Otago Daily Times

Be­ing flown to a pic­nic with Cham­pagne in the snowy moun­tains is hard to beat

With the clo­sure of New Zealand’s bor­ders, scenic flight op­er­a­tors in Queen­stown have had to in­no­vate for a do­mes­tic mar­ket. Hugh Collins goes for a ‘‘Pavlova on a Peak’’.

- Airbus · Alaska · United Arab Emirates · Otago Region · Queenstown

THROUGH­OUT my 30 years on Earth, I’ve been blessed with count­less plane rides, from Air­bus A380s to two­seater Cess­nas — but un­til to­day I’ve never had the plea­sure of cruis­ing the skies in a he­li­copter.

Per­haps this par­tially means I’m lucky enough to have not been in­volved in an in­ci­dent where it was re­quired I be res­cued by one. While this is one way of look­ing at it, the truth is I’ve found it hard to jus­tify the (usu­ally) hefty price tag of a 20­minute scenic ex­cur­sion.

Now that an op­por­tu­nity has pre­sented it­self — thanks to the kind team at Over the Top he­li­copters — I get to step on to the tar­mac of Queen­stown Air­port on a per­fect blue­bird day.

This will be no up, down and around tour. We’re off to have a Pavlova on a Peak. I first heard about the ex­cur­sion in Au­gust when I caught up with Over the Top chief ex­ec­u­tive and chief pi­lot Louisa ‘‘Choppy’’ Pat­ter­son.

Dis­cussing her com­pany’s op­er­a­tions in the Covid­19 era, she said the trip was es­tab­lished as part of a rein­ven­tion for the Kiwi mar­ket.

Af­ter be­ing in­tro­duced to pi­lot Michael Clarke (not an Aus­tralian crick­eter), who gives a short safety in­tro­duc­tion, our flight is soon un­der way. I let out a lit­tle ex­cla­ma­tion of ex­cite­ment as we lift off and turn away from the air­port — a raw ex­pres­sion of an in­cred­i­ble sen­sa­tion quite un­like any­thing felt in an aero­plane.

Soar­ing across the mighty Wakatipu, we’re headed for Ce­cil Peak. We soon touch down on a snow­cov­ered golf green, a land­ing pad part of another ex­pe­ri­ence of­fered by Over the Top, which al­lows fly­ers to take a swing or 10 at 4500ft.

To­day’s ex­cur­sion is purely about the views, the Cham­pagne and the pav. Fresh snow has coated the South­ern Alps and the air and lake is as calm as a millpond. Couldn’t have asked for a more per­fect day!

Shortly af­ter land­ing, Clarke sets up a cute wee pic­nic for the oc­ca­sion. As we in­dulge, he shares sto­ries of fly­ing chop­pers around the world, from the moun­tains of Alaska to the car­ry­ing the royal fam­i­lies of the United Arab Emi­rates. I’m re­as­sured I’m in safe hands.

As we re­turn across the lake, Clarke points out the Eye In The Sky, a small gad­get which sits above the cock­pit. It records the nu­ances of what hap­pens in the he­li­copter by cap­tur­ing high­def­i­ni­tion video and au­dio, along with GPS data and in­for­ma­tion on speed, alti­tude and po­si­tion. The tech­nol­ogy was de­vel­oped by Pat­ter­son and sev­eral others af­ter her son, James Pat­ter­son­Gard­ner (18), and an ex­pe­ri­enced OTT pi­lot died in a Robin­son R44 crash in Fe­bru­ary 2015.

It has been re­ported by the Otago Daily Times that it was one of many cases in the gen­eral avi­a­tion sec­tor in which Trans­port Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports were un­able to de­ter­mine the cause due to a lack of cock­pit au­dio­vi­sual record­ings. As a re­sult, Pat­ter­son set about de­vel­op­ing the de­vice, which has now been fit­ted to air­craft around the world.

I have loved every sec­ond of my first he­li­copter ex­pe­ri­ence. There is some­thing truly mirac­u­lous about th­ese ma­chines, ar­guably one of hu­mankind’s great­est in­ven­tions. And while they’ve un­doubt­edly saved mil­lions of lives, to­day it has served a more sim­ple pur­pose — that be­ing gen­er­at­ing the in­cred­i­ble rush of a soar above the Wakatipu Basin on a flaw­less spring day.

Hugh flew Pavlova on a Peak with Queen­stown’s Over the Top He­li­copters.

 ??  ?? Pavlova on a Peak al­lows for jaw­drop­ping views of the Wakatipu Basin.
Pavlova on a Peak al­lows for jaw­drop­ping views of the Wakatipu Basin.
 ??  ?? Cap­tain Michael Clarke pre­pares the treats.
Cap­tain Michael Clarke pre­pares the treats.
 ??  ?? Pavlova on a Peak was tai­lored specif­i­cally for the Kiwi mar­ket.
Pavlova on a Peak was tai­lored specif­i­cally for the Kiwi mar­ket.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand