Movie News / Tolkien News

Q&A With The Man Who Walks LOTR Everyday

Any fan of Tolkien will agree, when you watch ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films, New Zealand has a magical way of transporting you to the lands of Middle-earth. Now imagine being able to walk those same paths Frodo and the gang took, everyday. That’s what it’s like to be Jack Machiela. The Wellington tour guide lives a life many of us only dream of and that includes numerous run-ins (and the occasional lunch) with celebrities. His humorous and witty blog postsmade me an instant fan, and I longed to know what it was like to live a day in his shoes.
1. When did you first become a LOTR tour guide and why?
I became a LOTR tour guide back in 2004, mostly by accident. I had been driving a season of a 28-day (non-LOTR) tour around NZ, and was pretty tired of that, so I walked in to the Wellington Information Centre (iSite), and asked them if they knew of any tours that came back home every evening. They said to go talk to the guy from Wellington Rover Tours– apparently he’d been so busy with these new LOTR tours that he’d not had a chance to go look for new staff yet. Next thing I know, it’s seven years later and I’m still at Rover. I met my wife on the tour as well – she was a guest back in 2005, and we got married two years ago.
2. What do you love most about being a tour guide?

Where to start! The guests, talking about LOTR/Tolkien all day, the landscape, the outdoors, the excitement, the not-being-in-an-office – I could go on but that will do for now… 🙂

3. Have you always called “Wellywood” home?

Nope, I’m not even born in New Zealand! I’m originally Dutch – still have my passport, in fact. I grew up in Hawke’s Bay (350kms north-east of Wellington), but came to Wellywood at the end of the 1980’s. I’ve been here for most of that time except for a 5-year stint back in the Netherlands. I’ll be here for the foreseeable future though!

4. What is you favorite spot to visit in “Wellywood”? ( Cafes and such)

The best coffee and best chocolate (my two weaknesses) can be found at Ciocco cafe, on Tory Street. It’s a tiny little place and you could walk past it three times before you noticed it, but the chocolate is from Schoc in Greytown, and pretty much unbeatable. Disclosure – the guy is a good friend of mine, but only because I go there so often! For breakfast there’s no going past Sweet Mother’s Kitchen in Courtenay Place (near the Embassy Cinema, where ROTK was premiered in 2003).

Actually, now that I start to think about the question, there’s probably a dozen other excellent places for coffee or second breakfast – the Chocolate Fish [Cafe] and theChocolate Frog [Cafe], and Scorch-o-Rama Cafe, all on the Miramar Peninsula (“Wellywood central”); Memphis Belle on Dixon Street; Arabica [Cafe]in Petone; I could go on. It’s hard to get bad coffee in Wellington these day[s]. Starbucks isn’t doing too well in NZ, with all these excellent smaller cafes.
5. Since the filming of LOTR began, have you noticed any changes in the city around you, compared to present day?
We’re getting a lot more people coming to visit now. Fifteen years ago, Wellington used to be famous for only two things – parliament, and the ferry stop to the South Island. First, we got Te Papa Museum, and all of NZ came to visit – and secondly, LOTR happened, and the rest of the world turned up. This tourism season, we had about 60 cruise ships come for a visit – fifteen years ago that would have been ten ships, tops. Obviously all those thousands of people aren’t all LOTR fans, but a fair percentage of them are. My job is pretty stable all year round.

On the negative side, we’ve not really been adapting to the LOTR visitors fast enough. I’d want to see more help from the Wgtn City Council. There’s a tiny little sign on top of Mount Victoria (where the famous “Get Off The Road!” scenes were filmed), and as far as I know that’s all the council has done for LOTR fans. It would be nice if they could divert the Mountain Bike track away from “our” trees, for instance.
6.You mention on your blog, you have met an astounding amount of actors, have you ever met Sir Peter Jackson? And if so what was your first impression?
I met Peter Jackson only once on tour (although we see him from time to time, around town). I completely screwed that one up – I approached him to say “hello”, and ended up saying “wow, you look really tired, Mr Jackson”. Nice.Of course, he was also yelling “action” and “cut” towards me during my famous 3 seconds in King Kong, but I don’t think he really noticed me in the background there. 🙂

7. Can you list off all the actors/actresses you’ve run into on your job?

Ai, the big name-drop! I’ll do my best. Also, don’t forget I didn’t start touring until after LOTR was finished, so not that many LOTR people. The list would include people like John Rhys-Davies (came to Armageddon convention in Wgtn), Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan (saw them in town a few years ago), Andy Serkis (many times during King Kong), and from King Kong there’s Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Adrian Brodie, and Jamie Bell.

