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The Story

Glenorchy Air's involvement in the making of
the Lord of The Rings films

By Robert Rutherford; Chief Pilot, Glenorchy Air

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 Cessna 185believed 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 metres long.

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.

Approaching GlenorchyA 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. Isengard

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, 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.

Approaching MavoraThe 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 to recover.

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 them.

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 hisFlowers at Mavora 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.

Mavora ShoreMavora 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 quest alone.

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

Read also about PippinSkywalker's adventures with us


Copyright © 2002 Glenorchy Air

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Last updated 25 September 2012

Glenorchy Air and Trilogy Trail
Phone: 64 3 442-2207, Fax: 64 3 442-2807.
Email:, Mail: 91 McBride St, Queenstown, New Zealand.
Glenorchy Air is based in Queenstown and Glenorchy.