When we found out that the second season of Men In Kilts would be a trip through New Zealand, I was instantly excited. Not only because I absolutely loved Season 1, in Scotland; but because I knew we’d be traveling there – our second trip to Aotearoa – at the end of 2023. So, in planning our trip, I found out that I’d have the chance to go to a couple of the areas that Sam and Graham had visited, and made sure we would be able to check them out!
Black Barn Winery
The majority of our stay was in the Hawke’s Bay region, which is on the east coast of the North Island. Our son and his family live there, just south of a lovely small city called Havelock North, which not incidentally, is the home of Black Barn Vineyards. Black Barn is the winery that Sam and Graham stopped at in Episode 3! For my review of that episode, I tried to contact the winery to get some additional info and an interview, but they didn’t return my emails, tweets or FB messages. So, what do you do when you drive past there (it was half a mile from our grandkids’ day care) on an almost daily basis? You stop in! To refresh your memory:
— Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham (@MenInKiltsSTARZ) August 25, 2023
There are a lot of wineries in Hawke’s Bay. Black Barn is one of the premier locations, but we did go to several while we were there. In fact, my sister in law has a friend whose family owns one called Askerne Winery; our son played guitar at two different locations while we were there; and we had a FANTASTIC meal our last night in New Zealand at Craggy Range Winery. But Black Barn has some features that none of them have – they have 17 “air bnb”-style guesthouses; an outdoor ampitheater for concerts and events; and an award-winning bistro (which wasn’t open on Monday nights, which is why we went to Craggy Range). They also have a small cellar and shop. but their larger store, which I had been looking forward to seeing, as well as half of their bistro. burned down in early February 2022, prompting a renovation of some of the public spaces. The kitchen store has now been turned into a small (10-12 people) event space. The fire happened the day after the bistro was awarded 1 Chef’s Hat, a New Zealand award similar to a Michelin Star.
I went into the shop and got to talking to Deb, one of the women at the counter – turns out she’s a HUGE Outlander show fan, hasn’t read the books (yet!), and grilled me for info about what’s coming next after season 7A! When I explained that I had attempted to contact them, she apologized, and ran to see if Dave McKee, the man that Sam and Graham had chatted with on the show, was still in the building.
Dave couldn’t have been nicer. We chatted for about 20 minutes. He told me that the entire filming took only about an hour, with a crew of between 40-50 people. That crew was, of course, locally hired, since it was filmed in February of 2021, and New Zealand’s borders were almost completely closed. Sam recently said that he struggled with the required 2-week quarantine he was required to do to be able to enter the country (the border opened May 1, 2022). He said that they had a script that had been shown to him – questions to be asked, areas to tour – but, and I wasn’t surprised by this, the guys very quickly went off-script and did their own thing! Dave said that Black Barn had initially been scheduled for the final, fourth episode, because Sam was “supposed to win” the made-up contest between the two stars. He isn’t sure why they were moved to the third episode, but that episode ended up being organized as all food-related, so it really made sense.
During the filming, Dave said, there was a plane circling overhead, and they weren’t sure if it was someone who knew who was at the winery and was dipping down to take photos. But it caused them to stop several times, because the noise made recording difficult. He also told me that Graham is a frequent guest, sometimes staying at one of their guesthouses! And Graham, not surprisingly, knew more about wine than Sam did – of course, Sam is much more into other products.
Several segments were filmed at locations in Rotorua (see area circled in the map above). This area is home to geothermal geysers, and when the wind is right, it STINKS of sulphur. I guess you get used to it…. in only two days there, we didn’t. But it’s definitely worth visiting – there’s so much to do! We didn’t get to the Maori center, mostly because we had two children, ages 2 and 3, with us. But we did drive right past the Zorbing location – it’s right on the street, you could see people bouncing down the hill! And my son and daughter in law did a walk through the redwood forest, just like Sam and Graham, including the ziplines they went on, at Redwoods Altitude. This location is truly an adventure, Greg and Elizabeth told us – you go up a 6-story suspended staircase to the treetops, and cross swing bridges, over a Hercules net, plank and vine bridges, and go on three flying foxes (ziplines), with a 22 meter jump at the end!!
They also went to a mud spa – not the Hell’s Gate mudbaths our intrepid pair went on, but if you’re there, with a more romantic, shall we say, partner, this was a great place to go. They went through several different baths – mud, a hot spring, bracing cold water, a massage.
Hobbiton Movie Set
While Men in Kilts didn’t make their way to Matamata, about an hour from Rotorua to the Hobbiton movie set, you can be sure Graham has been there! When Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings films, he flew over this area looking for a farm that could be used to film the Hobbiton scenes, and found this one. The set was built, with temporary materials, filming was completed, and the set was torn down. A few years later, realizing he needed to have that set again for the Hobbit films, he went to the same farm, but was asked by the owner to make it a permanent set so that it could be used as a tourist destination.
Today, thousands of people come every year to see lots of beautiful hobbit homes, walk around the gorgeous grounds, and as of December 2023, actually go into one of two hobbit homes! These interiors are completely decorated as a hobbit would, and visitors are encouraged to touch everything, pull out drawers and open cabinets, and, in the case of our 3 year old grandson, get into the fabulous bed. (He has declared that he has decided not to get big, he will be a hobbit instead, because this place is perfect for him.) At the end, tour-goers were given a complimentary drink at the Green Dragon. Unfortunately, they weren’t running the Second Breakfast tour when we went. But I did pick up a good amount of Lord of the Rings souvenirs, and certainly spent way too much.
Weta Workshop Unleashed
Unfortunately for us, we didn’t get to Wellington, where the Weta Workshop is. But we did the next best thing – we spent a few days in Auckland, and went on the Weta Workshop Unleashed tour! This guided tour is more like a walking into a fantasy workshop than a documentary-type tour. And other than a few incidental bits, there is no Lord of the Rings material – they do have a giant giant, lol, and an Orc statue in front of the well-stocked gift shop (again, almost no LOTR merch available). While I found this interesting, my husband probably would have enjoyed the All Blacks Experience next door instead (the All Blacks are New Zealand’s premiere rugby team). You’re led through four areas, which are supposedly movie/TV/game ideas that were never produced, and you see some exciting interactive exhibits that show off the breadth and scope of Weta’s skills.
If you are really more interested in the LOTR productions than movie-making in general, Wellington should be a stop in your trip – I understand that the Weta tour there is LOTR-heavy. This will definitely be on our itinerary for our next trip!
Stuff for you!
In a small bookstore in downtown Havelock North, I found paperback copies of Clanlands in New Zealand, autographed by both Sam and Graham. This is the Australian printing, and I haven’t compared the US version to this one. I also picked up a Black Barn Winery baseball cap – and you can win one of these! To win, you can enter one or both of two ways – leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! This actually gives you four chances to enter – for either method, indicate which prize you are entering for, and tell me where you would most like to go – one of the places I’ve mentioned above, or any of the other spots that Sam and Graham went to. Leave separate comments for EACH prize. So your comments, whether below or emailed, should look like this: Book – I’d love to go to the Hobbiton Movie Set because I’m such a huge LOTR fan! Contest ends in a week, on January 31, 2024, and is open to US addresses only.
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