Tatler Travels: Heli-hiking in New Zealand With Gigi Chao
In February this year, we went to New Zealand, starting our trip in Queenstown and then driving north to visit Cromwell, the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and Arthur’s Pass before finishing in Christchurch.
I’m an avid helicopter pilot and the best way to see New Zealand is by air; the country has a thriving aviation community. I did high-altitude flight training with Wanaka Helicopters and it was worth a thousand lifetimes of flying.
We covered turbulence handling, how to read wind direction from cloud drifts, glacier landings, slope landings and beach landings. Chief pilot Simon Spencer-Bower is the nicest man and very experienced and will double as your tour guide, telling you all about the wildlife, geology and history of New Zealand in a short flight up to about 2,400m feet.
Besides helicopter flying, there are lots of fun, outdoorsy activities in Queenstown like hiking, cherry picking, caving, rock climbing and kayaking. After three days in Queenstown, we drove to Lake Wanaka, then the next day went on a heli-hike tour of Franz Josef Glacier.
Afterwards, we stayed at Te Waonui Forest Retreat and relaxed in the hot springs. From there we drove to Christchurch, where we spent a couple of days relaxing before flying back to Hong Kong via Melbourne.
Getting there: We flew Cathay Pacific to Melbourne, then a local airline to Queenstown. The local airlines are fine, but try to get the first row—you get more leg room that way.
Days out of office: 8
Top tip: There’s some amazing food in New Zealand. Be sure to try the local lamb and game such as venison and rabbit. There’s a great restaurant in Queenstown called Fergburger where I had a delicious “Bambi burger.” But be prepared to queue for 45 minutes during peak season.
See also: Voice for Change: Gigi Chao