Over the top

by Gayle Dickson

I could hear the whirl of the blades drawing closer as I relaxed over my morning coffee at Remarkables Lodge at the foot of the Remarkables Range in Queenstown. As the whirl grew nearer, it developed into that distinctive fwhop-fwhop-fwhop sound, and I swear it was almost beating in time with my rapidly accelerating pulse rate.

I was so excited – I love going up in helicopters! And this particular trip was going to be a whole new experience for me. I’ve spent many holidays and business trips in and around Queenstown, yet I’d not previously had the pleasure of a real birds-eye view of the region.

I gulped the remaining coffee, grabbed my jacket and headed out to the rear garden. To Brian and Colleen, my hosts at Remarkables Lodge, the helicopter landing on the back lawn was not a new experience. Their guests often avail themselves of the fabulously convenient “pick-up service” for a range of activities.

Over The Top can in fact take you for a bungy, a ski, a spot of fly fishing or a round of golf. You can soar over glaciers, have your photo taken on the snow covered Southern Alps or head off to explore the High Country.

Combine your flight with a cruise on the Milford Sound, or enjoy a native rainforest walk, visit a seal colony or even land on a glacier. In my case, I was in for a scenic flight over Queenstown and Lake Whakatipu before landing on top of the mountain at the Skyline Gondola. Rain had threatened earlier, but had thankfully made itself scarce for my air adventure.

Unfortunately, a fairly thick mass of cloud still hung over the Remarkables themselves, so the pilot opted to leave that off the itinerary. Strapped into the front seat, I donned the headset and listened as the pilot ran through the necessary safety procedures and went through his pre-flight check. Then we were up, up and away.
Gosh, I love the freedom that helicopters afford – no runways required, take offs and landings in remote spots! As always, things look so different from on high – it’s a whole new perspective, and Queenstown was no different. Sure, we’ve all flown into the airport through some of those clouds and past some of those peeks, but the helicopter flight allows you to investigate a little more, get a little closer.

Landing at the top of the Gondola, I felt like a film star. I’m not sure who the Japanese tourists were expecting to alight from the left side of the helicopter, but I’m as positive as hell that it wasn’t me! They were snapping away as we landed, and I could still hear the whir of the camera motors as I said my farewells and thanks to my pilot and headed into the Skyline lounge for a pleasant cable car ride back down to town.

As with all things we enjoy, my flight was over far too quickly. I had learned something new, though … Over The Top offer an incredible experience that I am going to do my very best to talk my hubby into undertaking (although this might be a bit of a mission as he doesn’t have my tolerance of heights or flying!). Basically, it’s a privately guided tour of New Zealand by helicopter. Their suggested itinerary for the likes of international visitors would to start their journey in Auckland, heading down to Taupo and onto the East Coast, taking in Palliser Bay, Martinborough, Kaikoura, Marlborough and Nelson Lakes and on to Queenstown. They even include a jaunt to Stewart Island and Fiordland. Clients can then journey north to Auckland again, stopping at a range of other points. It sounds idyllic.

With winter looming just a few months away, it might be time to plan your 2010 ski trips now. The team at Over The Top, in conjunction with Heli Ski Queenstown, offer the opportunity to ski virgin snow, private ski fields or multiple ski fields in one day.

www.flynz.co.nz

FACTS:
Over the Top is owned and operated by Louisa Patterson. Choppy, as she’s known, began flying back in 1976. She established over the top in order to provide visitors with experiences that she would personally enjoy. She runs a team of experienced pilots and modern turbine helicopters, and provides a tailor-made service. Choppy’s motto is: “Your itinerary is limited only by your imagination”