Discover the ‘mystique’ of the fjords that you have never seen before

Steep rocky slopes, covered in greenery, rise from the indigo waters, creating a chasm that seems to extend endlessly inland.

Sitting in a Cessna Caravan plane, I scan an otherworldly landscape of valleys and deep peaks – some dusted with snow, others containing turquoise-colored pools.

We fly over Preservation Inlet, a few miles west of Puysegur Point – New Zealand’s most southwestern feature – and a place few Kiwis will ever get to see

I am spellbound, feeling incredibly privileged to discover this side of Aotearoa.

READ MORE:
* Air Milford will test scenic flights from Invercargill
* Crazy travel deals: $ 49 in flights and more deals to discover New Zealand’s hidden gems
* Adventurer is making good progress in the opening week of the Fiordland National Park crossing
* Travel Deals of the Week: Scenic Bargain Flights to Milford Sound and Food and Wine Tours of Central Otago

Moving from South Africa to New Zealand and settling in Invercargill, I had never even heard of Fiordland, let alone imagined exploring its secluded and majestic topography.

This spot is only accessible by sea or sea, and I was lucky enough to hitchhike on one of the first scenic flights from Invercargill.

I marvel at the rocky islands shaped like shark teeth and framed by sparkling white brushstrokes; hidden bays and beaches; calm, deep waters with gentle ripples like worn leather; and the centuries of natural history that have shaped these formations, creating a tapestry of colorful rock layers.

It’s experiences like these that Kiwis are looking for, says Hank Sproull, CEO of Air Milford.

The Queenstown-based company tested three scenic flights departing Invercargill Airport this month in hopes that it could be a permanent service in 2022.

Taking off from the outskirts of town, the flight path followed the coast, over Orrepuki and Te Waewae Bay, before turning north at Presevation Inlet to cross the southwest fjords to Manapouri Lake to take a look at the Manapouri Hydroelectric Power Station.

Air Milford chief executive Hank Sproull said on a clear day you can see all the way to Milford Sound from Preservation Inlet by air.

Louisa Steyl / Stuff

Air Milford chief executive Hank Sproull said on a clear day you can see all the way to Milford Sound from Preservation Inlet by air.

After a brief stop for snacks and drinks at Te Anau-Manapouri Airport, the flight path heads to the Southern Plains and Takitimu Mountains, before landing at Invercargill two and a half hours later.

This leg is of a different kind, as the vast green patchwork of farmland blends into the rugged mountain range.

Air Milford, before Covid-19, was generally busy this time of year, carrying international tourists – which made up 95% of its business – to and from Milford Sound, but these flights don’t appeal to Kiwis, said Sproull.

Covid-19 has meant tough times for the business, and Sproull said that means the business needs to be creative.

Sproull took over the company in 1998, when it had already been flying since 1993.

He grew up in Te Anau, in the heart of Fiordland, and having flown over these skies for over 40 years, Sproull knows the hollows and bumps of these mountains intimately, making him a wealth of interesting facts and stories.

Invercargill Airport General Manager Nigel Finnerty used his bike tracker to follow the route of Air Milford's scenic flight.

Provided

Invercargill Airport General Manager Nigel Finnerty used his bike tracker to follow the route of Air Milford’s scenic flight.

Like the fact that the explorer Captain Cook, when he first crossed these waters, mistakenly labeled the fjords as sounds and the names stuck.

Or that the seven meters of average annual precipitation the region receives, along with the abundance of fresh water, makes these fjords darker than others in the world.

“This is a very unique feature,” said Sproull.

Air Milford defines itself as a travel agency rather than a transport company, and it seeks experiences to offer to Kiwis who, unable to travel abroad, are looking for ways to explore their own country.

There’s already the Ride from the Sky experience, which launched earlier this month, taking passengers on a scenic flight through Queenstown and Walter Peak, followed by a bike ride and barbecue.

Other options may be scenic flights over the Catlins or fishing trips to Stewart Island, Sproull said.

Puysegur Point, lower right in this photo, is New Zealand's most southwestern point and marks the southern start of Fiordland's 14 fjords.

Louisa Steyl / Stuff

Puysegur Point, lower right in this photo, is New Zealand’s most southwestern point and marks the southern start of Fiordland’s 14 fjords.

The company’s fleet of 10- and 13-passenger Cessna Caravan turboprop engines, with their comfortable leather seats, lend themselves to these kinds of trips, he said.

“They are fast, comfortable and safe. Perfect for that sort of thing.

Air Milford is a family business with Sproull’s son Antony taking on the role of chief pilot while his wife Kerrie helps with the administration of the office.

It has purposely remained a mid-sized company, so that it doesn’t lose the personal and hands-on visiting experiences it is known for.

It was rated number one for scenic flights on Tripadvisor, with reviewers praising the experience as well as professional and engaging pilots.

The idea for scenic flights from Invercargill came from the management team at Invercargill Airport.

General Manager Nigel Finnerty had a feeling the theft would spark the Southlanders’ imaginations and said he was blown away when he himself took the flight.

The Southland plains rise to meet the Takitimu Mountains, a range between Mossburn and Te Anau.

Louisa Steyl / Stuff

The Southland plains rise to meet the Takitimu Mountains, a range between Mossburn and Te Anau.

“There is a bit of mystique around this side of Fiordland,” he said.

The Air Milford team did not expect to sell more than 25 or 30 tickets for the test flights, but on the first day of flights from Invercargill Airport, nearly 70 people made the trip, in three batches.

A passenger bought tickets for her family as Christmas and birthday gifts while another said her husband was buying tickets online before she could finish reading him an article about the flight.

It was a special stopover for Air Milford which had four planes in the air for the first time since the Auckland lockdown in August.

Finnerty wasn’t surprised though, his team always believed a trip like this would do well.

And while Queenstown has traditionally been the hub for southern scenic flights, he said: “There’s no reason Invercargill couldn’t start creating the opportunity. “

For Air Milford, a regular service would require a little logistical maneuvering. Planes need to be moved from Queenstown and travel is likely to take place on weekends to meet the needs of Southlanders who work during the week, Sproll said.

But the company is planning another day of scenic flights from Invercargill in late summer.

  • Stuff reporter Louisa Steyl was a guest of Milford Air on her first scenic flight from Invercargill


Source link

Comments are closed.