Whoosh! Issue 74 - December 2002

By Warren Serkin
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
3780 words

The Dream (01-04)
Leaving Home (05-07)
Touching Down in New Zealand (08-09)
Touring the Filming Sites (10-14)
Touring Auckland (15-20)
Onward To Wellington (21-23)
South Island (24-26)
The Long and Scenic Road (27-32)
Queenstown (33-36)
Mt. Cook (37-38)
Returning Home (39-41)


The Dream

[01] As with every other Xena fan on the planet, I had been dreaming, scheming, and planning ways to make the pilgrimage to New Zealand. I wanted to see as many filming sites as possible, preferably while filming was occurring, and meet as many Kiwis as possible, as well as see as much of New Zealand as I could in a month's time. After two years of planning, and a few false starts, I finally made it.

[02] The actual trigger was an email from someone on the Whoosh! mailing list who suggested a mass get-together in New Zealand with a party one night in Auckland honoring as many of the people associated with the show as possible. We hoped to get a group of 20 to 30 people together to do this. I did some web searching and came up with a company called New Zealand Holiday Homes that had three cottages for rent right next to Bethell's Beach (or Te Henga as the Maoris call it). I contacted Philippe van Diepenbrugge (from that company) regarding the cottages. He did some checking and informed me that all three were available for early Jan 2002. The choice of property manager turned out to be a hugely fortunate contact, as I will expand on later.

[03] The final departure date was chosen to be January 6, 2002 with an arrival in Auckland on January 8, 2002. We would then rent a large van and all go out to the cottages for an eight-day stay. As the departure date approached, however, everyone dropped out, one by one, until only Bill Kisselstein and I were left.

[04] We made the final arrangement with Philippe for the so-called White House cottage and eagerly waited for the 6th of January. I would arrive at LAX about an hour before Bill and meet him in the international terminal. I would wear my black satin Xena "crew" jacket so he would recognize me. Since we were taking different airlines, we would meet for dinner and then head our separate ways and meet again in Auckland. The flights landed only an hour apart.

Leaving Home

[05] The 6th of January came and I took American Airlines flight to LAX and connected with a Qantas flight to Auckland. Since I travel a great deal on business and pile up a considerable number of frequent flier miles, the round trip business class ticket cost me all of $15.80. If I had to pay full fare, I would never have been able to make the trip.

[06] Since I had an hour to wait for Bill, I went up to the Qantas Frequent Flier lounge where I experienced one of my few disappointments on the trip. The lounge manager, upon seeing my jacket and surmising I was a Xena fan, told me that I should have been there two days ago. I inquired why and he informed me that Lucy Lawless was returning to Auckland and always flew Qantas. I missed her by two days.

[07] After leaving the lounge, I headed down to the main terminal to meet Bill. We walked right past each other several times, but he finally saw the back of my jacket. After some dinner and conversation, we parted company. I went to the departure gate and awaited my flight. Shortly after takeoff, they served dinner. After dinner, I immediately fell asleep. I slept most of the way to Auckland so did not suffer through the 12.5-hour flight.

Touching Down In New Zealand

A needle for giants to thread
Auckland's Sky Tower is the tallest structure south of the equator.

[08] After clearing immigration and customs (the customs agent at the baggage carousel informed me that the carousel turned the same way that it did in the States but that we were standing on the roof), I settled down at the Maui Rental Counter to wait for Bill. Three hours passed and Bill did not arrive. His plane landed, but he was not on it. I found out later that he was bumped and had to fly out the next day.

[09] After spending the night in a backpacker hostel, I went back to the airport the next day and there was Bill. We got the rental car, called the property owners (Trude and John Bethell-Paice), and arranged to pick up the keys. Trude's ancestors settled the area so she and John knew everyone. They had blanket permission to drive on private property with their 4-wheel drive. John worked for the film crew as a driver anytime they were filming at the beach or in Bethell's Valley. He offered to take us around all the filming sites that he knew about the next morning. After considerable arm-twisting, we agreed to do this.

Touring the Filming Sites

[10] First thing the next morning, John picked us up and took us to the Waiti Dunes, Lake Wainamu, several forest sites where filming occurred, an Amazon Village, Waiti Stream, and then to Bethell's Beach, Waitakere Bay, and O'Neill's Bay. I took several rolls of film on this trip.

