design pictures, or had a better look at the future plot scenes. But I was just overwhelmed by these amazing, huge, detailed models. However, I did have another go at preparing Thunderbird Two’s runway for launch.

Amy offered to ask the Thunderbirds are Go models and miniatures supervisor, Steven Saunders, to come and have a chat. As with all the rest of Weta’s staff he was very open and welcoming to talk to. Of course now is when I think of all the questions I should have asked. (I’m not great at thinking on my feet. I’d be no good as a member of International Rescue.)

I did ask him what he liked specialising in and he said that he loved getting the casts from the rocks around the coast and using them in as many different ways as possible. A lot of the natural landscape that you see in Weta Workshop’s works, have been cast from the Wellington foreshore. As they owned those casts they can use and reuse them in different shows.

Steven told us that so far they’ve made 200 environments over the two seasons – obviously that’s roughly 100 environments per season. These are real, 3D, you-can-touch-them environments, onto which they can project (if that’s the word) the CGI figures and craft.

Our tour was finally over and the bus was waiting for us (and only us!) to take us back to the Weta Cave. We bought some more souvenirs (Weta notebook, Weta Badge, Weta mints – “Ah, was it you we got the gifts together for?” grinned the lady behind the till), and watched the video on the various Weta Workshop productions.

As we were leaving four people who’d been on the Thunderbirds are Go tour asked what we’d done after they’d left. I said been treated like royalty.


It was a brilliant morning, and I want to thank everyone who went above and beyond what I expected to make this a memorable day. I know, I’ve already said that. But there’s nothing wrong with reiterating the fact that, thanks to Amy, Magnus, Reece, and Steven – and the bus driver, I had a Thunderbirds experience that was simply F-A-B.

I only wish I’d been allowed to use my camera. I may have got photos like this.


(And the Wellington i-SITE (information centre) team had spelt Tracy wrong.)


 And what happened to our questions? They’d been sent to ITV for answers. Their responses, and those answered by Weta Workshop, are provided below.  (At a guess, those answers in the first section that are coloured blue, were answered by the Weta Workshop team. The green answers were provided by ITV.)


🙂 Sereena

1)    Why were the Tracys’ hair colours changed?

Rob Hoegee has answered in a Reddit thread that he is not sure about this answer, but it is probably to further differentiate the characters:

Why was the decision taken to make the Tracy brother younger and to change their hair colours?”

I honestly don’t know the answer to the hair question. My guess would be to further differentiate the characters. That along with greater variations in size and girth. The truth is, most kids are going to be seeing this for the first time with fresh eyes. They won’t have noticed the change. As far as the age goes, research has proven that kid audiences respond more favourably to characters closer to their own age. That poses a problem with this show because it begins to defy plausibility when you make them too young. So we had to strike a balance. Scott is early/mid-20s and the rest of the brothers fall in line with an appropriate age interval between.


2)    Why does there appear to be a toy range with International Rescue in black uniform?

Weta Workshop doesn’t own the license for Thunderbirds Are Go toys, so this would be a question for the maker of those particular toys.

3)    Has anyone considered, as a laugh and in homage to the original, to swap the characters’ positions when they are travelling underground to Thunderbird Three?

That’s an interesting idea! I’m not sure if anyone has thought of that. I will pass it on to the team.

4)    Will we see more explosions in series two and three?

Series two will definitely be action-packed and will have more physical effects.

5)    If circumstances had been better, would Gerry Anderson have been invited to contribute to the series in some way?

Richard Taylor – as founder of Weta Workshop, company director of Pukeko Pictures and executive producer on Thunderbirds Are Go – has an extremely high regard for Gerry Anderson and the original series. Taylor has met Gerry Anderson, who died in 2012, asking him for permission to re-make the show. Taylor: “I felt that was really necessary for me, to ask for that permission.”

 Taylor has also met Sylvia Anderson several years later, who voiced Lady Penelope in the original series. Sylvia took on a small role in Thunderbirds Are Go, voicing Lady P’s great aunt.


6)    In the toys, the characters are getting re-released in “covert ops gear.” Does this signal a change in the series writing? Ie, IR will have to start working more stealthily in season 2?

The writing is still being done by Rob Hoegee, as with all series, the writing evolves and there is a strong team behind him working very closely on storylines.

7)    Will there be new pod vehicles and other types of vehicles carried by Thunderbird 2.2?   Thunderbird 2.2 being the Thunderbirds are Go version as opposed to Thunderbird 2.1 – the original 1965 version.

