© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

A 360 Flight Around Aoraki Mt Cook

© NZPocketGuide.com

196 Days on the Road

Our time in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park has upped this 365 Days: 365 Activities to a higher level… Both metaphorically and literally! Only 30 minutes into our arrival at the base of the Southern Alps we were being whisked away in a helicopter for some heli-hiking on New Zealand’s longest glacier. Then we had a night of stargazing in an International Dark Sky Reserve. Yesterday, we even landed on the Tasman Glacier in a ski plane – one of very few places in the world you can do that! The finale of this sky-themed stay in Aoraki Mt Cook is a flight around New Zealand’s highest mountain, crossing The Divide of the Southern Alps, and flying over the West Coast’s Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. It encompasses many of the sights of our previous experiences (and more) in a 30-minute flight. What’s more, it’s only $169?!

The ultimate backpacker plane trip

Once again, we find ourselves in the Aoraki Mt Cook Airport, only a 5-minute drive from Aoraki Mt Cook Village and the Mt Cook Lodge. If we thought the ski plane we took to land on the Tasman Glacier was small, then the plane we are travelling in today, on the Mount Cook 360 trip with Inflight, is something else! It too, has wide skis attached mid-way up the wheels, but it looks like it will only fit four passengers, maybe five at a push. Today, we are literally getting the plane to ourselves (including the pilot – we won’t get too far without him). How luxurious do we feel right now?! This flight is sure going to beat the one we took to get to New Zealand, that’s for sure!

After meeting our pilot, Isaac, and having a quick safety briefing, we are clambering into the plane using whatever surface we can find on this tiny aircraft – standing on the wheel, holding onto the wing… Robin is the co-pilot today, while Laura is going to have the backseat all to herself, with views from both sides of the plane.

Take off over lakes and rivers

The effects of a small plane are felt straight away as we drive towards the beginning of the runway – it’s not exactly as smooth as a massive passenger aircraft. Then again, this thing is going to manoeuvre between mountain peaks in a way airliners only dream about!

The plane doesn’t need much of the runway to drift off into the air. Once up, we steadily loop up into the sky, gaining height and spectacular views from the get-go. The patterns of the braided rivers feeding into the magnificently blue Lake Pukaki can only really be appreciated from this aerial view. We get sneak peeks into the various valleys of the Southern Alps with its small rivers and glaciers before we make our way up the Tasman Valley containing the longest glacier of them all. At the bottom of the valley, the opaque turquoise waters of the Tasman Glacier Lake can be seen with floating ice bergs and tiny boats whizzing around it. Just behind is the terminal face of the Tasman Glacier.

The journey up the Tasman Glacier

We follow the 27km of the seemingly flat and smooth river of compacted ice, flowing in a way the naked eye cannot fathom. At the neve of the Tasman Glacier, we can see huge ice cliffs bunched up together and sticking out of the thick snow – this is where the glacier begins.

We can talk all day about what we can see on the ground of this sensational alpine environment forming the backbone of the South Island, but, man, we haven’t even begun on the mountains’ peaks! Already, Laura’s camera is about to implode as the shutter is going nuts at the panoramic views. Robin is having a hard time even concentrating on the filming he is meant to be doing. Some things are just better seen with your own eyes, and the Southern Alps is most definitely one of them.

A 360 image of a 360 flight around Aoraki Mt Cook… Mind blown!

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Circling Aoraki Mt Cook

As we have travelled up the Tasman Glacier, the peak of Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3,724m, has been sat majestically on our left-hand side. Now, we are getting closer than we’ll ever get to Aoraki Mt Cook as we fly around it. On one of the ridges of the mountain, we spot a tiny hut – finally, something to give us some perspective of size in this untouched landscape. It appears to sit on the edge of the mountain – with, no doubt, the most beautiful back yard views on earth.

Crossing the divide

The Divide is the where the line of rugged mountain peaks of the Southern Alps splits the east coast of the South Island from the west coast. The notoriety of the West Coast’s wet weather couldn’t be more evident when we cross The Divide. We fly from the blue bird skies of the east into the cloudy skies of the west. Although we can’t see out to the Tasman Sea, the clouds reveal two things we really really wanted to see, the Franz and Fox Glacier!

The Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

It’s like the clouds are framing the glaciers to present them to us. It’s certainly a wow-moment when we see the most-visited glaciers in New Zealand from a whole new perspective – from the top of the glacier looking down. Only here, we can appreciate the steepness of these ever-changing glaciers.

The plane continues circumventing Aoraki Mt Cook, allowing us to see this giant from all angles, along with its cascades of glaciers that have formed the ruggedness of this mountain. Layers and layers of peaks surround this mountain giving us more than enough to be completely blown away by.

Back on land

We’ve come in a full circle, back to the end of the Tasman Glacier, passing its lake and braided river, back to landing at Aoraki Mt Cook Airport.

It’s fair to say that we are going to leave Aoraki Mt Cook National Park holding some of the most unique experiences we have done in New Zealand so far. It’s been truly special.

Tomorrow, we hit the road once again to Lake Tekapo – everyone’s favourite picture opportunity. See you then!

Crossing the Southern Alps to the West Coast

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