Nesbitt doco pushes tourists our way

FLYING HIGH: Hobbit actor James Nesbitt at U-Fly Extreme in Motueka, with Alison D'Ath and pilot Vincent D'Ath.
FLYING HIGH: Hobbit actor James Nesbitt at U-Fly Extreme in Motueka, with Alison D'Ath and pilot Vincent D'Ath.

The pulling power of The Hobbit has been demonstrated again with a James Nesbitt travel documentary about New Zealand that aired on Christmas Day in Britain already sending business to a Motueka tourism operator.

The Northern Irish actor who plays dwarf Bofur was based in New Zealand for two years filming the trilogy and at the Wellington premiere of the first instalment said that Nelson was his favourite part of the country.

Last May he was high in the skies above the Abel Tasman National Park co-piloting a Pitt Special stunt plane for a segment of the documentary River Deep, Mountain High: James Nesbitt in New Zealand.

The doco aired in the UK on Christmas Day on ITV just before the Queen's Christmas message and the effects have already been felt.

Vincent D'Ath, who owns U-Fly Extreme with his wife Alison D'Ath, said his Pitt Special, an aerobatic bi-plane, had already been flown by a visitor from the UK who had seen the doco and changed his itinerary to include Motueka in order to take the flight.

The company was the only Nelson region attraction featured in the film and has already had several inquiries, three bookings and two flights from UK tourists who had seen the doco, said Mr D'Ath. "It's pretty cool to think that increasingly we've got people coming to the area and staying just because we're here.

"We've got an Indian honeymoon couple here at the moment who are staying two nights and they came just for us; they had nothing else booked."

Mr D'Ath said Nesbitt, who told him to call him Jimmy, was very nervous before the flight, telling him that even though he had known what he was about to do for several months and thought he was ready for it, "I woke up at 2am and I couldn't get back to sleep."

But once he was in the air he loved his flight as he executed a series of 360 degree loops and rolls 3500 feet above the national park. Mr D'Ath said the best of the footage didn't make the final cut, probably because in his excitement Nesbitt uttered a curse or two.

In the pre-flight briefing, Mr D'Ath explained to Nesbitt that he was going to talk him through a series of three loops.

"The first one is a bit anxious, the second one is ‘Oh yeah' and the third one is ‘Let's buy one of these planes'."

He said Nesbitt was very good at following his commands as he talked him through the process of making the plane loop and roll and he later realised that as an actor, he was used to taking direction.

Motueka is the only place in New Zealand and one of the few in the world where non-pilots can take the controls of an open-cockpit Pitt Special stunt plane and put it through its paces, secure in the knowledge that they have an experienced aerobatic pilot with his hands hovering above the joystick in the seat behind.

"People just can't believe that they will have the opportunity to fly the plane themselves, said Mr D'Ath.

River Deep, Mountain High also included the actor BASE jumping from the Sky Tower, visiting Sam Neill's Cental Otago winery and attending Wanaka's Perfect Woman competition, which included such stunts as compet itors having to open a beer bottle with a chainsaw.

The Nelson Mail