Usain Bolt, UFO spotted at Firth of Thames beach
Move over Matamata, home of Hobbiton - a Kaiaua beach on the Firth of Thames has been the starring film set for the work of Academy Award, Cannes and Olympic gold winners this year.
The who's who of US cinematography have been hard at work at Ray's Rest, which overlooks a photographer's dream beach near Miranda, filming advertising spectaculars for Sony's latest television product launch.
Earlier this year, it was the location for the fastest recorded person on earth, Usain Bolt of Jamaica, to be filmed blazing across the beach wearing his sponsor's Nike products.
Sony hired none other than Claudio Miranda, Academy Award-winning director of photography on Ang Lee's film Life of Pi, and Cannes award-winning commercials director Garth Davis - who last year co-directed a six-hour mini-series, Top of the Lake, with The Piano director Kiwi Jane Campion - to shoot the launch advertisement for its latest smart television.
Kiwi location scout Kevin Spring chose Ray's Rest for the job.
Ray's Rest is characterised by flat waters, a shell beach and beautiful outlook which takes in the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula, the Thames coast opposite.
It is controlled and policed by the Hauraki District Council.
Nearby is a world-renowned bird-nesting sanctuary.
Spring said sites in Chile and South Africa were also in the mix for the Sony job, which needed a place with "a real thin layer of water to create the illusion of people walking on water".
The location also needed to be tidal, tranquil, meet the budget, be accessible to the top film-makers arriving in Auckland, have a shell beach and showcase "the big calm" required by the ad script.
The job of approving the Sony shoot was over to Hauraki District Council's parks and reserves manager, Steven Clark.
"They wanted flat water, where they could put a piano and a chair. They wanted to use darkness."
The spectacular spaceship rising off the beach in the Sony ad was not added after filming, Clark said.
The ship was on the set, but made of polystyrene, and was a bit smaller than it looked on the big screen.
More than 100 people were involved in shooting the Sony ad over two nights and days.
The council did not receive payment for the use of the location in either the Sony or the Nike shoots, Clark said.
He said when Usain Bolt ran along the Kaiaua beach for the Nike commercial earlier this year, huge fans were used to flatten the signature "cotton-tail" grass at Ray's Rest to create the illusion of speed.
Clark said the area hired by film crews was huge and could park more than 70 campervans.
Filming is approved in off-peak time and not permitted near the bird sanctuary.