[11] We expressed a desire to see Argo, if possible, so John said he would check with the person keeping her. As it turns out, Lucy Lawless bought Argo and has someone taking care of her. Lawless prefers that Argo not be disturbed and will not let her sign autographs. John said he knew someone nearby who was a wrangler on the show as well as Renee O'Connor's riding double. She also owned some props as well as some horses that were used in the show.

[12] Two days later, we met Trish Roberts, her boyfriend, her mother, and her brother. Her ancestors settled the other part of the beach and owned the property overlooking Waitakere Bay and O'Neills Bay. She spoke with us for almost two hours about the show. She was the same age as Renee O'Connor when she started and grew up on the show as O'Connor did. She told us that she thought that Renee O'Connor was under appreciated for her work on the show. I did everything I could do to stop from hugging her. Trish Robert's passion for the show and the pride she had for her part in it were evident, as she got very emotional during the conversation.

[13] The next morning she and her brother took us up onto their property in their jeep. Many scenes were filmed on these cliffs, including the infamous 'Gab Launch'. I took many photos up there as well. She has an original Gabrielle Staff, and, several horses and a chariot from THE GOD YOU KNOW. The chariot actually never made the episode. Ares was supposed to be in the race with Xena and Caligula, but it did not make the cut. The two horses were the white horse that O'Connor rode in some of the final episodes and the black horse that evil Xena rode in few episodes.
You have to bring your own partner to hurl from the cliff
A view of Bethell's Beach from the cottage.

[14] During the next several days, Bill and I toured Bethell's Beach, Bethell's Valley, Piha Beach, Kare Kare falls, the original outdoor sets on Sturges Road (a housing development now), the Lion Park location in Massey where the outdoor sets were moved to, and the Avondale studios near Auckland where all the stage and production work was done. My second big disappointment came when we learned that filming would be over by the time we got to New Zealand. I spent time at each filming site with my eyes closed waiting for the sound of hoof beats on the wind or the muted sound of a battle with lances and swords or, the most hoped for, the sound of a familiar battle cry or the voices of two friends in deep conversation around the campfire. Alas, none of these things happened.

Touring Auckland

[15] After a wonderful week on Bethell's Beach, Bill and I drove into Auckland and went our separate ways, he to a hotel and I to a two-bedroom apartment. We did get back together again twice: once to visit Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic World and drive by Lucy Lawless' house in Mission Bay; and the second time to meet with Thelonious in the car park at Mangere Mountain.

[16] Thelonious took us for a tour of the mountain, an extinct volcano used extensively during the early filming for Hercules and Xena. We then went on to Hunua Falls, used in several Xena episodes. The rest of my time in Auckland consisted of sightseeing -- Sky Tower; Zoo; Ponsonby Street, where I met Joel Tobeck at the SPQR cafe and bar; and trying to figure out how to meet Lucy Lawless and/or Renee O'Connor.

[17] I learned that Lucy Lawless was rehearsing for a play, The Vagina Monologues, and found out where the headquarters for the Auckland Theater Company was located. I was hoping to get into one of the rehearsals, and had one of the workers there check with the director to see if that would be possible. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case as the rehearsals were closed.
Watch out for that first step
Auckland Harbour, with Rangitoto Island far in the back right, as seen from atop Skytower.

[18] During my travels around downtown Auckland, I spotted a fellow with a large video camera standing on a street corner opposite the Sky Tower. He was filming people who were jumping off the top of it. Some kind of controlled fall, it appeared. As I approached him, I noticed that his T-shirt had the Threadgill's logo on it as well as the name. We struck up a conversation and I asked him where he got the shirt. He told me that the parents of a lady that he worked with owned the place. As innocently as possible I asked him if the lady's name was Renee. Turns out he was a camera operator on the show. Everywhere you turn in the Bethell's area or in downtown Auckland, you run into people who worked on the show or know someone who did. They are all sad that it is over and all have nothing but kind words to say about everyone connected with it.

[19] Just before visiting the zoo, I went over to the offices for the Starship Children's Hospital and the Starship Foundation to contribute to their Safe and Sound drive. I found out the next day that Lucy Lawless was also there doing a short interview for the foundation. I missed her again. I do have the New Zealand Herald with the article in it.

