Pamela Wade flies aboard Christchurch Helicopters.

The plane:

A shiny red-and-white single-engined AS350 helicopter, better known as a Squirrel. It's popular all over the world for its versatility in a wide range of practical roles but today is carrying five passengers on a jaunt into the mountains from Christchurch: patchwork plains, braided river, rocky gorges, snowy mountains and a quick flit afterwards over the rebuilding city.

Class: You can't get much classier than having Richie McCaw as your pilot, tucking you into your seatbelt and patiently agreeing to all requests for selfies.


My seat: Initially a window seat at the back but, after our midway landing, the favoured front seat next to Richie with a magical view all around — and also of an intimidating and densely-packed panel of buttons and dials.

Price: A tour like this costs about $950, but shorter flights start at $350. Or you could splurge on nearly two hours of movie-set scenery featuring lakes, mountains and skifields for $1450. Or go bespoke: price on application. Console yourself that a portion of the price goes towards protecting highly endangered orange-fronted parakeets.

Flight time: It was meant to be an hour, but felt longer: we were all having too much fun to check our watches. We certainly didn't feel rushed during our spectacular viewpoint stop on top of 1960m Chest Peak, snow and ice crunching underfoot.

Fellow passengers: They'll understand when I say they scarcely registered. I mean, helicopter, mountains, sun, snow and Richie McCaw. But they were as thrilled to be there as I was.

How full: It seats six all up: two in front, four behind.

Entertainment: Besides marvelling at the stunning scenery — just as good as Queenstown and much more accessible — we got a commentary from McCaw about geography, history and geology plus lots of gossipy snippets that I couldn't dream of sharing.

Food and drink: Not on this trip — but nothing is impossible. You just have to ask (and then pay for it).

Toilets: If you were desperate, there's the peak you land on, I suppose, if everyone agreed to look the other way. Best loo view ever.


Service: The McCaw element is not guaranteed — Christchurch Helicopters have eight pilots — but is hard to beat for sheer bragging rights afterwards. The overall package of safe and friendly sharing of glorious scenery is, however, standard.

Airport experience: To get to the helicopter depot you have to drive around to the far side of Christchurch Airport. Then, in the neat staffroom, you have to watch a moderately frightening safety video starring guess who? before walking about 10m to board your chopper.