Winston Aldworth flies from Fiordland to Glenorchy with Heli Glenorchy.
The aircraft: A BK-117 Twin engine helicopter, operated by Heli Glenorchy — it's one of only two twin-engine helicopters available in the Queenstown region. They also operate a slick Colibri EC120 (four passengers) and an Airbus AS350 (six passengers).
Seat: A window seat. There's one passenger in the front next to the pilot (the prime spot for the best views, btw), and then three rows in the back configured as 3-2-3. I was lucky enough to have a window seat for one of the most exhilarating flights of my life.
The seats are comfortable leather, the cabin has air conditioning and there's a spacious seating arrangement. We had every seat full on board without being too cramped.
Price: Scenic flights with Heli Glenorchy start from $245pp. We were on the Milford Sound Flyover which comes in at $695. There's a heap of other options, from heliskiing, to guided walks.
Airport experience: We took off from a boat in Milford Sound and landed on a grassy strip alongside Lake Wakatipu, so not really your typical airport experience.
Service: Bernie Attwood is at the controls. He has 6000-plus hours of flying, across Papua New Guinea, Antarctica and New Zealand. He seems sound.
Entertainment: The view. Our flight began aboard the Fiordland Jewel, where we'd spent the night in Harrison Cove, following the river that bears the same name through a valley that runs near to Lake Never-never, so called because it's the only lake in the region that doesn't freeze over in winter. "It's the altitude," Bernie tells us over the headphones we're all wearing. "It's just a little bit lower."
Soon we're soaring, swooping, dipping and darting alongside sheer mountain faces. Their whiteness and scale make it difficult to comprehend the sheer size of the terrain. It comes into focus when we land near the summit of Mt Tutoko, the highest peak in Fiordland National Park. The summit is at 2723m and we're on a flat patch the size of a couple of footy fields a little lower than that. By that point we've been flying for about 15 minutes and There's a glimpse of Lake Alabaster and Paradise Valley before we blast over the Kinloch basin that feeds Wakatipu.
Food and drink: Probably best to do this on an empty stomach.
Luggage: The bags go in a locker fixed to the strut. Be warned, you'll need to tell the folk at Heli Glenorchy your bodyweight, so they can arrange safe loading — no bother for me (not that I'm svelte or anything), but some people might be flustered — anyway, they're all very polite about it.
The verdict: Stunning. My top flight of the year.