'Gandalf' a wizard with lost rings

Glenorchy's version of Gandalf, Rod Spackman, has become a real-life lord of the rings for tourists on his Tolkien-themed tours.

In less than a year, Mr Spackman (65) has achieved an extraordinary hat trick of reuniting couples with wedding rings thought lost forever in the heart of Middle Earth country.

The movie adaptations of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books feature many scenes filmed in Paradise, near Glenorchy, where Mr Spackman gets into character as wizard Gandalf while working as a tour guide for Dart River Jet.

''I put the Gandalf suit on and walk them through the forest.''

Honeymooning Chinese couple Elaine and Rong Hua had just returned to Glenorchy from a Dart River trip in Paradise last month when Mr Hua realised his wedding ring was missing.

''Because it's particularly cold at this time of year they [tourists] tend to wear gloves ... and they take them off to take photos ... and of course the ring comes off with the gloves,'' Mr Spackman said.

While guiding another group through the Dart Valley wilderness the next day he kept an eye out for the missing ring.

''It really was a long-shot that we'd find it ... the bush is dense, muddy and wet, so chances were it had been entrenched into the mud and lost forever.

''At one point we stopped to talk about the surrounding forest and I looked down into the leaves and saw this ring sparkling at me. I simply couldn't believe it.''

In the past eight or nine months Mr Spackman has found two other lost wedding rings in Paradise.

One belonged to a United States couple married for 40 years who were so delighted with the return of their ring they invited Mr Spackman to stay with them any time he was passing through Los Angeles.

''It's a really good feeling to be able to reunite people with something so special.''

While hoping to improve his ring-retrieval record - ''There's another one up there that I haven't found yet'' - Mr Spackman was unsure whether he had a special knack for finding lost treasures.

''Because you're walking through the forest area you've got to be looking down anyway a lot of the time to watch your footing ... I seem to just be probably a magpie, attracted to shiny things ... I should make a business out of it.''

The Huas, who had been home in China less than three hours when Dart River Jet phoned with the good news, recently sent the company a letter of thanks.

''We thought our ring would be lost in Paradise forever as the environment is so complicated.

''It left us so moved and our passion and love of New Zealand has grown stronger,'' they wrote.

''We believe the ring that was lost in Lord of the Rings land now has magic to bring eternal blessing to our marriage forever.''

The inscription inside the fictional ''One Ring'' from the Lord of the Rings trilogy says: ''One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them''.

''I certainly think for this lucky couple their ring will bind them forever,'' Mr Spackman said.

''I think it's incredibly good luck I found it, so maybe something magical was at play in the forest that day.''

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz