Scenic Flights over New Zealand's South Island

7 September 2012

Flight Centre’s Advertising Executive, Louise Whitlock recently holidayed on the South Island of New Zealand. For Louise, it was the spectacular natural beauty she witnessed on a scenic flight that was the highlight of her NZ adventure.

Here is Louise’s report from her Milford Extended scenic flight with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters.

 Landing on The Age Glacier

Queenstown
The region around Queenstown was magnificent.  The mountains were green and brown, with river valleys whose waters glistened in the afternoon sun, and then higher to peeks covered in white. Through the Hollyford Valley, over parts of the Tutoko River, up and up we flew, towards our first landing. Snow upon the mountain tops reminding me as we flew by of stories coming alive, mountains that my favourite characters had struggled over, Misty Mountains that were now only feet from me.

Yet we rose higher and higher still. The white became more and more as we passed further into the Darra Range, through clouds that were dancing between these mountain giants.  Although I was the one at the window, Ben had the camera, and still such a great vantage point he did not tire of targets to shoot!  A landscape before only seeming real on screen or in the photos of great adventurers or on postcards was now right in front of us, with its spectacular blue ice falls and stark white snow drifts; we were about to land amidst the most magnificent of it.

The Age Glacier, Mt Tutoko
Hovering for only a minute or so once up through the cloud, we were suddenly at our first touchdown: The Age Glacier, atop Mt Tutoko, a massive 2,756 metres (9,042 ft) above sea level.   Climbing down from the chopper onto the ice, it was a struggle for where to look, at the placement of each foot on the slippery runs of the chopper, then the icy ground, or the breathtaking surrounds.  Although cloud cover was heavy in parts that day, our pilot had the perfect timing to place us among them, giving us scenes of cloud meeting ice in the widest array of whites I have ever seen!  Sinking or sliding slightly with each step with the varying of ice and snow beneath us, we were kids again, throwing snowballs, almost giddy with excitement of being there together, 10,000 feet in the air, a beauty of white and blue surrounding us, making footsteps where none could be seen from before.

The glacier spread out before us looking like churned up ice-cream in the soft light, or sparkling with a thousand tiny frozen snowflakes where it caught the sun direct, mirroring a field of diamond reflections.  Looking out the vastness was unfathomable. Our smiles spoke volumes where words fell short to describe.  We were very happy to have our camera lens do some talking.  And then just as quickly as the clouds had parted and allowed our landing, the mountain became engulfed once more as well hurried back to the helicopter and back into flight.  Only minutes after we had taken off, our mountain was engulfed again, our footsteps erased.

West Coast Beach
Descending quickly, our next stop was in such great contrast to our last that it was almost another world. West Coast Beach as its name suggests being the coastally beach where the waters of Milford Sound reach the Tasman Sea was pebbled and uneven underfoot, although with a beauty of its own.  The waves crashed in shades of jade as we strolled along between the water and the unusual mix of forest and palm trees that lined the beach.  A few selfies and some great wave shots later and we were off again, from the mouth into the belly of the beast.

Milford Sound
The south island was not yet finished showing off its magnificence.  Our pilot kept us low so to impress on us the sheer magnitude of the Sound.  With the heavy rain having eased over the last few days, it was perfect timing again, with hundreds of temporary waterfalls overflowing into the sound.

The sheer rock face that rose each side of the most famous Fiord in New Zealand measure 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) and higher.  The highest of the peeks the Lion at 1,302 metres (4272 ft) crouched over us as we flew past, true to its form, and the Elephant, reaching a whopping 1,517 metres (4,977 ft), loomed up in front of us in the shape of the animal’s head.

The serenity of the village of Milford Sound was beautiful, with an ice-cream in one hand, and Ben’s hand in the other, it was truly a lovely scene for our last landing. Flying back across the mountains of our own adventures, we were treated one last time with a pass over Queenstown itself, a few last photo ops to top our afternoon off: the lake, the mountains, the town, our hotel, and then the airport for our landing.

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