Discovering The Beauty Of An Aerial Existence In Aoraki

Posted January 10, 2014 by Charli Moore in Just Back

New Zealand is famed for the magnificent alpine range that has forged its way skyward amongst the varied landscape of the south.

Formed by a powerful tectonic force that has diverged and subducted the neighboring Pacific and Australian plates below, these colossal peaks serve as a reminder of the powerful forces which occupy the earth beneath our feet.

Awash with a variance of micro climates and geology, the elliptical Mackenzie Basin offers a little horizontal respite from the frozen peaks which line its borders.

Named after Scotsman James McKenzie who once held claim to the land, the basin has seen vast changes in the last 300 million years however the view today is one of vibrant color; patchwork pastures, turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains and undulating landscapes.

Together with the neighboring Westland and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Parks, the MacKenzie Basin is a jewel in the landscape of the southern alps and is an inspiring destination for adventurous travelers and nature enthusiasts alike.

The Ultimate Air Safari

For those visiting the Mackensie region, a ground level view of the surrounding countryside offers innumerable picture postcard scenes.

With the ever changing theatrical colors of sunrise and sunset casting their hue across the valley floor, I would forgive anyone who set up camp aside the glacial waters of Lake Tekapo and simply soaked in the scenery without attempting to explore.

The elliptical Mackenzie Basin is awash with a variance of micro climates and geology.

However, an elevated view opens up an entirely different dimension of color, texture and form to admire.

The landscape below becomes a palate of vivid tones bursting from the darkness of the greywacke rock as the peaks of the indomitable mountains sail past, their snow clad forms glistening in the sun.

The Grand Traverse

An alpine wonderflight the Grand Traverse, operated by Air Safaris, offers a celestial view of some of the most isolated areas within the Mackensie region.

Taking off from Tekapo airport our tiny plane climbed skywards as we flew over the town of Tekapo and out over the turquoise waters of the lake.

An elevated view opens up an entirely different dimension of color, texture and form to admire.

A remnant of the most recent ice age lakes, Tekapo, Puakaki and Ohau, were formed by the movement of gargantuan glaciers which once adorned the landscape.

Carving out a path through the mixture of greywacke, argillite and schist the sediments it produced have remained suspended in the ice for thousands of years. It is this ‘rock flour’ which determines the color of the region’s glacial lakes today.

Reflecting only turquoise from the spectrum of light, the rock flour provides an ethereal addition to the scenic vistas of the Southern Alps.

Alpine Vistas and Glacial Views

As we flew past snow-capped peaks and over vast sheets of compacted ice, I found myself at a loss for words. My notepad which travels with me wherever I go lay open, but the page remained blank and my pen motionless in my hand.

The view before me was a masterpiece of lilac, turquoise, brilliant white and earthy brown. Reaching the mouth of the lake the Godley River came into view, its silt laden waters carving a melody of fluid forms into the almost unnatural hue of the lake.

The pristine landscape beneath me appeared to melt into tones of green and shades of brown.

Entering the mighty Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the Godley Glaciers appeared below.

Suddenly my view was enveloped by snow clad peaks, brilliant blue streaks of glacial ice hidden under plumes of soft snow and vertical drifts of great avalanches had fallen towards the valley floor.

The head of the Tasman Glacier appeared and I could see icebergs floating in the milky terminal lake.

The longest in New Zealand the glacier flows 29km down the Tasman Valley and is popular with adventurous skiers and climbers keen to sample the delights of this remote winter escape.

Crossing the Divide

Leaving the upper reaches of the Tasman behind, we navigated the ridges of the Main Divide and the shores of the island’s west coast came into view.

The pristine landscape beneath me appeared to melt into tones of green and shades of brown before reaching the rich waters of the Tasman Sea.

Colors of winter fade into those of spring as once more the vibrant pastures of the MacKensie Basin brighten the scene below.

A vibrant red alpine hut was juxtaposed against the clinical expanse of the surrounding snow, a safe haven for those who explore the frozen wilderness on foot it appeared as though a child’s toy left behind in a sandbox of white.

Standing like a fortified castle wall, the Southern Alps shelter much of the central and east coast from the heavy moisture laden clouds which blow in off the Tasman Sea.

Depositing their cargo as they struggle to rise above the peaks of the divide, these clouds cultivate a temperate rainforest which clings to the lower reaches of the Fox and Franz Joseph glacier offering a scene unique to this diverse region.

The MacKenzie Basin

As we make our way back towards the tiny town of Tekapo, the imposing peak of Mount Cook appears in the viewfinder of my camera.

At 3,754m it stands supreme as the country’s highest peak. First climbed on Christmas Day 1894, it appears unobtainable even by today’s standards.

The colors of winter fade into those of spring as once more the vibrant pastures of the MacKensie Basin brighten the scene below.

Air Safaris and their Grand Traverse flight served to show me the beauty of an aerial existence.

Having already climbed Mount John which I had described as a ‘mountain’ when sat at the top recovering, I was shocked to see its tiny form rising from the valley floor.

The recognizable spherical form of the Mount John Observatory appeared on the summit and I was reminded that the protected Dark Sky Reserve above me is just as inspiring as the landscape below.

Back on the ground I began to process the real of film flicking over in my mind. I’m left in a state of awe, balancing the colors, deciphering the sheer scale of the landscape in comparison to my tiny form.

Flying With Air Safaris

Those who know me well may be surprised to see my report from 15,000ft above an alpine range.

I’ve never found the act of flight to be a particularly pleasing sensation, couple this with an enclosed space and normally I’d rather remain on Terra Firma.

Air Safaris and their Grand Traverse flight served to show me the beauty of an aerial existence.

While all thoughts of fear left my mind the minute I first looked out over the dynamic landscape below, I do wonder if I’ll ever be so fortunate as to experience flight in such a diverse and picturesque setting again.

Air Safaris operate from 3 locations across the MacKenise/Mount Cook region and you can hop aboard their Grand Traverse excursion from Tekapo, Glentanner or Franz Joseph.

Disclaimer: My trip was made possible by Air Safaris, but all opinions expressed are my own.

Have you seen the majestic landscape of the Southern Alps from the air? Share your comments with us below.

About the Author

Charli Moore

Travel writer and blogger Charli is a digital nomad currently travelling the world with her other half Ben. Whether backpacking through Central America or road tripping around Australia they embrace each and every opportunity for adventure. Read more about their insatiable wanderlust on their blog, Wanderlusters.

Newly Reviewed
 
  • 9.0
  • 9.0
  • 8.3
  • 7.2
  • 9.0