This is New Zealand’s Queenstown airport in August 1979, ten years before the first jet aircraft arrived. Much of the business then relied on tourist flights in small ‘planes like these. I had something bigger for my flight to Milford Sound
but not by much. I was lucky enough to get a seat beside the pilot after the Britten-Norman Islander had been refueled at a mobile Mobil station.
Queenstown is a mountain resort so the views of the Southern Alps are spectacular if you fly there. I don’t know about you but when I’m faced with a magnificent scene like this, with the natural environment stretching away to the horizon in all its awe-inspiring grandeur, I can’t ignore the little voice inside that says …..
“If anything goes wrong with this aircraft, there’s nowhere to land”.
A view to the left from the cockpit.
Fly directly at Sutherland Falls – the highest in the country with a 580 metre (1908 feet) vertical drop – until the cliff face ahead completely fills your windshield then pull up for a glimpse of Lake Quill, flick the ‘plane on a wingtip to execute a 180 degree turn, and continue to Milford Sound.
Images of Mitre Peak have become something of a tourist cliché but you can’t fail to be impressed when you stand in its presence. It dominates the landscape and demands your attention.
Unfortunately my visit was cut short. I barely had time to fire off a couple of cliché’s and get bitten by the infamous sandflies when the pilot called us back to the aircraft. A nasty weather front was heading our way from the Tasman Sea and it would be best if we got out ahead of it. You should expect this in Fiordland where conditions can change rapidly, especially in winter.
We piled back into the Islander and he flew us to the seaward end of the Sound. It was part of the flight plan we’d already paid for, and maybe he wanted to prove there really was a nasty front out there. And there really was. Dark cloud, rain and, no doubt, turbulence rolling towards us. Time for another one of those 180 degree wingtip turns.