Air's involvement in the making of
the Lord of The Rings films
By Robert Rutherford; Chief Pilot, Glenorchy
When Peter Jackson's Three Foot Six company first arrived
in Queenstown in November 1999, I decided to visit their production
office which was operating out of the old Remarkables Hotel. There I had
the good luck to meet unit production manager Nick Korda. I told him that
with the type of aeroplanes we operated I thought we could be of service.
My reasons for approaching the company were, firstly, I was a fan of J.
R. R.Tolkien and loved the book, so I wanted to be involved. I believed
that with all the locations around the country there would be a place
for small aeroplanes in ferryingpeople, equipment, film and so on around
them. Nick seemed a little doubtful at first until I mentioned that we
could fly point to point at half the price of a helicopter, and do it
faster. As we were flying small aircraft, we were not restricted
to airports and could land anywhere - it could even be on the side of
a hill, provided the area chosen was reasonably smooth and at least 400
Our chance to prove ourselves soon arrived and we received our first job.
On November 23, 1999, we flew Nick Korda, Richard Sharkey, Bob Anderton,
Bruce Brown and Barrie Osborne to Paradise for a location inspection and
back. Paradise is near Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu and it is
one of the most beautiful places anywhere in the world - it really lives
up to its name. I later found out Barrie Osborne is a famous producer
responsible for such films as The Matrix.
day or two later we flew into Paradise again. Ravi Dube, transport manager
for Three Foot Six, was with us this time. They were at Paradise to assist
in getting the big trucks on to the site through the narrow tracks on
the Paradise Trust land. The drivers were all former New Zealand Army
personnel and they were superb. I watched open-mouthed as they negotiated
the huge trucks through the narrow tracks in wet and slippery conditions,
making sure only minimal damage was caused to the magnificent bush that
covers the site.
We flew to Paradise again on November 27. Included among our passengers
this time was Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn in the film.
Everything was very secretive and I wasn't sure what was happening at
Paradise until we received the purchase orders from Three Foot Six. There
it was stated that we were to fly eight people to Paradise and back for
the rehearsal of the Amon Hen Battle in Paradise. Unfortunately, the weather
deteriorated back in Queenstown with a strong southerly blow, which in
this part of the world means it gets very cold and often snows. Peter
Jackson decided to call the rehearsal off and we returned to Queenstown
before the weather set in.
It often happened that everything was done in a rush when someone or something
connected with the filming needed to be flown, consequently the purchase
order was often received after the job had been done. I must admit that
this worried me at the time, as I was doing the work before I had official
permission for it. I needn't have worried for whenever we sent in an account
we were paid promptly. Later, when the main filming was all finished,
just before New Year 2001, I received a phone call from Three Foot Six
asking me if they had paid all their accounts. They had. We had been told
that it had to be finished by Christmas 2000. At the time it seemed impossible
that it could all be done in only 18 months, but it was done.
We made a number of flights to Paradise during the the filming of the
Battle of Amon Hen. One in particular I remember well. We received a frantic
phone call in the early afternoon of the first of December, "Could we
fly a key to Paradise immediately?" Apparently, someone had forgotten
the key to the property container which held the bow that Legolas used
during the battle of Amon Hen, and everything had come to a grinding halt
until it could be got out. We were met by a very relieved production crew
member when we landed in Glenorchy 20 minutes later.
While the production crew was at Paradise, other parts of the film were
filmed there as well. These included scenes in the film for Lothlorien,
Isengard, and the location of Gandalf's ride to Isengard.
Filming in the Wakatipu came to an end for 1999, and we weren't involved
with Three Foot Six again until April 2000, when we received a phone call
from Glenorchy, "Could you fly us to Milford and we will take a cruise
there? There will be two of us". The weather was beautiful, so I flew
to Glenorchy in the Cessna 185 to pick them up. It turned out that the
other person was Sir Ian McKellen and we flew to Milford Sound where they
took the cruise. After the cruise we flew back to Glenorchy via the magnificent
landscape of the Olivine Ice Plateau and the Barrier Range. We flew past
peaks with names like Mount Aspiring, Climax, Daedelus, Ark and Athene.
And over glaciers named Trinity, Passchendaele and Tyndall (Mt Aspiring,
by the way, could double as Caradhras where the Fellowship nearly came
to grief when they first attempted to cross the Misty mountains).
I got the distinct impression from Sir Ian after the flight that it had
been among the most memorable experiences of his time in New Zealand.