Then there’s NZ actors and stunt people like Jed Brophy, Colin Bleasdale, Todd Rippon and Shane Rangi (the two Harad Mumak riders from ROTK). Todd and Colin are LOTR tour guides in between acting gigs, so we meet reasonably often. I mentioned on my blog that we spotted Lee Tamahori a few weeks ago while we were touring, he’s a reasonably famous director (did a James bond movie amongst other things). I met Costa Botes, who did the special documentaries for LOTR. And Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, of course – and I’ve spotted Katie (their daughter) in the pro-hobbit rally crowd last year (she’s credited as “Cute Hobbit Child”, “Cute Refugee Child”, and “Cute City Child” in the trilogy along with her brother Billy). Didn’t really meet her though, and I had no reason to approach her that time.

And then there’s famous artists and Weta crew, like Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Alan Lee, John Howe, Greg Hunt (LOTR sculptor), Greg Broadmore (rayguns), Gino Acevedo (all-round amazing guy), Carlos Slater (Orc designer), Chris Guise (designer), Daniel Reeve (cartographer and calligrapher), and Peter Lyon (the sword smith). There’s probably others but that’ll do for now! Oh, and I almost forgot Guillermo del Toro! He signed my Hobbit book – I’m hoping his leaving the project will mean the book becomes MORE valuable, not less! 🙂

Jack and Guillermo del Toro/ Source: The Noldor Blog
And of course I can’t leave out other industry people like Erica Challis (TORn founder), and Ian Brodie (author of the LOTR Location Guidebook). They’ve both done so much for Wellington!
8. With all the actors you’ve met, who where you most excited to meet?
Jack and John Howe/ Source The Noldor Blog
I was pretty stunned to run into Alan Lee and John Howe at the end of 2009 – I’d just come out of the Weta Cave with a group, and the Weta crew just told me there that neither of them were in the country yet. I walked towards the car park and suddenly noticed them about 5 meters away! I’m afraid I may have said something like “oh my God!”, to which John Howe replied “yes?”… He’s a funny guy! They were both really nice, and actually I’ve found that with almost all the people I’ve met. When we met Andy Serkis at the cafe we go to for lunch, he has come to our table a few times, and talked to everyone at the table. He’s a really cool guy indeed.
Alan Lee/ Source: The Noldor Blog
9. Out of all the LOTR and Hobbit locations you tour, which is your favorite and why?
So far there’s only LOTR locations, of course – but I have a few favourite spots for different reasons. Mount Victoria because it’s such a nice place in the city to walk, and full of surprises. There’s always another LOTR location just around the corner – I think I could run a full day tour just on the hill and not run out of material!I love Rivendell just because it’s such a gorgeous place – it’s an ancient rain forest with stunningly beautiful trees – some of them over a thousand years old. And at the end of the summer (like right now) I’m always keen on visiting the Hutt River (Anduin, and the river where Brego rescued Aragorn) as it’s blackberry season, and we have some quick snacks on the way. Everyone joins in!
10. Is there any cast that you haven’t met and wish to meet?

I’d like to meet Sir Ian McKellen. Apart from his film career, he’s done so many stage roles and seems like such an approachable person. But I would REALLY love to meet Sir Christopher Lee. The man is a living legend! I heard he used to be a pilot in WWII – amazing!

11. As a tour guide, are there any questions you are asked repeatedly? Are there any questions you are tired of hearing, or any you wish they did ask?

Usually there’s the same questions that always arise from the information I provide (like “wow, is Gimli really the tallest of the fellowship?”). There’s one question I won’t answer – “Can you tell me where Peter Jackson lives?”. The answer will have to remain “yes, but I won’t”.

I’m actually not tired of any questions – the more questions I get, the more involved the guests are with the day. As with anything – you get out of it what you put into it.

That ends the Q&A, but you can follow Jack Machiela on Twitter and The Noldor Blog.

All images are copyright by Jack Machiela and are used with permission.

Other sources: IMDb, and WetaNZ

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  1. Great interview! I would love to go on his tour one day!

  2. @LilyDrop me a line if you're coming to New Zealand at any stage – I'd love to take you on tour! – Jack M