Sir TIM Wallis (1938-2023)

It was with much sadness in October that we farewelled a veteran of the aviation world and larger than life figure, Sir Tim Wallis.

Tim grew up in Greymouth, later attending Christs College where his contemporaries say he would ‘give anything a go’. And thus the stage was set.

Deerstalking was an early passion which led him to explore the potential of commercial venison farming as a way of dealing with the South Island’s plague of deer. By 1963 he had established a processing plant at Luggate and two years later purchased his first helicopter to aid in recovery.

Only the ninth helicopter in New Zealand, he crashed it just a few weeks later. It was a significant setback but not one that could keep Tim down. Ever one to push both himself and the limits, Tim logged up long hours flying over the coming years, developing both the industry and his personal stake in it.

The drive and determination Tim applied to his burgeoning business was called on at a personal level when a second crash in 1967 saw him in Burwood Spinal Unit. Defying medical expectations, he was walking again six months later. By 1971 he had formed Alpine Helicopters, alongside Luggate Game Packers, and was extending into hunting and outdoor ad-venture trips, tourism and farming.

As venison culling began to wane, largely thanks to its own success, he began to explore the possibility of live venison recovery and venison farming.His entrepreneurial drive led him into marketing in the international arena, and even saw him developing venison operations in Canada and Siberia.

Always coming up with new ideas, Tim without doubt earned his nickname of ‘Hurricane Tim’ on both a professional and personal level. He had a knack for seeing possibilities and the drive to pursue them.

In 1974 he married Prue Hazeldine and they settled in Wanaka and had four sons. With the decline of the deer industry Tim in 1986 formed The Helicopter Line, which owned 42 helicopters and half of TrebleCone Skifield.

By the end of the decade he had added a wide range of assets, Maui Campervans, Kelly Tarlton’s UnderwaterWorld, Waitomo Caves, Milford track Guided Walks, Te Anau Travelodge and The Hermitage at Mt Cook amongst them. His longheld dream of buying Minaret Station would also come to fruition, and would become a keystone of the family’s future tourism operations.

Biographer Neville Peat describes Tim as a generous entrepreneur with a genuine liking for people. He had an ability to make people feel he was interested in them, to make them feel good about themselves.

Tim’s passion for aviation had continued to grow, and with it his collection of aircraft. After adding a Mustang and Spitfire, he established Warbirds on Parade, the forerunner of the biennial Warbirds over Wanaka, which continues to draw around 50,000 people to Wanaka every second Easter, and subsequently the NZ Fighter Pilots Museum at Wanaka Airport.

Sir Tim Wallis with John Lamont.

The collection continued to expand: he added a Messerschmidt, a Kittyhawk, a Corsair. By 2000 there were twenty warbirds in the hangar.

Known for his infectious enthusiasm, Tim also inspired a passion for aviation in others. He never stopped exploring new ideas or pushing the envelope.

Tim was knighted for his services to the community and the venison industry in 1994.

Considering his many successes, it would be easy – though quite wrong – to think that Sir Tim led a charmed life. In 1996 he crashed his Spitfire at Wanaka, suffering a significant brain injury but once again defying the odds and, with Prue’s support, battling his way back to health.

Tragedy rocked the family again in 2018 when two of Tim and Prue’s sons, Matt and Nick, were killed, three months apart, in helicopter accidents.

Looking back at Tim’s life, it is his resilience that stands out; his ability to keep battling forward, despite the odds. Through it all he kept his feet on the ground, his focus on family, taking the world along with him as he followed his dreams.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 edition of Approach Magazine.

Read more about Sir Tim and his achievements here:

Sir Tim Wallis and Lady Prue Wallis with their four sons (from left) Toby, Nick (d.2018), Jonathan and Matthew (d.2018).