Exploring the country from above

TAKING TO THE SKIES: New documentary provides a bird's-eye view of New Zealand.
TAKING TO THE SKIES: New documentary provides a bird's-eye view of New Zealand.

"There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots."

It may be one of the most well-worn of aviator adages, but 54-year-old television producer James Heyward has seen enough to know that it's also one of the truest.

His new documentary series, New Zealand From Above, presents an aerial journey of our country from Fiordland to Cape Reinga.

The result of more than 50 hours of helicopter flying time, it is just the latest project in a career that spans quarter of a century, and has taken Heyward all over the globe, from Mt Everest to the Antarctic.

"Difficult and dangerous environments are nothing foreign to us," says Heyward of his crew, "which doesn't mean anything other than that we're probably more cautious than we might have been in our halcyon youth," he adds, laughing.

This more cautious attitude, though, doesn't mean that there weren't some risks inherent in the making of such an ambitious local TV series.

"The reality of helicopter flying is that you always need to have a B and a C plan, and you're always looking forward, not backwards," says Heyward.

"And when you're flying a machine in environments such as we were, and you also have loaded on to it some pretty heavy camera equipment, then that introduces a whole series of considerations that don't normally exist for a pilot.

"So it's difficult, and it's not without its risks, but it's about managing that and having plans to deal with any issues that might arise."

Apparently, it also helps when you are working with some of the best in the business.

"The pilot of the helicopter was a guy whose name is Alfie Spade, and Alfie is the pilot who worked on The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, and is the pilot of choice for PJ (Peter Jackson), so he knows his stuff. Essentially, Alfie is a magician with a helicopter and, in particular, he's really the cameraman when it comes to getting the shots."

At the end of each day, there were a multitude of shots to choose from.

"I would probably have been to and explored more parts of New Zealand than most, but even I was amazed," says Heyward. "New Zealand is the world in one country. We're blessed to have a country like this really, and I've always known that - that's why I'm here.

"But when you have an opportunity to experience a country such as this from that (aerial) perspective, then it gives you a new dimension and it just increases your appreciation of what New Zealand is. I don't think you need to look far from the shores of New Zealand to feel very grateful."

Amazing scenery aside, Heyward can't quite explain why he does what he does.

"I have been doing it for many years and I often wonder why," he muses. "I know why I started doing it, and that was that I went to a film made by a guy called Alby Mangels - it was called World Safari and it was very successful. Alby was the guy that all the boys wanted to be like and all the girls wanted to be with. I just saw this, and I went, 'Yeah, that's me'."

New Zealand From Above Prime Monday

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