There are new pods / vehicles for Thunderbird 2. There will be much more new vehicles being introduced throughout the second series.

8)    Does Creighton Ward Manor get a bit more screen time in season 2?

Series two revisits multiple locations from series one, and the Thunderbirds travel to many more places for International Rescue.

9)    Has new library footage shots been created for the take-off sequences?

Series two continues to use the miniature backgrounds from series one as well as many new miniature environments created specifically for series 2.

10)    Any exclusives on how miniatures are getting used more for the vehicles in Season 2, particularly the Thunderbirds themselves?

Other than for shoot technique, the Thunderbirds crafts are CG. There are, however, miniature vehicles that will again appear in series two.

11)    Thunderbird 5.2 and Thunderbird S had slightly less focus than the others in Season 1. Will that change in season 2?

Thunderbird 5 and Thunderbird S will continue to be an important part of the series, as with series one, different episodes and storylines will revolve around different characters and their relevant crafts.

12) (If known/ allowed to say) Are scripts a little more cohesive than in season 1?

The writing is still being done by Rob Hoegee, as with all series, the writing evolves and there is a strong team behind him working very closely on storylines.

13) I’d second the request for more info on what looks like a change to more miniature work in series 2, and what that is going to be used for.

ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures will continue the ground breaking and creative and technical excellence in mixed media approach to the series. It delivers a whole new level of action adventure, animation for today’s audience whilst also affectionately paying tribute to the legacy of model locations from the classic series.

14)    My other question is: Are Weta planning to release any figures of the characters? It would be nice to have some proper pieces rather than just the toys that are available.

Weta Workshop doesn’t own the license for Thunderbirds Are Go toys, but this would be a great suggestion for the toy makers.

15)    I would be interested to find out how much influence David Tremont has when it comes to deciding how much, or how little, model and effects work there should be in the show and how much CGI. For example, his superb work on The Stately Homes Robberies episode of Thunderbirds1965, where his mansion is blown up with real explosions, shows he is a master of the art. Is he tempted to push for these types of effects in TBAG?

David has been ‘special advisor’ for Thunderbirds Are Go, and he has been busy with many other projects at the Workshop including our collectibles.

16)    David is obviously a very nice guy and so is Giles Ridge. He gets thanked in the credits of Thunderbirds1965 and I would be interested to know what part he played in the Kickstarter project. I want the best blend in TBAG which allows for fast-paced action (CGI characters) and traditional model work (vehicles and explosions). What would be his preference if money was no object?

Dave contributed a selection of models and miniatures for the Kickstarter project, like the Sun Probe and the Stately Home. You can see photos of them over at the Kickstarter page.

17)    Now that Series 2 is in production and Series 3 has been ordered are they being done against an overall “story arc” – either per series or across both (or even beyond)?

Yes, there is an overall story arc across the series as well as lots of action for each individual episode.

18)    Just one question/ request; Please can the producers bring back Jeff Tracy. I think there could be so much done with the character now the first years story arc has completed.

Good Evening from South Wales in the UK Rob. Please can you tell me if the character of Jeff Tracy is ever going to be returning to the full series?

Rob Hoegee:

ITV has been understandably cagey about fully answering this up to now, and I think rightfully so. The straight answer is not in seasons one and two. After that, we’ll see. Please know that this is not a decision we took lightly and the reasons are many. I should also say this: just because the character isn’t physically in the show, that doesn’t mean Jeff doesn’t play an important role. It isn’t an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation. “What would dad have done” has replaced what dad tells them to do. We spend a lot of story energy on International Rescue finding its way without Jeff, and this brings the six of them into leadership and decision-making roles that do not often come easy. And sorry for the delay in answering: it’s important and I wanted to get my words right.

19) And my last question: I suppose there’s absolutely, positively no chance of getting at least one photo while on the TAG tour…?

Sadly at the time you came through we had a blanket policy of no photos – but we have just installed a photo op at the end of our Thunderbirds Are Go Behind-the-Scenes Experience! You will have to come back and snap a selfie with Virgil in the driver’s seat! To see some of our first photos, see here .

The following are questions I thought of AFTER my tour of the Weta Workshop – Thunderbirds Are Go Experience. Many thanks to Joaquin for his interesting and informative answers, and Kaliana for acting as an intermediary between ITV, Weta Workshop, and myself.



