The helicopter flies along the rugged cliffs of Milford Sound with views across the stunning scenery from every window. You feel the thrill of flight as the pilot navigates through this unique geography. The highlight of this aerial adventure is the glacier landing at Mount Tutoko, the highest peak in Fiordland.
Milford Sound Flight
Taking a helicopter flight over New Zealand’s celebrated Milford Sound in Fiordland is a truly profound experience. Once you have flown over the vast bays and sloping hills of Milford Sound, you will continue to fly to the birthplace of this spectacular landscape. The last ice age brought mighty glaciers with it, which gouged out the earth, and left the stunning valleys of Milford Sound in its wake.
New Zealand’s Milford Sound is more than just a fjord, it is a vibrant collage of waterfalls, lush forests and glistening bays. If you have the good fortune of viewing this site on a sunny day, you’ll get a clear sense of how the verdant cliffs have been carved out by the glaciers that lie further up the mountains.
Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful and unique natural parks. It is located along the South Island’s west coast and covers an area of 4680 square miles, making it New Zealand’s largest national park. The name Fiordland comes from a variant spelling of the Scandinavian word fjord. This is due to the number of fjords that are found in the park. Some of these land formations, however, are classified as a sound, which is a wider geographical feature than a fjord.
A fjord is an inlet of ocean water between two mountains or high cliffs. Milford Sound was at first considered to be a fjord because of how narrow the inlet is. Once explorers ventured past the narrow inlet, though, they found expansive bays hidden further inland.
Fiordland is not just for those who would like to go on a cruise or a helicopter ride. There are picturesque hiking trails and biking trails that provide a scenic tour of the park. To see these hills from above is a truly inspiring experience, but to walk through them at ground level is a phenomenal experience in itself.
One thing that the area is most well known for is the unique sport of helicopter hunting. A large population of red deer were introduced into Fiordland in the early 1850’s. They have since caused strain for the ecosystem and would compete with sheep and cattle for feed. This became a serious problem for New Zealand, so the government decided to encourage population control and made deer hunting legal in this region. Not only does this sport help to keep the natural balance in order, but also provides a large portion of wild venison for the international market.
Taking flight over Milford Sound
The vibrant green grass burns brightly in the sunlight. You shade your eyes with your hand as you look up at the mountain range that leads off into the distance. Someone calls to you and you see them beckoning, gesturing for you to climb into the helicopter. As you lift yourself up into your seat, you hear the hum of the helicopter’s blades above. Moments later the whir has become a pulsing roar, and you take flight over Milford Sound.
You’ll notice the impressive silhouette of Mitre Peak when taking off from the Milford Sound Airport. This mountain stands as the backdrop for almost every significant sight in Milford Sound. The higher you rise, the more you will see the comparison of this 5540 ft peak to the mitre headwear of Christian bishops. This comparison was first made by John Lort Stokes of the HMS Acheron in 1851.
While hiking and enjoying a boat cruise are both ways of exploring New Zealand Milford Sound, there is nothing that compares to the view from a helicopter’s cabin. The vantage point paints a three dimensional image of the landscape that you simply can’t see from the ground. While taking a Milford Sound Cruise may be perfect for viewing the sights and attractions up close, the flight loses the smaller details like waterfalls and provides you instead with a bigger picture view of New Zealand’s Fiordland.
A trip to New Zealand would be incomplete without visiting Milford Sound, and on a clear, sunny day you would really be missing out if you didn’t take to the skies! As you soar beside the mountain peaks and look down on the boats below you, you gain a real appreciation for the beauty of flight, and the unique perspective that you have from your seat.
Once you have enjoyed the aerial view of Milford Sound, the pilot will set his sights on icy caps of the higher mountains. While the flight may be short, you will notice the contrasting changes in the scenery. The rich green trees that frame Milford Sound steadily thin out, until they are entirely replaced by deep crevasses in the glaciers in New Zealand.
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Gazing out the window, you watch as the ice-capped peaks of the Southern Alps rise out of the distance. The small vent in the window lets the cool, fresh air into the cabin. Breathing deeply you stare, transfixed by the mesmerising beauty of these summits. The view is made even more impressive by the dark blue sky above.
The beauty of flight is something that never ceases to amaze those lucky enough to experience it. It gives you an unparalleled sense of freedom. The second you take off, your worries and concerns melt away and you lose yourself in the moment. Combine this feeling with the majesty of the glaciers in New Zealand and you have the recipe for an unforgettable adventure.
One thing that strikes you when you visit a site of such unique beauty is the incredible diversity of New Zealand’s landscape. With your birds eye view of this terrain you gain insight into the lay of the land. You are able to compare this with the picturesque Te Anau drives, giving you a far deeper understanding and appreciation of Milford Sound. What’s more is that you begin to piece Fiordland together in its entirety, providing you a broader perspective on the South Island’s west coast.
Seeing a glacier from above is unlike any other landscape. The crevasses that riddle the vast blanket of ice and snow flow together, giving the glacier a living texture. You look down and can clearly imagine how this magnificent river of ice bites its way through the rock, leaving behind a deep scar.
