Flying to Milford

Friday Flashback

M_Queenstown airport-2

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

M_Britten-Norman Islander-3

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.

Milford flight 1-4

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”.

Milford flight 6-2

A view to the left from the cockpit.

MacKinnon Pass

Approaching MacKinnon Pass on the Milford Track. It’s the little snow covered ridge in the foreground. Once over the pass, turn left.

M_Sutherland Falls-3

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.

M_Mitre

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.

Winter sports

M_Hermitage

The Southern Alps are a favourite climbing ground for tourists who find in snow and ice a playground for their winter holidays, and the comfortable “Hermitage” hotel at the base of the main range is a popular rendezvous for patrons of the winter sports. The Hermitage is a modern hotel in the heart of the Alps, reached by a good motor road, and providing every convenience for climbers. The summit looks right down upon the hotel.

The Hermitage has expanded considerably since this was written in 1928.

M_Cook

I think this is from Sealy Tarns, not Mount Sealy.

The ascent of Mount Cook and its neighbouring peaks is the aim of many mountain climbers and the record of conquests is extremely small. The lofty peak of Mt. Cook is 12,349 feet [3764m] above the level of the sea, and its ascent is a task to try out the steel in a climber’s nerves. The track lies over crumbling glaciers and brittle snowfields where the first false step will probably be the last.
‘Beautiful New Zealand’ series, Three Castles cigarettes (W.D. & H.O. Wills) 1928.
Original images from the New Zealand Government Publicity Office.

Writers who record the heights of mountains should add “at time of writing” because it seems nothing is permanent. Aoraki/Mount Cook lost about 30 metres from its summit in a single rockfall in 1991. Luckily there were no climbers standing in the way. Then, in 2014, modern instruments measured it at 12,218 feet (3,724 metres). Its reputation as a dangerous mountain, however, has not been reduced and the warning about false steps still holds true. Many experienced climbers have died on its slopes since it was first climbed in 1894. The last unclimbed route wasn’t conquered until 1970.

The Southern Alps were a training ground for New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary who first climbed Aoraki/Mount Cook in 1948 and went on to famously “knock off” Everest five years later.

M_Cook2

Aoraki/Mount Cook towers above Lake Pukaki on a hot December day in 2013. Perspective is compressed by a 270mm (equivalent) lens. The mountain is about 60 or 70km away (40 miles).

M_Cook_Pukaki

The view from State Highway 8 at the bottom end of Lake Pukaki.

Follow this link for some spectacular images of the Southern Alps.