Hi Sereena,

I am glad you enjoyed the tour, it’s great to have such appreciative fans like yourself being able to experience some of the stories and adventures we have had making the show. Being the longest serving model maker after Steven, I’ve had a hand in just about everything, so naturally I have been set the task of answering your questions as best I can. Here we go!

  • When filming a scene that requires Tracy Island or one of the hangars etc., Are the models removed from the Thunderbirds Are Go experience, or do you rely on stock footage?

One of the benefits of having our shoot stage right next door is we can move them over to set whenever we want. We have also been known to shoot pick-ups on the sets when the tours have gone home for the day.

  • Why did Tracy Island have some straw huts?

The huts are the beachfront bar and leisure area, an homage to the original show. It is only seen on the 100th scale model at distance. By having it represented on the model in our current episodes, it gives us the option of visiting that part of the island in the future.

  • I think Amy said, but what were the palm fronds on the Tracy Island model made of?

We have three scales, 100th, 35th and 12th. The 100th scale trees we scavenged leaves of model railway trees that we wired to wood screws painted and stuck into the foam island. The 35th scale palms, famously from the tb2 launch sequence were quite technical. The trunk was sculpted with a piece of dowel wrapped in string and textured with Plasticine. The fronds for these were made of laser cut overhead projector film bundled together and spray-painted green. To make them springy, we molded the trunk and cast it in rubber over a piece of brass that only springs in two directions to give us that famous wobble. The 12 scale we only made two of. These were based off a dead cabbage tree stem I noticed outside my house one morning. We molded it, cast it in foam and stuck cycad leaves from the garden centre on the top.

SB/P: If you’re interested in knowing what a cabbage tree is, it’s a New Zealand native that is very palm like, although not a true palm – being one of the largest tree lilies in the world. Its Maori name is Tī kōuka and it has the botanic name of Cordyline australis. And if you’re wondering what it looks like, and you’re in the northern hemisphere, you may have one in your neighbourhood. It’s known in that neck of the woods as the Cornish Palm, Manx Palm, Torbay Palm or Torquay Palm.

  • It all looks like the staff have heaps of fun, but what hours do they work?

We stick to a standard working week but if we are really in a pickle sometimes we can clock over 70 hours!

  • When The Hood’s ship was pulled apart by Thunderbirds One and Two in “Legacy”, the final episode, was the model actually pulled apart?

The Hoods ship in “Legacy” was a digital scan of the practical model that was made first. The episode required some tricky digital tracking so it suited being full CG. Rest assured it was the exact dimensions and colours etc, so in a way the model we pulled apart was in fact the real thing!

  • Why was the piano changed from white to black?

Tracy Island and the lounge had a very intensive design process over many months and the piano changed colour as part of the overall design aesthetic to suit the space.

  • Will we see Virgil painting?

His paintings and easel you might see up on the mezzanine in the back of the lounge so he is definitely painting in our show, as to whether this will be featured in an episode, only time can tell!

  • What’s the largest environment you’ve made for Thunderbirds are Go?

“*^&Cough splutter @#%$ something for season two….. “Cough cough splutter splutter”@#$….

What’s aired to date would probably be Penelope’s Mansion and grounds from designated driver, that set was huge! about 9x14meters or so. What you saw in the tour was just a small section of the whole set!

  • What’s the smallest?

The smallest set was probably the cut away button shot, our only live action shot in the show. Little bit of trivia here, the hat in shot belonged to Richard Taylor’s wife Tania Rodger.

  • Which was the most complex? (Even if it didn’t appear that way on screen?)

Most complex would be a Tracy Island house for sure. If we are talking only episodic I would say it would most likely have been HMEP underwater rig, It was fully radio controlled, carried its own lighting rig, and fully articulated in many directions. So complex in fact we all have almost unanimously decided to stick to puppeteer-able vehicles from now on…

  • Which was the most fun to make?

For me it was the 100th scale Moonbase. Such a classic design and it looked great on screen!

  • Why was Thunderbird One allowed to be displayed, and photographed, in the i-SITE?

The Thunderbird in the i-site is one of three that travel the world for promotional purposes and conventions. They have been displayed everywhere and have no secrets to hide. Hope you got some good photos!

Hopefully that answers everything fairly, I would have expanded more but I have to get back to gluing things! Keep a look out for Season 2, it’s going to be amazing! Thanks for being part of the Adventure!

Best regards

Joaquin Loyzaga

Weta Workshop Model-maker, Thunderbirds Are Go



All photos, unless otherwise credited, copyright Sereena Burton

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