The birthplace of Milford Sound
In 1924 the first brave mountain climbers made their way to the top of the highest peak in Fiordland at 8934 ft height; Mount Tutoko lies between Hollyford Valley and Milford Sound. It was named after the Maori chief who lived in the valley. It is on the Mount Tutoko’s incredible slopes that you can find these spectacular glaciers in New Zealand.
Flying above Mount Tutoko will give you a great perspective of how the glaciers have carved out the landscape. This is the true birthplace of Milford Sound. You will be able to see how the glacier, with the force of gravity on its side, flows down this mountain, gouging large valleys into the rock. This glacier extended down into the ocean during the last ice age. It receded due to climate change, leaving behind a deep gully in the landscape which became Milford Sound.
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The pilot takes you soaring above the glacier. As you peer out the window you can see deep into the crevasses. Slowly you begin to descend as the pilot finds a clear piece of ice to land on. As the aircraft comes closer to the ground, a vortex of snow and ice whip up around you from the beating of the helicopter blades. Your body buzzing with excitement and adrenaline you swing your legs from your seat and plant them firmly on the glacier.
The first thing you will notice when you set foot on this glacier is the blinding brightness of your surroundings. The snow and ice reflect the suns rays like a mirror. This will have you squinting as your eyes need time to adjust. Secondly, you will notice how solid the ground is beneath your feet, you can almost feel the density of the ice that has compressed over hundreds of years.
While you may be standing on seemingly sturdy ice, always be very sure of your footing. The ice can be treacherously slippery, especially with the number of deep crevasses surrounding you. As you stand steadily, you can listen out for white thunder, this is the term given to the sound ice makes when a crevasse appears. The powerful crack slices through the air, and almost sounds like the distant rumble of a lightning storm.
Soon after your arrival on the glacier, you are joined by another helicopter tour and a few other tourists. Be sure to not spend the entire 10 minutes looking through a camera lens. Take a moment to stand on your own and bask in the powerful glory of this glacier in New Zealand. To experience something through your camera is excellent, and will always leave you with fantastic photographs to remember your trip. This, however, should not be how you spend your time as you stand on this glacier. To truly get a true sense of the land around you, be sure to spend some time simply appreciating the glacier’s radiant beauty.
Standing on this glacier and looking out across the rest of Fiordland is an incredible experience. You are really able to appreciate the beauty of this landscape and its staggering diversity of sights. This diversity rings true throughout New Zealand, from the choice in terrain to the choice in activities, this country can truly cater to anyone’s wishes.
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Glacier Crevasses & Rivers of Ice
A glacier forms when layer upon layer of snow slowly compresses over time, creating ice crystals. This compressed ice becomes denser with each passing snowfall. Gravity does its part by condensing the snow and over hundreds of years the glacier grows and becomes a river of ice. This river of ice flows down the mountain very slowly but sculpts the terrain as it moves. The movement creates strain within the ice, which then forms these beautiful crevasses that cut deep into its surface.
If you take a closer look into these crevasses you will notice a vibrant blue colour in the ice. This blue colour is due to the ice’s purity. Since all impurities and air bubbles have been removed by the compression, the ice becomes very dense and sturdy, absorbing most of the light at the red end of the spectrum, but reflecting back the blue, allowing it to emit this magical glow.
If you feel intrigued to learn more about glacier landings, be sure to read about my Fox and Franz Josef Glacier landing. An experience of a lifetime that had me standing on a glittering field of ice and looking out over snow capped mountain peaks. This also took place in New Zealand’s Southern Alps and should definitely be a part of your South Island itinerary.
The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are two of New Zealand’s most incredible sites. Not only will you be able to take flight over them, and set foot on their ice, but you’ll also get a far more comprehensive view of the glacier. You will have the chance to take a walk to the glacier’s terminal face. Here you can see how the glacier has left behind a deep scar in the earth as it recedes.
Don’t miss Milford Sound
New Zealand’s Milford Sound has a wealth of incredible sights and exciting attractions that suit all kinds of people. From adventurous hikers to adrenaline junkies skiing, to those who love the scenic beauty of nature. No matter what you decide to do, the stunning landscape of Milford Sound constantly surrounds you. To make your visit even more memorable, be sure to book a flight and explore Fiordland from the sky.
The burning passion for travel lives within all of us, and sometimes all it needs is a little inspiration. Hopefully you feel that flame blazing within, and the urge to visit the phenomenal site of Milford Sound has grown inside you. If this is the case, but your thirst for great information about touring New Zealand is not quenched, then join me to read more about my epic journey through this fantastic country. Flying and Travel offers a unique perspective on our world, allowing you take a step back and to view things from a new angle.
Author bio: Mark is an Airline Pilot who is on a mission to inspire and inform you about his two passions: Flying and Travel. He is here to help you travel the world with inspiring destinations and expert flying and travel tips. Follow Mark on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.