With exclusive access to the waterfall filled, snow-capped Earnslaw Burn area, Queenstown helicopter operators Heliworks and luxury private guiding company Alpine Adventures have joined forces to unleash the thrilling Middle-earth Waterfalls heli-hike.
The heli-hike offers unrivalled access to one of the most spectacular filming locations featured in the first instalment of The Hobbit Trilogy.
Tolkien fans are now able to visit the fantasy world of 'Anduin Valley', filmed at Earnslaw Burn, with the expert help of Heliworks and their experienced pilots - who have intimate knowledge of the area after they were drafted in by Sir Peter Jackson to film aerial shots for the movie, as well as carry cast and crew.
It was the Queenstown area - offering one of New Zealand’s most breathtaking scenic landscapes - and the dramatic alpine valley of Earnslaw Burn that captured the imagination of the The Hobbit Trilogy cast.
"You know when we all went to Queenstown I’d never been there before and it was just astonishing - I mean a beautiful jewel, really, at the bottom of the world," said James Nesbitt, who plays Bofur the dwarf.
Popular scenic flight
The Earnslaw Burn is one of Heliworks most popular scenic flight destinations but the new collaboration will put a more exclusive spin on the trip.
After being met by Alpine Adventures owner, operator and experienced guide Mark Dewsbery, clients are whisked away in a private vehicle to embark on their high-country adventure.
The helicopter flight soars high above the changing face of Lake Wakatipu to the start of the bushline where a 5km hike begins. The hike takes in the rolling hills of a high country farm and golden tussock fields before arriving at the bottom of a steep valley where the glacial melt of Mt Earnslaw feeds a magnificent series of thundering waterfalls cascading down a towering wall of rock to the valley floor.
The three-to-four hour guided walk also includes a gourmet picnic lunch and time to explore the falls area.
On the return trip passengers are treated to a dramatic finale as the helicopter ascends steeply along the waterfalls to come face to face with the hanging glacier more than 1000m above before returning over the Richardson Mountains and through Moonlight Saddle back to Queenstown.
With over 26 years of high-country farming and backcountry exploration there could be no better guide to share this experience with than Alpine Adventures’ Mark Dewsbery - renowned for his encyclopaedic knowledge of New Zealand’s native flora and fauna, amongst many other things.
Dewsbery's affinity with Sir Peter Jackson and his Trilogies goes way back. He previously set up two successful heli-skiing operations and ran a lodge on his high-country farm at Mt Potts in Canterbury.
The farm’s stark beautiful landscape was chosen as a key location for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and it was there that Peter Jackson and his crew spent 14 months building and filming the elaborate set of 'Edoras', the fortress of the people of Rohan, which continues to draw Lord of the Rings fans more than a decade on.
"We’ve had thousands of Lord of the Rings fans come through the farm over the years so I’m no longer surprised by the lengths these guys will go to in pursuit of anything and everything to do with Hobbits," said Dewsbery, who has many behind-the-scenes stories to share.
"My clients are looking for an adventure they can’t do on their own, that takes them to those untouched places and are a little hard to get to. They want to see our incredible country in a way that’s memorable and also very authentic," he said.
This high-flying adventure is not just for the avid Hobbit fan.
"Everyone is absolutely blown away when we come around the corner and see Earnslaw Burn - whether they’ve seen the movie or not. It’s hard not to be impressed by the surreal views at the head of the valley over the glacier and beyond, as well as by views of an icefall on Mt Earnslaw (Pikirakatahi)," he added.
Although the tour takes place on a public trail, it’s rare to see other hikers as the track from Glenorchy is long and can be hard to find in places. DOC (Department of Conservation) recommends only very experienced hikers with route-finding and survival skills attempt the track without a guide due to several river crossings.
"I’ve spent most of my life out wandering in the hills and its part of who I am. Now it’s very rewarding for me to take those skills and experience and make it possible for other people to also enjoy a special, remote spot like Earnslaw Burn and be there to share it with them."
The heli-hike is suitable for anyone who can comfortably walk for a couple of hours and hiking boots are required. The tour departs for private groups on demand and therefore departure times and exact routes are flexible.