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Sunday September 23rd 2018

King Kong | 2005

King Kong filming location: Civic Theatre, Queen Street, Auckland
King Kong location: Kong exhibited in ‘New York’: Civic Theatre, Queen Street, Auckland | Photograph: flickr / Russell Street

Kong without New York? The Depression-era city is every bit as convincing but no more real than ‘Mordor’ in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

Just as the director found the diverse landscapes of Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ in his native New Zealand, he strayed no further for both 1930s USA and 'Skull Island', filming mainly around Wellington, on the southern tip of the North Island.

Sections of ‘Times Square’ (which were then economically redressed to double as ‘Herald Square’), ‘Broadway’ and ‘Fifth Avenue’, were built on a vacant plot of land at Seaview, an industrial suburb of Lower Hutt City on Wellington Harbour, northeast of Wellington itself.

The ‘Lyric Vaudeville Review Theatre’, where Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) performs to dwindling audiences before the show closes completely, is Wellington’s Opera House, 111-113 Manners Street.

Opened in 1914 as the Grand Opera House – one of the largest proscenium arch theatres of its kind in Australasia – the Opera House has now been classified as an Historic Building by the Historic Places Trust of New Zealand.

SS Venture, the dodgy boat hired by maverick movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black) is berthed at Miramar Wharf, Cobham Drive at Miramar Avenue, on Evans Bar, Miramar. The suburb, on an eastern peninsula of Wellington, is home to Jackson’s Weta FX studio, where part of James Cameron’s Avatar was made.

Ocean scenes aboard the Venture were filmed around Kapiti Island Nature Reserve, a bird sanctuary off the coast of Paraparaumu, about 30 miles north of Wellington.

The island is a protected environment, so there's a limit of 50 visitors per day. You'll need to get a landing permit and book a commercial launch service (private boats are not permitted to land).

The arrival at 'Skull Island' and the spectacular 'dinosaur run', were filmed at Lyall Bay, one of Wellington's most popular surfing beaches, south of Miramar.

To the north of Miramar, a vast set – including the native village and giant wall behind which Kong rules – was built above Shelly Bay, near the Massey Memorial (commemorating William Ferguson Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912-1925) at Point Halswell.

Finally, it’s back to ‘New York’, and the gloriously kitsch interior of Broadway’s ‘Alhambra Theatre’, in which Carl Denham (Jack Black) foolhardily exhibits the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.

Fittingly for Kong, this is the largest theatre in New Zealand – the Civic Theatre, Queen Street at Wellesley Street, Auckland.

Built in 1929 as a 'movie palace', the Civic accommodates an audience of 2,378 in its spectacular main auditorium – a fantasy of turrets, minarets, spires, tiled roofs and Abyssinian panther statues, topped by a domed ceiling which recreates the Southern Hemisphere sky-scape with twinkling stars and floating clouds. So very Carl Denham.