Top 5 Helicopter Experiences in New Zealand

Although the kiwi bird doesn’t fly, New Zealanders certainly do. New Zealand has more pilots and aircraft per capita than almost anywhere in the world. You can also thank helicopters for an exceptional glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough Region. Due to the cold climate, vineyards call in helicopters to fly low over the vines to circulate the air and prevent frost.

Besides practical uses, helicopter rides are simply a lot of fun. There is so much to see in New Zealand, that sometimes you need a bird’s eye view to appreciate it all. While in the sky, you can experience a week’s worth of sights and destinations in a few hours. For example, it takes about four hours to reach Milford Sound by road from Queenstown, but only minutes by helicopter. It would take even longer to climb a mountain and walk on a glacier, but with a helicopter you can do that on the same flight!

My helicopter landing on a glacier with Mt. Aspiring in the background.

I was fortunate enough to go on various helicopter flights during my visit to New Zealand this summer. Here are my top five recommendations for helicopter experiences in New Zealand!

5. The Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is a region of the North Island, which is home to an additional 140 plus islands. The stunning scenery and sub-tropic climate make it a highly sought out destination. The temperatures were comfortable even during my winter visit. I particularly recommend the two Virtuoso properties in this region: Kauri Cliffs and Eagle’s Nest.   These iconic destinations marry luxury with the natural beauty of The Bay of Islands.  I took a heli from the Kerikeri Airport to Eagle’s Nest, which ended up saving me over an hour of driving. These two high-end accommodations have helipads because they know your time is valuable. This was a real time saver, because I could combine being transferred with sightseeing along the way. I didn’t count how many islands we passed, but each one was different and they looked like different jigsaw pieces floating in the turquoise water. As we began the descent, I couldn’t believe how dazzling our Villa was. Rahimoana’s glass walls reflected the bay waters and appeared to melt into the infinity pool. I was so thankful for my extended time here to enjoy the private beach, the beautiful decor and the chilled champagne waiting for us!

Taking off from Eagle’s Nest.

Bay of Islands from above.

4. Lord of the Rings Film Locations

New Zealand’s landscapes are legendary. The first Lord of the Rings movie was released in 2001 with New Zealand playing the role of “Middle Earth”.  The sweeping mountains, expansive plains, and wide rivers of New Zealand lend themselves effortlessly to portraying a fantasy land.  In an era of digital special effects in movies, audiences fell in love with the natural landscape of The Lord of the Rings movies.

For my next visit to New Zealand, I would love to go on a Lord of the Rings themed helicopter tour.  There are many companies that offer this, and it is something that Frontiers has arranged for clients who want this special experience. You can even take a helicopter journey with some of the pilots that were present for filming the movie. These knowledgeable guides can take you to destinations such as Mt. Olympus which was used as the “Rivendell” filming location, or Mt. Owen which was used for the “Mines of Moria”. You do not need to be an avid Lord of the Rings fan like I am to appreciate the importance and beauty of these locations.

The striking landscape of New Zealand created the perfect setting for Lord of The Rings.

3. White Island

White Island is New Zealand’s only permanently active volcano. The helicopter journey here perfectly illustrated the stark contrast between the luscious forests and sapphire blue water you fly over to reach it. I stared intently at the Bay of Plenty, hoping to spot dolphins and suddenly the stunning landscape of White Island caught my attention, with its dramatic craters and plumes of smoke. The white, billowing clouds and yellow sulfur deposits painted the air and ground with color. The lunar-like landscape along with abandoned mine and volcanic activity, create an otherworldly experience that offers many unique photo opportunities. You can take an eighty minute boat ride to visit, or you could reach the island in minutes while catching all-encompassing aerial views. We had plenty of time to hike and explore this unique landscape.

This was an exciting trip because I was able to combine my visit to White Island with a stop on Mt. Tarawera, where New Zealand’s largest volcanic eruption took place in 1886. This eruption destroyed New Zealand’s first tourist attraction, The Pink and White Terraces. You can no longer see the largest silica deposits on earth, but there is still a lot to see on this trip. I finished my trip at Huka Lodge’s helicopter pad to relax after a day of action packed excitement.

Approaching White Island.

Our skilled pilot landed on these small helipads.

Side trip to Mt. Tarawera.

Exploring White Island.

2. Minaret Station

Helicopters are vital to New Zealand’s newest Virtuoso property, Minaret Station. This destination offers just about everything—except roads. This exclusive property is only accessible to guests by helicopter! Minaret lies in a sunny valley within the high Southern Alps. The property is owned and managed by the Wallis Family, and welcomes visitors to its wilderness playground.

Minaret offers a large menu of helicopter adventures; scenic flights, heli-hiking, heli-skiing, and even heli-picnics! If you are visiting New Zealand for fly fishing, Minaret would be an ideal place to do it. My host, Matt Wallis shared with me that Minaret’s guides can take guests to rivers that are only fished a few times each year because they are so remote, which truly makes this an exciting opportunity for avid fishers looking for an exclusive fishing experience.

Visiting Minaret was one of the most unique things I’ve ever done. After a gourmet lunch, I took a short hike on the newly built boardwalk path through the valley floor. It was a surreal experience seeing the wide open spaces between the mountains, but still feeling connected to the lodge by the wooden path. I also saw the waterfalls that supply hydroelectric power to the property. I found the balance between beauty and functionality is a common theme with this destination.

I highly recommend anyone visiting New Zealand to stop by Minaret Station’s Alpine Lodge for both retreat and adventure.

Wilderness boardwalk.

Highland seclusion.

Alpine chalets.

1. Fiordland Heli Traverse

“Te Wahipounamu” is the name of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the southwest corner of the South Island that encompasses four national parks. The area has been sculpted over glacial periods into the iconic fiords of Fiordland, as well as the lakes, cliffs, coasts and waterfalls. Flying over this dramatic spectrum of landscapes is a once in a lifetime experience and my pick for the #1 helicopter experience in New Zealand.

We visited Te Wahipounamu when we passed through the Southern Lakes, the Southern Alps, Fiordland National Park and finally Milford Sound. The entire ride felt like a kaleidoscope shifting through the most beautiful landscapes I have ever witnessed. We flew from low valleys and hovered next to waterfalls then up to the top of snow covered mountains. I was very excited, when my pilot, Nick told us we were going to land on a mountain top glacier. The sun was very bright and reflected the snow, which made everything glow spectacularly. I highly recommend that you bring sunglasses on this excursion so you can really enjoy the experience. I also was able to get some great pictures with Mt. Aspiring in the background and had a blast. I was taken back by the crisp, clean and refreshing mountain top air.

After a few minutes, we took off again. In an instant, the snow gave way to rocky beaches as if spring had broken through the winter. What we thought were rocks sleepily woke and stared back at us. The stony beach was full of New Zealand fur seals sun bathing by the shore! We continued down the coast of Fiordland National Park until we reached Milford Sound. The royal blue fiord was edged in lush, green rainforests that clung to the steep cliffs.

When the helicopter finally touched down in an open field, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had dreamt of the whole experience. I had such an incredible time and am thankful to Alpine Helicopters for an unbeatable scenic flight and experience!

Lake Wanaka.

Milford Sound.

Spot the seals!

Fiordland National Park.
  View from the mountain top glacier.