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Tekapo is world famous for its stargazing and the beautiful milky blue colour of Lake Tekapo, but there is another ‘must do’ attraction in Tekapo. This is the Grand Traverse scenic flight by Air Safaris which takes off from and returns to Lake Tekapo Airport. It is a 50 minute flight during which passengers get to enjoy a wide variety of scenery and see some of the South Island’s most stunning natural features including a circuit around Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain and the jewel of the Southern Alps.
Air Safaris has been flying visitors from New Zealand and around the world for 45 years and the pilots and staff are experts in looking after passengers and ensuring that every flight is awe-inspiring. There are a variety of aircraft types used by Air Safaris with the largest being a 15-seater, However, no matter which aircraft you fly in, all have guaranteed window seats and all planes have their wings above the fuselage so that the view of the scenery is not impeded. Some passengers have even flown once to take photos all throughout the flight, then flown a second time to just enjoy the scenery out the window! True story!
Lake Tekapo Airport is just a few kilometres from the town, but if you have no transport, there is a return transfer service available from the town or your accommodation. Your driver is often your pilot! Once you take off, the flight takes you over the township, then up over turquoise Lake Tekapo, past the Godley Peaks, then up the braided Godley River which brings melted snow and glacial water down into the lake.
You then enter the Southern Alps and can see stunning mountains after mountains all around. Glaciers also abound with the Godley and Murchison Glaciers first, then the head of the Tasman Glacier before the plane goes over to the rugged West Coast with amazing views of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers as well as the verdant rain forest.
Next come the ‘big ones”! Mt Tasman at 3497 metres, Aoraki/Mt Cook at 3754 metres and Mt La Perouse at 3078 metres. The plane can feel very small next to these giant mountains, but at the same time the sheer beauty of the scenery is incredible. The plane does a circuit of Aoraki/Mt Cook so that passengers can all enjoy a close up view. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to wave to a climber in summer!
After the grandeur of the mountains, the flight continues over the Tasman Glacier and its glacier lake, then the return leg to Tekapo Airport is over the vast Mackenzie basin, then over cobalt-blue Lake Alexandrina and the Mt John Observatory, before landing.
50 minutes of lakes, glaciers, mountains, high country farms, rivers, rain forest and the highest mountain in the land-amazing! The commentary is in English, but all clients get detailed other language handouts which include and illustrated, numbered map of the flight route so that all on board can enjoy the sights below.
Grand Traverse flights can be enjoyed all year around, so each season is unique. In autumn, the golden leaves of willows and poplars can be seen around the edges of lakes and rivers- a vivid contrast to the turquoise-coloured water. In winter, the mountains and Mackenzie Basin become snow-coved wonderlands. The white carpet offsets the rugged mountains and braided Godley River and you can wave to skiers as they ski below. In spring and summer, new leaves and grass is a fresh green colour, the rivers are full due to the big melt and colourful lupins make a natural carpet below.
If you’re staying overnight in Tekapo, definitely join the Grand Traverse. But if you’re travelling from Christchurch to Aoraki Mt Cook by Great Sights or other coach services, here’s a fun way to complete the journey. You can leave your luggage on the bus, then you fly from Tekapo and enjoy the scenic flight before landing at Glentanner Airport inside Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. The time required for the coach to continue to Aoraki Mt Cook is similar to the flight time, so you just re-join the coach after the flight and continue to the Hermitage. This is an easy way to avoid missing out on the flight of a lifetime with Air Safaris.
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