Journey Beyond the Screen

Taking LOTR Fans to New Heights

Reid Helicopters, Nelson really do go the extra mile for film fans...

Taking LOTR Fans to New Heights

By Pennie Hunt

Imagine you’re back in 1999 and you get a phone call that goes something like this: “So, we’re scouting for this film we’re doing. It’s going to be pretty big and we need some epic locations…”

That’s the type of call that Bill Reid at Nelson Helicopters got when scouts were on the lookout for The Lord of the Rings. Bill’s son Toby Reid reflects on the incredible break: “I don’t think he knew too much about what was going on, what it was all about at first.”

The Reid’s had a well-established helicopter company in the Nelson region, leading the way in New Zealand’s burgeoning international film industry with various scouting and filming jobs. So, it was only logical they got called in to scout for what they later found out was to be the biggest and most ambitious production to be filmed in New Zealand to date.

Mount Owen - location for the scenes from the exit from the Mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Mount Owen - location for the scenes from the exit from the Mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Toby recalls: “Dad initially flew the scouts around for a couple of days looking for unique sites within the mountains. They found Mount Owen and that became the location for the exit from the Mines of Moria. But then, a few days after they left, Dad was flying home one afternoon from the Heaphy Track. It was late, the sun was low and he came across the rocky crops of Mount Olympus. He thought to himself ‘wow, actually we should have found that the other day when we were scouting’. So, he rang the scouts and said ‘you really should see this, I’ve found exactly what we were looking for’. They pretty much said, no thanks we’re all good, but he insisted that they come back down and they did! When they saw Mount Olympus they chose it for the location south of Rivendell and wrote the whole scene around that very place. At three minutes long, it’s a really important scene.”

The rocky sandstone columns of Mount Olympus.

The rocky sandstone columns of Mount Olympus.

Filming began in 2000 before Toby had qualified as a helicopter pilot. His father Bill was contracted to fly the crew in and out of the locations, but Toby also played a part in the production - loading people in and out of helicopters, and making the obligatory cups of tea and coffee for the stars.

Toby and Rachael Reid at Mount Olympus.

Toby and Rachael Reid at Mount Olympus.

A couple of years after filming was completed the Reid’s sold their business. But in 2007 Toby and his wife Rachael established Reid Helicopters and were keen to capitalise on their involvement with LOTR, growing the tourism side of the business by offering tours to travellers from all over the world. The demand was already there from fans wanting to travel to the remote locations – only accessible by helicopter.

As Toby recalls, the move into tourism was good timing: “In 2011 we got a phone call from location scout Jared Conon who told us ‘hey guys, we’re coming back down to shoot this other movie called The Hobbit’. We went scouting and worked with the cast and crew a second time.”

Salisbury Falls features in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This is where Tauriel and Legolas meet before heading into Laketown.

Salisbury Falls features in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This is where Tauriel and Legolas meet before heading into Laketown.

But despite working with A-list celebrities, Toby and Rachael are far from being star-struck by it all – you won’t hear either of these two name-dropping. Still, I was keen to hear if they could corroborate the story about Sean Bean being so terrified of flying that he walked halfway up the mountain in his Boromir costume to avoid a long helicopter trip.  Toby laughs. “Yes, he hiked as far as he could up Mount Owen and with Mount Olympus he got a four-wheel drive across a track so the flight was just minimal.” Was he freaked out by some crazy flying antics then? “My father tells the story of the four hobbits, Elijah Wood and his mates, asking him to do loops and backflips and all sorts of crazy things… which he didn’t do of course!”

It was apparent when I talked to them that Rachael and Toby are passionate about what they do – they really respect the fans and give them time to experience the location. Depending on air-traffic they’ll play the film soundtrack on the way to the location, and always make room for fans to bring whatever props they like – be it costumes, swords or musical instruments.

Recreating a scene from the movie - Legolas on the lookout.

Recreating a scene from the movie - Legolas on the lookout.

Rachel describes the experience of a fan from Switzerland, who was in New Zealand specifically to visit as many LOTR sites as possible. When he asked if he could bring his trumpet, she obliged, and on the summit of Mount Olympus he played the title song from LOTR while Rachael filmed it.

Toby concurs: “It’s more than an emotional experience for the fans, I think it’s almost spiritual – and we’re catering for these types of tourists. They can dress up, they can take a sword, some fans have Gandalf’s pipe and they’ll sit there and smoke it. It is a spiritual experience for a lot of fans.” Rachael nods in agreement: “We have tears and we have proposals.” Several in fact… with a ring that has been purchased at Jens Hansen. “That has been cool actually. We’ve even done Lord of the Rings themed weddings up there.”

I have to agree with Toby when he mentions what it is that makes this region of New Zealand so special. “Because Nelson is not on the main tourist route, you’ll find a lot of the tour providers here are putting a little bit more effort into the experience. They really go the extra mile.”

For more information on the incredible Reid Helicopter experience, see our review here.

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