Exclusive heli-hike tour to Middle Earth
Heliworks and Alpine Adventures launch exclusive heli-hike tour from Queenstown to Middle Earth
Leading Queenstown helicopter company Heliworks and luxury private guiding company, Alpine Adventures have launched an exclusive soft adventure ‘Middle Earth’ tour aimed at the growing luxury travel market.
As the only operators permitted access to the Earnslaw Burn area, the new Middle Earth Waterfalls heli-hike offers exclusive access to one of the most dramatic locations featured in the blockbuster movie, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Heliworks Queenstown Helicopters, who were contracted by director Peter Jackson for aerial filming and transportation of cast on his latest movie trilogy, have teamed up with Mark Dewsbery, head guide and owner of recently-launched luxury private guiding company, Alpine Adventures.
Heliworks’ sales and business development manager Joey Glass said there was a noticeable trend for unique and exclusive excursions into New Zealand’s stunning back country.
“We’re noticing more and more demand from our clients as well as inbound tour operators for something that’s extra special,” said Ms Glass.
“When you combine our exclusive access into this amazing location with one of the most interesting hiking guides around, this really is an adventure to remember.”
Mr Dewsbery has cultivated an encyclopaedic knowledge of New Zealand’s native flora and fauna during 26 years of high-country farming and exploring the backcountry on foot and skis.
In 2010 award-winning Ahipara Luxury Travel hand-picked Dewsbery to guide their VIP clients in the outdoors, which led him to start Alpine Adventures last year.
He previously set up two successful heli-skiing operations and ran a lodge at Mt Potts, his high-country farm in Canterbury. The farm’s starkly beautiful landscape was chosen as a key location for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies 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 still draws LOTR 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 Mr Dewsbery, who has plenty of behind-the-scenes stories to share.
Tolkien fans can now fly into the imaginary Anduin Valley of Middle Earth, which was filmed at Earnslaw Burn with the help of Heliworks and featured in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.
“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,” said Mr Dewsbery.
Mark meets clients at their accommodation in the morning and escorts them by private vehicle to the Heliworks hangar at Queenstown airport to embark on the outback adventure. The flight takes them across Lake Wakatipu to the start of the bushline where the 5km hike through rolling high-country farm and golden tussock fields begins.
The trip winds its way to the lake at the bottom of a steep valley where a hanging glacier on Mt Earnslaw, known as Earnslaw Burn, looms overhead. The melting glacier sends lines of cascading waterfalls tumbling down a formidable wall of rock all the way down to the valley floor.
Earnslaw Burn is Heliworks’ most popular scenic flight from Queenstown after Milford Sound and the three- four hour guided walk includes a gourmet picnic lunch and ample time to explore at the bottom of the falls.
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.
“Clients are really amazed by the tranquillity of this very special location. It’s always beyond their expectations and naturally many want to stay longer,” said Ms Glass.
“Mark’s incredible enthusiasm and love of the outdoors, plus his extensive knowledge of the South Island High Country, makes him the perfect fit for guiding and telling the stories of this incredible region, which really makes the experience come alive for our clients,” she said.
“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),” said Mr Dewsbery.
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 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,” said Mr Dewsbery.
Hiking boots are recommended but no hiking experience is required and the heli-hike is suitable for anyone who can comfortably walk for a couple of hours. It departs for private groups on demand and therefore departure times and exact routes are flexible.