New Zealand’s spectacular mountains and glaciers, accessible locations, and highly skilled mountain film industry make New Zealand the ideal location for shooting snow.
With a production track-record in drama, documentary, TVCs and snowsports; and doubling for everything from the Himalayas (Vertical Limit) to Middle-Earth (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit), our mountains offer filmmakers a stunning backdrop for their production:
- Huge expanse of mountains and glaciers
- Diversity of terrain from snowy peaks to frozen waterfalls
- Reverse seasons to the northern hemisphere
- Easy access to an alpine environment
- Experienced mountain filming industry
- Powder snow during July and August
- High mountain locations holding snow and glacial ice year round
- Periodic snow falls that temporarily blanket lower altitude towns and forests
The relatively low elevation of New Zealand’s mountains presents major advantages over similar terrain in other parts of the world:
- Access to the high peaks is fast
- Crew do not need to acclimatise (no altitude issues)
- No third-world health problems
- Helicopters are well within elevation thresholds
- Possible to operate at lower elevations on days when weather is adverse up high
- Alternative mountain locations are relatively accessible so a crew can keep working
- Special effects expertise in creating snowy environments in the studio
Locations and Infrastructure
New Zealand’s highest mountain range, the Southern Alps, runs almost the length of the South Island, encompassing numerous regions and national parks.
Many productions locate in the Southern Lakes district with major crew bases in the resort towns of Queenstown (with its international airport) and nearby Wanaka. Both offer ready access to the mountains, accommodation (13,000 3-5 star beds in Queenstown alone), quality restaurants and service providers. Aoraki Mt Cook Village, adjacent to New Zealand’s tallest peak, is also popular.
There are numerous public and private ski fields, as well as places like the Snow Farm - a film-friendly purpose-built facility at altitude for cross-country skiing, international car testing and snowmaking.
It has good road access and on-site facilities for your production base (with phone and internet access), less than one hour’s drive from Queenstown International Airport. In 2006 the feature film 10,000 BC was shot extensively on location at Snow Farm.
New Zealand has expertise in shooting winter effects both in the studio and on location. If you need snow, New Zealand has it covered.
Because of the nearby Tasman Sea the weather in the Southern Alps is changeable, but frontal systems usually pass through quickly. Mt Cook village and the towns of Wanaka and Queenstown are on the eastern side of the range, where the weather is usually better.
Crew, equipment and services
There is a sizeable community of screen professionals in the region supporting the buoyant commercials industry. The Queenstown region offers a variety of hire equipment from cameras and aerial photography to vehicle rental to accommodate most large film projects. Mobile catering with expertise in mountain locations feeds as many as 600 people in remote locations.
The five ski resorts in the Queenstown Lakes region offer road access to a wide variety of user-friendly locations offering full facilities within an hour’s drive from the many hotels, restaurants and equipment providers in Wanaka and Queenstown.
Boasting one of the highest numbers of choppers per capita in the world, the region has several fleets of well-maintained B2 and B3 Squirrel (Astar) helicopters.
Our world-renowned pilots have a wealth of experience working with Wescam and Spacecam. Helicopters allow crews access to an array of established heli-ski locations, and classic mountain terrain; big, steep, glaciated mountains, sheer rock faces and glaciers.
Much of New Zealand’s mountains, national parks and conservation areas are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). DOC is supportive and experienced in working with major film projects.
A film permit must be applied for, detailing (for example) numbers of crew, access routes, potential impacts on the site and mitigation and safety plans. Local authorities and regional film offices assist with permitting in their regions and can help streamline the process.
Other areas include leasehold property managed by high country stations, and city and town locations administered by the local councils.
New Zealand has a well-established community of experienced mountain guides qualified under the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association, and safety experts with intimate knowledge of the local mountains and specific regional conditions. Equally, the industry is supported by trained mountain medics with search and rescue backup in Queenstown, Wanaka and Aoraki Mt Cook.
When the weather is unsuitable for filming outdoors, cover options are available, with warehouse conversion spaces in Wanaka and Queenstown and Snow Farm.