In the Ian McKellen 'Grey Book', which can be found at www.mckellen.com,
he said, "I have flown over Milford Sound, that aweful fjord which Wordsworth
would have loved" [note his spelling of 'aweful']. He also said,
New Zealand would amaze and enrapture anyone who responds to the wild
landscapes of Middle Earth. Although I am a chronic townee, I have always
been smitten by mountains and water, particularly in the Lake District
of my native northern England. Very little of the Lake District has
been untouched by man -- walls, fences, plantations, holiday cottages
and working farmsteads are everywhere in sight, even from the tops,
and they define its character. In New Zealand there really is a natural
untouched wilderness and it is overwhelmingly spectacular and moving.
Ian McKellen is a delightful person and I am grateful that I had the
privilege of flying him.
next time we were involved with the filming of The Trilogy was
in September 2000,when Ravi Dube rang us up. He needed to be taken to
Mavora. Ravi had flown with us before when they were filming at Paradise.
Ravi is a Londoner born and bred, and he spoke with a cockney accent,
his parents having immigrated from India before he was born. Ravi loved
small planes and he kept threatening that he was going to learn to fly.
Ravi, if you read this, let me know if you ever carried out your threat.
Ravi was responsible for arranging the transport for the company and making
sure everything went like clockwork. Mavora was the Location in the Fellowship
of the Ring for Parth Galen, Nen Hithel, Amon Lhaw and the river Anduin.
Ravi's reason for going to Mavora was to work out how all the trucks would
be handled once they arrived. The Lord of the Rings was filmed
in some of the most out-of-the-way places in New Zealand, often on DOC
estate. DOC (Department of Conservation) is responsible for managing much
of the public land in New Zealand. Their brief is to protect it from damage
so that the same landscape will be available for the enjoyment of all
into the foreseeable future and beyond. They are also responsible for
ensuring that the flora and fauna of these areas is protected in perpetuity.
So when the film crews were given permission to film on DOC estate, they
had to comply with some quite restrictive conditions. Ravi's job was to
plan the arrival of the trucks so none of them would have to go off the
road to unload. Going off the road was a no, no, as the fragile vegetation
in the area would be damaged by the truck wheels and would take years
The trucks had to bring in all the equipment necessary to undertake the
filming, including the kitchens to feed the crew and actors, Peter Jackson's
command centre, and the elven boats that feature in the last part of the
first film. We set off into a threatening snow storm that had been building
during the day. The temperature wasn't much above freezing. As we climbed
into the Cessna 185 and set off from Queenstown, I was wondering whether
or not we would make it and mentally reviewing my minima in case we had
to turn back. The first part of the flight was across Lake Wakatipu, we
then headed south down the Von Valley. As we flew down the Von valley
at about 1000 feet above the ground it started to snow lightly. One good
thing about the Von is there are plenty of landing strips if you need
We arrived safely at Mavora where we were met with a 4WD. Ravi spent a
couple of hoursroaming around the location in the falling snow with his
GPS, identifying the position of all the various marquees to be erected,
and planning the order and time of arrival of all the various trucks so
they wouldn't get in each other's way. I imagine a military operation
would not have been planned with more care.
I was impressed the huge scale of the filming of The Trilogy - it was
stunning. At times there were three to four units operating in various
parts of New Zealand at the same time, linked to the other locations via
satellite. All these were co-ordinated by Peter Jackson in his mobile
command post from wherever that happened to be. I noticed that when Ravi
was planning the layout of the Mavora location how each site was integrated
into the whole with particular reference to the position of Peter Jackson's
command post. All the time I was watching the weather, hoping that it
wouldn't deteriorate to an extent that we would be grounded. We were lucky
- it started to improve and it stopped snowing. Then we flew, relieved,
back to Queenstown.
was the location in the first film where these events take place: The
Fellowship arrive at the Lawn of Parth Galen by way of the Anduin in the
three greyboats given to them by Galadriel. It is the location as well
for the last scene in the film where Frodo, having been accosted by Boromir,
escapes to the lake of Nen Hithoel, which is the guise that Mavora
lake took on in the film. We then see Frodo and a bedraggled Sam heading
out across the lake to the southern slopes of Amon Lhaw to continue their
A few days later we were employed by Three Foot Six to provide air transport
for a location inspection that covered a good part of the southern half
South Island. We started at Te Anau and flew as far north as Twizel in
the McKenzie Basin, stopping off on the way at various locations. I picked
up Barrie Osborne at Te Anau where he was involved with the filming at
Mavora. The location inspections involved locations that appear in Two
Towers and Return of the King.
Coming soon The Hobbit!
Copyright © Robert Rutherford, Glenorchy Air
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