[20] One day I took a side trip via motor coach to Rotorua, one of the cultural centers of the Maori people as well as being geothermal active (geysers and stuff). The Maori village is built on the most active part of this area and they use the heated water to bathe, do laundry, and to heat their houses. All you have to do is get used to the sulfur dioxide smell.

Onward To Wellington

[21] I left Auckland the morning of the 23rd of January via the TranzRail Overlander to go to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, which is located on the southern tip of North Island. My advice would be to fly and not take the train. The scenery is nice but the trip is 11.5 hours. A little excessive, I think.
But you have to clean your own bathroom
Part of the Government House complex.

[22] Although Wellington is the government capital of New Zealand, there really is not a great deal to do there, as it is a relatively small city. They have a tremendous museum there called the Te Papa Museum or The National Museum of New Zealand. It covers a couple of city blocks and has six floors. You could spend several days there alone. On the fourth floor, in a section devoted to things made in New Zealand. They had to good taste to have a large display case devoted to Xena. At the display are Xena and Gabrielle season six costumes, some props, and a few other things.

[23] There is also an old, ornate movie theater that is owned by Peter Jackson. He bought it and then restored it to its former brilliance. It was showing Lord of the Rings for some reason. There is also a look out point you can take a bus up to. It waits there for 20 minutes so you have time to look around and take photos.

South Island

[24] I left Wellington on the 25th of January and took the ferry across to South Island. The ferry crosses the sea in between and then cruises up a long fiord to the a little city called Picton. I should have spent a day there as there were lots of ocean type things to do but I did not know, so I hopped the TranzRail Coastal Pacific for the ride to Christchurch. This was a much shorter ride, about 4.5 hours, with much better scenery.

[25] It reminded me of the coast of California with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Of course, they were on the wrong side of the train. I arrived in Christchurch and was met by a friend from another mailing list. She picked me up at the train station, drove me over the hotel, and then we went out to dinner.

[26] All I had time for the next day was to visit the Air Force Museum (where there was an air show in progress), take the cable car up to the mountain top for spectacular views of Christchurch and the small port town on the other side of the mountain, visit several museums around town, and visit a couple of other attractions. A river runs through Christchurch called the Avon. I spotted a sign on a bridge over the river that told where you could "punt on the Avon". I had to ask someone what that meant. Punting is similar to riding a gondola in Venice.

The Long and Scenic Road

[27] The next day, the 27th of January, I rented my first car and set out to find out about driving on the other side of the car and the other side of the road. I could have taken the TranzRail Trans Alpine Express, listed as one of the most spectacular train rides in the world, but I wanted to be able to stop anywhere along the way and take pictures -- a great choice as it turned out.

[28] The drive from Christchurch, on the West Coast, to Greymouth, on the East Coast, is spectacular to say the least. The drive takes about five hours and goes through the Southern Alps section of the island on the West Coast. Everywhere you turn is another spectacular piece of scenery. After arriving in Greymouth and settling into the hotel, I drove up to Punakeiki. It is the site, on the coast, of some very strange rock formations and a very large blowhole. Unfortunately, it was low tide so the blowhole was not blowing. That night was the first chance I had to see a spectacular sunset, as it rained and was cloudy the first week over on Bethell's Beach.

[29] The next morning began the truly spectacular scenery part of the trip as I drove from Greymouth to Franz Joseph Glacier. I spent some time in town that evening arranging for a flight around the mountains and a landing on the glacier for the next day. It was a quaint little village catering to the tourist trades in general and backpackers in particular.

[30] Little note here: There are well-marked nature hiking trails everywhere in New Zealand. If you love pretty scenery and enjoy hiking, you could spend the rest of your life there doing just that. The next morning I drove over to Fox Glacier, about 45 minutes away. About halfway there, I came across a small stream with a yellow sign with the name of the stream. Every culvert, creek, stream, and river has a yellow sign on the bridge to tell you what it is called. The stream was O'Connor Creek. Hmmm.

[31] I parked in the lot at Fox Glacier and did a one-hour walk up to the glacier face, hoping that the Kea Parrots were not tearing my car apart while I was away. They are the world's only alpine parrots and are about the size of a small chicken. They are also very destructive.

