My first helicopter ride was in Argentina with a 10 minute flight over the world’s largest waterfall, Iguazu Falls. Nervous before the flight, once up in the air I was immediately transfixed by the exhilaration of the helicopter ride as much as by the stunning scenery. And ever since, a helicopter is my preferred way to fly.
I am fortunate to have flown by helicopter over New York, Paris and numerous times over the Swiss Alps. I have also enjoyed several helicopter flights in Antarctica, off the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov. But some of the most amazing scenery is right here in my own backyard, the lower South Island.
A number of years ago we did a heli-flight over Aoraki/Mt Cook, landing high in the mountains to play in the snow. More recently I have flown with both Alpine Helicopters and Wanaka Helicopters through some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere. And one of the coolest things about living in Wanaka is that the helicopter will come and collect us off the lawn at Falling Leaves. A VIP door to mountain-top service.
On one trip I was thrilled to fly down to Milford Sound in Fiordland. The weather was glorious and the scenery picture-postcard perfect. Stopping along the way to play in the snow and drink the crystal clear waters of a mountain tarn, we landed at Milford to stunning blue skies. We then took a leisurely 30 minute walk to the wharf, the path wending its way through native bush with glances of the fiord and the iconic Mitre Peak. Meandering to enjoy the sunshine, we returned to the helicopter for our flight back to Wanaka via Sutherland Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world.
We approached the waterfall along the valley floor, marvelling as the water cascaded down from an amazing height. Close in, we slowly ascended up the face of the waterfall to than skim low across the lake at the top. We slowly rose up the face of the next section of the waterfall, completely surrounded by snow packed peaks. It was simply stunning.
Another time we tried to visit Milford but the Fiordland weather had closed in. Here’s my trip report posted on TripAdvisor…
Our party of five really wanted to fly down to view Milford Sound and Sutherland Falls however Milford’s weather forecast didn’t look good so we opted instead to see some of the glaciers around Wanaka.
A quick phone call to Wanaka Helicopters first thing to check the local weather conditions, then at 10am on the dot Andy arrived in the helicopter to collect us off the lawn. Buckled up and with headsets on, we were off, soon cruising over Lake Wanaka at a seemingly sedate 240 kmph. We made a leisurely circle around the stunning bird sanctuary of Mou Waho Island before heading over the braided Matukituki River. Climbing in elevation, we then landed on a high vantage point in the snow. After first exchanging snowballs we then enjoyed the views in the balmy temperature of 14C. Mt Aspiring was partly lit up by the morning sun however we couldn’t see the top of this stunning mountain as she was shrouded in cloud.
A kea, the large alpine parrot, landed on the snow nearby and then kept us entertained for 10 minutes as she soared and hovered just metres away, playing in the thermal updrafts from the valley below. Her wings outspread, she showed off her scarlet under wings to full advantage before landing nearby to bound across the snow in the kea’s characteristic series of hops and leaps.
Returning to the waiting helicopter Andy explained he kept the rotors moving while landed to deter the kea. They are notorious for stripping the rubber and metal off cars, however I hadn’t known they also like to strip helicopters!! They are a very clever bird and several will work together as a team to remove a car’s roof rack, wiper blades and even the bindings off skis.
Crossing the valley we then approached Kitchener glacier. Flying close to the face of the glacier we marvelled at the stunning blue of the ice as Andy provided a lively commentary on the glaciers, the mountains, helicopters and the many waterfalls.
Moving on, we then approached Avalanche glacier and again, we marvelled at the deep crevasses, the stunning blues and the shear drops below us. The waterfalls were incredible with literally hundreds of waterfalls gushing from the glaciers.
Continuing along the rock face we came to yet another glacier, the waterfalls all falling into a large lake covered almost entirely by floating icebergs. We circled around the lake edge, all of us whispering ‘wow’, or ‘awesome’ at the sheer beauty of the setting.
‘Would you like a James Bond moment?’ Andy asked with a grin before we did a dramatic swoop down over the lip of the lake, following the waterfall down to the valley floor below. It gave us the thrill of a roller coaster ride, albeit it was far smoother… and it also felt safer. Climbing again, we enjoyed the spectacular scenery before coming down to land on the shores of Lochnager, a surprisingly large lake hidden amongst the peaks. Drinking the pure lake water, we found it ice cold and totally refreshing. Many honeymooning couples arrive by helicopter with a picnic hamper to dine privately in this isolated splendour.
Reluctantly we departed the loch, following the contours of the mountainous land as we climbed over the crest of Treble Cone, one of Wanaka’s ski fields, before dropping down to the shores of Lake Wanaka and then back to land on the lawn at Falling Leaves.
Initially disappointed at not being able to visit Milford, we certainly had no regrets afterwards. Both trips are totally different and yet the superlatives are the same… stunning, spectacular, amazing, wow.
Thank you Andy and Wanaka Helicopters for a brilliant morning’s outing. It was simply perfect!!
And so if I ever win the lottery (somewhat unlikely as I never remember to buy tickets) I shall pass on the more traditional splurge of the cars, the shoes and the trip to Paris. All I want is a helicopter… with pilot!