I always enjoy the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau. What enhances it more is the fact
I am on my way to fly with one of New Zealand’s most celebrated airman.
Sir Richard “Hannibal” Hayes is a helicopter pilot with a CV bigger than Fiordland. Fiordland is where this aviator knows the geography like the back of his hand. Not only in New Zealand is this guy known but in Antarctica, where he has contracted to Govt Agencies and taken his machine there to assist in research and conservation of the huge continent. He also has helped rescue many individuals and groups in the wild terrain over the years. There is many a person who owes their life to this crusading pilot.
I arrived at the familiar heli-pad suspended over Lake Te Anau and was greeted by the man himself. Totally at ease and without any airs or graces Sir Richard briefed me and loaded me into the cockpit of the pristine machine up front beside his pilots seat. Earphones on we had “comms” and it wasn’t long before we lifted gracefully off to speed out over the lake and head toward Breaksea Sound to have lunch and experience a unique vessel The Uni anchored in there for travellers to experience the wonderful ambience of what a huge fiord has to offer both above and below the water.
Down along the Waiau River to Lake Manapouri all the time Sir Richard pointing out significant landmarks and the odd animal that roams free in this wilderness.
Red Deer were introduced to New Zealand from England from the 1860’s onward. However, also liberated were fallow deer originally from the Middle East; wapiti (North American elk, sambar,sika,and rusa,from Asia; and white-tailed deer and moose from North America. By the early 2000s, red deer were the most common deer in the wild. Wapiti are found in northern Fiordland; fallow deer occur in low-altitude forests; and sika, sambar and rusa live in North Island forests. White-tailed deer are found on Stewart Island and near Lake Wakatipu Queenstown.
The Red Deer became a sought after commodity and was hunted by helicopter in the sixties and seventies and this is how many a New Zealand helicopter pilot learnt their craft.
Onward and up over the West Arm Power Station where the intakes and Power Control room is the only thing visible from the air. This huge hydro power plant was started in the early sixties and completed in 1971, Manapouri was largely built to supply electricity to the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter near Bluff, some 160 km to the southeast, as well as into the South Island transmission network. The station utilises the 230-metre drop between the western arm of Lake Manapouri and the Deep Cove branch of the Doubtful Sound 10 km away to generate electricity. The construction of the station required the excavation of almost 1.4 million tonnes of hard rock to build the machine hall and a 10 km tailrace tunnel, with a second parallel tailrace tunnel completed in 2002 to increase
the station’s capacity. Meanwhile Sir Richard keeping me well informed as to all the geographical changes and history of the area.
Over the Great Divide through Mckenzie Pass where we spotted a few Red Deer, then we dropped down into Breaksea Sound.
We put down gently on The Uni, an old Australian Royal Navy supply vessel in her hayday that now is equiped with the heli pad. kitchen hot shower and bunk rooms to accommodate for modern requirements.
Time to have some lunch and take in all the serenity that is part of what Fiordland offers, and drop a line in to fish for blue cod. This sheltered coastal fiord is home to a huge varity of sea life including Dolphins. These majestic warm blooded mammals are often seen frolicking in the fiords sheltering and cleaning themselves before they return to the wild Tasman Sea that is a further 40km down the fiord.
After a relaxing 2 hours we boarded the machine and lifted off for the trip home. Another flight path that met up with the original one however it was great flying over Dusky Sound made famous by Captain James Cook who noted its entrance during his first voyage to New Zealand in 1770. He named it Dusky Bay. On his second expedition he spent two months exploring the sound, and used it as a harbour, establishing workshops and an observatory. It is believed his crew brewed the first beer in New Zealand during his stay. He encountered some Maori with whom he had friendly relations. Later they seemed to have disappeared and it was speculated their countrymen had killed them, perhaps for the presents Cook gave them. Cook saw the place as a good harbour for ships entering the Pacific from Europe by the shortest route, highlighting its maritime significance and overlooking its land-locked character. This gave it an unusual prominence in earliest European visits which disappeared as Europeans became more familiar with New Zealand’s geography.
Again Sir Richards knowledge and interesting commentary kept me abreast of all the beauty that this amazing region has to offer to any discerning traveller.
The trip seemed to end too soon and we were back on the helipad in Te Anau having been away for around 4 hours. Not only had I had the privilege of flying with a real Kiwi guy but saw some of my country that I had never experienced before. This experience is designed for groups and families who really want to see the real New Zealand and be well away from the maddening crowds that often swamp our pristine areas.
I had a great “Knights” sleep that night!