[32] Mother Nature was working way overtime when she created New Zealand. I could have shot up several hundred rolls of film if I had the time and the money. After returning to Franz Joseph I headed out to the airport and hopped aboard a 4-seated Cessna with the pilot and two other tourists. We flew around the entire mountain peaks and the landed on Franz Joseph Glacier. He turned the plane around to head it down hill and then turned the engine off. We got out and there was dead silence and everywhere we looked was snow and mountain peaks. It was awe-inspiring. We stayed there about half an hour and then took off to return to the airport.


[33] Leaving Franz Joseph on the 30th of January, I then proceeded to Queenstown passing more spectacular scenery. There are several very large lakes on South Island but you cannot do much with them, as they are all glacier fed and very cold. What a shame. I stopped in Wataka on the way to have some film developed and had my one and only run in with the law. I got a parking ticket for being there too long. I told the lady that I did not know what P30 meant. She asked me if I spoke English and I told her, no, I speak American. That did not amuse her so I paid the fine ($15.00 NZ). I then went on to Queenstown, got my hotel room, and turned in the rental car.

[34] Every town in New Zealand has a great mass transport system so cars are not really needed. Queenstown sits on one of those large lakes and owes its existence to tourism and to skiing. Their ski season starts in June or July and goes on for several months. It is a very small city, kind of yuppie and trendy, comparable to Park City or Aspen or one of those places. In fact, their sister city is Aspen.

[35] There are many things to see and do in Queenstown: casinos, good places to eat, sky sailing, jet boating, bungee jumping (it was invented here), 4-wheel drive trips into the country side, gondola up (punt) to the top of the mountain, and a concrete luge track (one for beginners and one for advanced). I did all except the sky sailing and the bungee jumping. The jet boat trip on the Shotover River and through the Shotover canyon produced more than enough adrenaline for me.

[36] I spent four nights and three days in Queenstown doing as much as possible. One side trip that I took was a day trip to Milford Sound. I took the bus over and returned with a cruise on the sound. I would recommend to anyone to do it this way. See the scenery on the way over and then take the cruise on the sound, then fly back. It takes 5 hours to drive there.

Mt. Cook

[37] I picked up another rental car on the 3rd of February and drove up to Mt Cook. I was upgraded to the Hermitage Hotel there because the less expensive place did not have enough guests to warrant opening it. The view from most of the rooms is incredible. Open the drapes and you have mountain peaks all around you. To the left is a mountain with hanging glaciers on it. To the right are more mountains, and framed in the center is Mt Cook with a snowcap year round.

[38] I did some walking to get closer to Mt Cook and to get some good pictures. You spend a great deal of time in these places shaking your head with your mouth hanging open. The scenery is that incredible. The one side trip I took was over to Lake Tasman, a lake created by and fed by the Tasman Glacier. The lake goes right up to the glacier face and goes for several miles. It was the only lake I have ever been on where the boat had to dodge icebergs in the water. It was cold.

Returning Home

[39] I checked out of the hotel on the morning of the 5th and drove to Christchurch to catch my Air New Zealand flight to Auckland to meet my Qantas flight back to LAX. This was one of the saddest days of my life, as I did not want to leave.

[40] Here are some of my impressions of New Zealand. They have some of the most amazing and varied scenery in the world, which is preserved and protected by the people and government of New Zealand. There are thousands of hiking trails and scenic walks. There is a lot of wide-open space -- only about 3 million people, most of who live on North Island. There are lots of sheep, cows, and deer.

[41] Kiwis are some of the warmest, most hospitable, and friendliest people I have met anywhere. They all take the time to look inside a person and see who you are, and not base their opinion of you on what you are wearing and what you own. This is totally the opposite of where I live, the so-called Silicon Valley where image is everything. Everyone was easy to talk to and very open. More smiles per capita than any other place I have visited. Would I go back there? In a microsecond. Would I move there? In even less time.

Note: You can view more photos (approximately 600 of them) here.


serkin Warren Serkin
Born in Tampa, Florida and traveled all over with the family (dad was in the military for 26 years). Have lived and worked in the "Silicon Valley" for the past 29 years (the last 8 years traveling the world as a field service engineer). I've done (at various times) sports car racing, hang gliding, flying light planes, water and snow skiing, and other tame sports.

Favorite episode: Comedy, A DAY IN THE LIFE. Drama, ONE AGAINST AN ARMY
Favorite line: Xena to Gabrielle" "If I knew I had only 30 seconds to live, I'd want to spend them looking into your eyes". A FRIEND IN NEED II,
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS



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