A Ski Plane Glacier Escapade

It’s not everyday that you get to land on a glacier in a plane! In fact, there are only two places in the world where you can fly in a ski plane and land on a glacier. One of those places is in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. As cliched as it sounds, we are truly going to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Our flight isn’t until 5.30pm though, so the anticipation is almost too much to bear. In the meantime, we work and watch the weather from the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Mt Cook Lodge. The clouds start the day super low down the mountains until that summer sun finally breaks through and clears the skies for our scenic flight. Nice!

Ski plane introductions

We rock up at Aoraki Mt Cook Airport, the base of Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters, itching to get on the ski plane by this point. After checking in, we wait outside watching the helicopters take off for their own alpine adventures into the Southern Alps.

Our plane isn’t difficult to spot – the one with super wide skis attached by various cords raised mid-way up the wheels. The 8-seater plane (including the pilot) is possibly the smallest plane we have been in yet – much like a skydiving plane. These small planes are ideal for flying in the mountains and turn on a dime.

Stepping onto a ski plane for the first time ever! Stepping onto a ski plane for the first time ever!
A birds-eye-view of the Tasman Glacier Lake A birds-eye-view of the Tasman Glacier Lake
That's going to be heavy on the ski lift That's going to be heavy on the ski lift
Feeling epic on top of the Tasman Glacier Feeling epic on top of the Tasman Glacier

Braided river aerial views

Our pilot Matt loads us and five other passengers into the ski plane. Laura takes the back seat and Robin is Matt’s wingman for optimal photo opportunities. (Screw shared experiences – where’s my Instagram photos at?!)

This is it: our ski plane starts at the beginning on the runway. The plane lifts off into the sky surprisingly quick and the sensational aerial views feast our eyes just as quickly! The mountains of Aoraki Mt Cook National Park split into tens of valleys all connecting with the huge network of braided rivers feeding into Lake Pukaki. With the sun shining and the view from above, the water never looked so blue!

following the tasman Glacier

The plane follows the braided river to one of its sources, the Tasman Glacial Lake. Dotted with ice bergs, the Tasman Lake is a product of New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier. Only a couple of days ago, we were lucky enough to hike on the rugged icy terrain of this glacier and explore one of its ice caves. The ski plane takes us further up the Tasman Glacier. The uneven icy surface gets smoother and snowier the further up the glacier we go. We also can’t help but notice how much closer we’re getting to the surface of the glacier…

Catching rays and soaking up alpine views

New Zealand’s most epic runway

It’s a bizarre feeling, the snowy white mountains closing in around the plane as we circle closer and closer to the ground. Everything about landing on the snow in a freakin’ plane seems unnatural (then again, so does flying in a tin box). We watch the wheels make contact with the snow. Snow flicks up behind the wheel. This might just be the coolest runway in the world!

Knee-deep in the Southern Alps

Well, once the engines are switched off and we are bathed with the silence of the Southern Alps, there’s nothing left to do but to step onto the glacier.

It’s not quite the badass step onto the glacier that we imagined as we fumble around in almost knee-deep snow. Nevertheless, making the first footprints in this snow is pretty special.

Unless we were mountaineers, there is no way we could experience the serenity and untouched alpine wilderness like we are experiencing now. We get 15-20 minutes to take photos, play in the snow, bask in the natural beauty… Whatever the hell we want to do. We do all three and it’s a moment we’re certainly never going to forget.

So sure, landing in the snowy Southern Alps was fun, but we have a whole second-half of the scenic flight to enjoy now.

Summer snowball fight! Summer snowball fight!
Close-up pilot action... What more can we say? Close-up pilot action... What more can we say?
Stunning mountain views the whole way Stunning mountain views the whole way

The mightiness of Aoraki Mt Cook

By sitting in the same place on the flight back, we are able to take in some views we missed on the way in. This time, it’s the views of New Zealand’s highest mountain that captures us. Topped with more snow than we can fathom, creating cascades of powerful and steep glaciers, Aoraki Mt Cook is more majestic than any photo can convey. Perhaps it’s the sun sending bursts of lights from behind the peak that gives it that added glory? Or perhaps it’s the fact that the pilot is directing the plane straight into it?! Thankfully, like we said, these planes can turn on a dime…

Sights of the Southern Alps

Aoraki Mt Cook is one out of many peaks seen from the flight. Mt Dampier, Mt Vancouver, Mt Tasman and many many more form the rugged Southern Alps. It’s difficult to grasp perspective of the size of these geographical giants. Only by seeing a passing helicopter can we start to understand the size.

Although we chose to sit in separate seats for the flight, we are super eager to talk about the ski plane experience once we have landed back in Aoraki Mt Cook Airport. (That counts as a shared experience, right?)

Hitting the skies tomorrow

We won’t be staying away from the airport for too long though, as tomorrow we are back for 30-minute flight around Aoraki Mt Cook, the Tasman Valley and even the glaciers of the West Coast! Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Whiteness brightness!
Whiteness brightness! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

That’s awesome! If you liked this blog post, maybe you’ll like these articles:

Until tomorrow’s post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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