Survived the ride!
The helicopter ride over the mountains to Milford Sound was just mind-boggling. I know Kelly was having a great time, because she was smiling, laughing, and take one picture after another. Ava was having fun talking into the headsets and occasionally looking out the window to see what was going on. Next to Ava sat Sarah, a young lady from northern Ireland, and she kept Ava company, goofing around with her on the headset microphones.
Interestingly, my headphones’ microphone was broken, so although I could hear the pilot’s directions, he in turn, could not hear the faint whimpering of my wussy girl-like self.
By the time I had stepped onto the helicopter, I had popped by second Valium, so although I was feeling no pain on the ground, I was yet to know what I would experience once we took off.
Taking off in a helicopter is a very strange feeling like no other. I’ve watched enough episodes of MASH to know how they work, but being in one is a whole different animal. We had a great, experienced pilot that was no-nonsense when it came to the safety of all aboard–that would be a total of 7 including the pilot–and the ride was surprisingly smooth, even when he would hit the unavoidable pockets of air cruising along the sides of mountains.
The size of the mountains that we flew over was jaw-dropping…it felt like we barely scraped over the tops of the peaks before the ground suddenly vanished beneath us into a massive valley thousands feet below. I have to admit that sometimes I would turn my camcorder on, point it in the direction of the mountain peak as we approached it, and then closed my eyes and hoped for the best as we went over the top.
Our first landing was on a grassy mountain top where we made a stop for a few minutes, just enough time to sort of get my “land legs” again before hopping back into the copter. This was the perfect place to do something I had waited all trip long: Kelly held the camcorder and I did my best impression of Julie Andrews running through the field with huge mountains in the background like the opening scene to “The Sound of Music.” ‘The hills are aliiiiiive……’ I’m sure the others in the helicopter thought I had lost my mind.
We then took off to Milford Sound, flying over lakes and rivers that finally brought us in 30 minutes as the crow flies to a place that takes almost 8 hours by bus! Unfortunately, Milford Sound itself was kind of fogged in a bit, so we landed in the airstrip area where all the helicopters and planes go, and took a 20 minute walk to the coast, where we got some nice shots of the Sound nonetheless.
Before take-off: Valium number 3! I was burning those suckers up like an Olympian!
Then it was back into the helicopter for what would be the highlight (literally) of the trip: we landed on top of a glacier! It was pretty scary and a bit slippery as we landed and stepped out of the copter to take photos of each other in a very special place only few on this planet have been able to visit.
Kelly, of course, brought some champagne, so we cracked that sucker open and all shared in our success to making it to the top! Our pilot warned us of crevasses nearby…and you could see area where the ice and snow was splitting…so we made it a quick (and very chilly) visit before it was time to hop back into the helicopter for the ride home.
Winding through different mountains, we saw waterfalls far below…rivers…lakes…and the occasional critter that lives in these high-altitude Alpine areas.
Safe landing back at Queenstown airport, and our adrenalin-pumping trip was done…all of us very happy to have experienced it. I’m glad I did it…and glad to know that I will never have to do that again!!!