The AirBnB stay at an entire house for four nights was twice as expensive per night as we would prefer to spend, but it was comfortable, convenient, and the view of the mountains across the lake quite pleasing as we looked out the expansive living room windows. We saved money by eating in. A cooked chicken from the grocery store provided meals, including soup I made from the bones, for three nights. The owner left us eight eggs from her hens so scrambled eggs with cut up sliced ham in pita pockets made a filling breakfast for two days and gave us a break from muesli. I did a load of laundry each day which dried both outside on a line and then in the late afternoon on a rack indoors in the very warm sunshine.
The first full day there was overcast with some morning showers and chilly. We decided to check our reservation we had made with Southern Lakes Helicopters while in Wanaka, and confirmed where we needed to be. It was fortunate we did this as the booking was not for the tour we had requested, and we changed the time to an hour later to give the air time to warm. At that point it was just the two of us in the small helicopter for Doubtful and Milford Sounds with a gourmet picnic and three landings. We paid for this very expensive adventure of a lifetime, but it was something we both really wanted to do.
From there we headed up the road towards Milford Sound, despite the heavily overcast skies. Views were obscured but we did enjoy a stop at Mirror Lake where there were entertaining mallard ducks, another introduced species. The area was photogenic. We decided not to go further that day and headed back to Te Anau to buy groceries before heading home. After dinner we walked down to the lake, erected a cairn using BIG stones, and found our way back through the woods. Along the way was a tree with an accomodating branch where I could lie back with my feet up and a rest a bit.
The next morning the skies were clear!! I was so excited the weather forecast was looking true as in just three hours we would be airlifted over the tops of the Alps. We arrived early and were told our flight was delayed fifteen minutes and other people would be going with us. Not thrilled with having to share the ride we meandered along the shore line, watched a family of ducks get their breakfast and the little ones hitching a ride on Mama´s back, and returned to await our chariot. The chopper swooped in and gracefully set down on the pier. I was disappointed to see four seats in a row as that meant we would not each get a window seat where it is easier to enjoy the views. Eventually our lunch was loaded and the pilot, Sam Innes, was ready to take us off for a superior adventure. The briefing included that there would be three landings and after each one the six of us should rotate seats so everyone would get time in the front.
Sam took us out to the helipad on the dock and asked us all where we were from. The others were friends from Kentucky. Sam loaded our day packs into the hold and then it was time to take our places. Bill and I climbed into the back seat along with one other couple, while the others crammed up front with Sam. In talking with the woman next to me I found out she was a student a Hollins for two years and knew Suzy Mink. Such a tiny world. Then once we were all set with belts and headphones, Sam said he would take us to Doubtful Sound first. He immediately changed his mind to Milford Sound to keep the sun more behind us. What, no flight plan? He later told me it was better that way as circumstances change in a heartbeat. Then the rotors gently lifted us off the dock and we were airborne!
Being thrilled the skies were clear we were immediately taken with the stunning aerial scenery. We crossed several ridges and silently oohed and ahed at the views below us. Our first landing was on a very windy spot at the top of Sutherland Falls which he had zoomed out in front of to give us all a view. He kept the rotors going as we carefully got out to enjoy the wonder of the small lake at the top of the falls with mountain peaks all around.
At that point we switched places so Bill and I sat up front. It turned out to be the longest section by far before landing and took us over Milford Sound, along the coast, and to our picnic spot. The azure waters, tall waterfalls, rocky shoreline, a few fur seals, and majestic mountains were all simply amazing. I felt guilty we had the longest ride up front where the best photos can be taken, but certainly did not let that subtract from the adventure! Sam chose a spot he had never landed on before and did it so easily. It was quite a small space, actually! He shut down the motor, let us all out, and selected a setting for our gourmet picnic lunch. After helping him carry the goods, he laid out a small blanket and set out the food. Champagne was served along with cheeses, crackers, grapes, olives, fresh figs, chocolate truffles, and more. Water and juices were also options. We all chatted and got to know each other a bit. Thankfully, everyone was very easy going and we all got along fine.
Too soon our half hour was over and it was time to fly on. This time I had a window seat in the back which had less obstructed views than the middle seat. We soared over more of the Alps and soon landed at Doubtful Sound. To me it was the best landing view and seemed to outscore Milford Sound in its awesomeness. Sam took photos for us with the incredible background. Bill told me he had made an executive decision; we are going to return sometime when there will be snow on the peaks, and we are going to hire a helicopter for just the two of us. That’s fine with me! He felt the landscape was just stunning and wants to experience it when it is even more photogenic.
We then had to head back and end our amazing helicopter adventure. We were gone over two-and-a-half hours and felt we had been given a fabulous experience.
One the way home we stopped by a bird conservation where they try to rehabilitate and release as they can, and if not, they keep them safe and sound. There aren’t many birds but they seemed to have good space. They have a few rare flightless takahes, an owl, brown and green forest parrots called kakas, some regular looking parrots, and ducks. Entry is free and they ask for donations of a gold coin ($1 and $2).
Then it was home to revel in the wonder of helicoptering over the New Zealand Alps and reviewing photos and videos of our memories.
The next morning the skies were overcast and we were so glad we had made our helicopter ride the day before instead. We drove to Milford Sound with increasingly photogenic views along the way, but I was concerned the gray overhead would never give way. We did a twenty minute hike to see a chasm with interesting limestone carvings from erosion. A few other stops to photograph falls and marvelous mountains and then as we approached our destination, the skies suddenly cleared to brilliant sun. Yes! As beautiful as the sound is, it is less impressive from the ground than the air. There is a small airport there with several small planes and a few helicopters waiting to transport people for hikes and to enjoy the scenery. Cruise boats were coming and going while we had a picnic by the water.
Before getting back in the car we took a short but steep hike up to a lookout point of the sound. To me that was more beautiful than being at ground level. Then we had to head home, but on the way back we did a short hike up to see water tumble down the mountain in the river it had crafted out over the years.
Our time in Manapouri was ending, and it was time to venture onward to see what else would hold our interest.