Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest peak standing tall at 12, 316 ft and a scenic flight is by far the best way to experience the natural beauty of this region up close surrounded by several more famous peaks, valleys and glaciers. On a recent visit to New Zealand I joined Air Safaris on their 50 minute Grand Traverse Scenic Flight from Lake Tekapo.
This scenic flight was simply remarkable….a value-for-money, once-in-a-lifetime type experience!!!! Breathtaking, beautiful, informative and slightly scary all in one. I was lucky enough to experience this in the cooler month of May – which turned out to be the perfect time!! The duration of the flight did not feel too short or too long for that matter, and it really did take you to see some spectacular views of lakes, mountains and glaciers including the incredible Mount Cook.
How to get there
By car: Lake Tekapo is located on the popular State Highway 8, roughly 250 km between Christchurch and Queenstown. The destination lends itself to the independent, self-drive traveller. I chose to rent a car and explore the beauty on the way in making my way via Twizel and Mt Cook to Tekapo. The Grand Traverse Scenic Flight departs from the Air Safaris main base and airport facility only 4km outside of the main Lake Tekapo township.
By coach: Coach transfers are available from selected hubs on the South Island with various companies including Intercity, Atomic Shuttles and more.
- Incredibly close views of Mt Cook – no binoculars needed. You could even spot people and the hut at the top of Mt Cook where avid hikers can stay in.
- Aerial views of Lake Tekapo – the colour is SO green
- Small aircraft and exclusive feel
- Fantastic commentary by the pilot
- Views of the glaciers including Mt Cook Glacier but also the West Coast glaciers- Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
- Different alpine scenery throughout the entire flight
What you’ll do
Arrival and Check- in
Check-in is required at the Air Safaris main airport base just out of the Tekapo township. We recommend arriving 30 minutes prior to departure flight time. It is lovely and warm inside the base building and there is FREE parking, toilets, WIFI and coffee on-site.
Once checked in, you will be taken onto the tarmac, give a quick safety briefing, some ear muffs and off you will go in the safe hands of the local and informative pilots.
Up and away over Lake Tekapo Village
From here sit back and relax whilst you soar above some spectacular scenery, with the pilot pointing out sights of interest. As we took to the skies, aerial views of the Lake Tekapo Village come into view.
Mt John Observatory
One of the first points of interest in the 50 minute flight appears very early as you fly over Mt John Observatory. Lake Tekapo is quite some distance from major centre hubs on the South Island and so has some of the clearest and darkest skies in the world. This makes it a perfect place for an observatory and houses the biggest telescope in the country which is used for research purposes. In fact, the area around the observatory was declared a dark sky reserve in 2012.
Lakes, Peaks and Rivers
For the next few minutes we are treated to views of Lake Alexandrina, Godley Peaks and Glenmore Stations, Godley River and Lilybank Station. As we pass each sight our pilot tells us about each sight.
Lake Alexandrina is a springfed lake in the high country of the Mackenzie Basin and is a popular place for Rainbow and Trout fishing and a dozens of birdlife. The lake retains a protected status as one of New Zealand’s Scenic Reserves and only row boats are the only vessels allowed on the lake because sail and motor boats are prohibited.
We also see Godley Peaks and Glenmore Sheep Stations where more than 10, 000 Merino sheep are bred to produce their famous wool. The scenery begins to change when we fly over the Godley River and see some of the famous peaks starting to appear.
Now, the glaciers and breathtaking mountain ranges unfold before your eyes one by one. See Mt Sibald and the Sibald Range on the eastern edge of the Godley River which shows signs of active erosion and musterer’s huts in the valleys below used by shephards for accommodation when mustering sheep from the sheep stations during the cooler months.
As you enter Mt Cook National Park you will also see the Godley Glaciers, The Murchison Glacier and the peak of Tasman Glacier which is the longest glacier in New Zealand a popular place for skiing and climbing after receiving its annual snowfall of around 50 metres.
See Tasman Glacier, Franz Josef, Mt Tasman and Mt Cook
The Grand Traverse flight is a perfectly chosen name as you take in so many famous snow capped glaciers including the Head of the Tasman Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier, the West Coast Rainforest, Mt Tasman and of course Mt Cook. With spectacular sights on either side, it is hard to know where to look at times.
- 50 Minute scenic flight over two World Heritage National Parks (The Aoraki Mount Cook National Park & The Westland Tai Poutini National Park)
- Guaranteed window seating
- Inflight commentary
- Multi-language flight guide
What to bring
I would suggest layering and packing warm clothes. It can be cold up there, but it’s also worthwhile being able to strip off a layer if need be.
- Warm Clothing
- Your ticket
I would recommend this experience to those who want to see the beauty from above. Nowhere else will you be able to experience these types of views or majestic scenery from a bird’s eye view. As an adventurer at heart, who did the glacier hike 2 days prior, this was equal to that. Two totally different experiences, but experiences that will remain with me forever! Perfect for couples, families, and small groups.