Sunday 16 November 2014


"More addictive than heroin - and more expensive, too" - that's what Peter the chopper pilot's first flying teacher told him about what he was launching himself into, and nothing about what he's experienced since has led him to disagree. Me neither. I was making my 6th flight today, 20 minutes that felt like 10 on a circuit over Auckland. That's how time works, in helicopters, in my experience: I did 90 minutes buzzing over the South African veldt looking for rhinos last year that I would have sworn was half an hour, tops.

I've hopped across Lake Wakatipu, I've done a sunset flight in Australia's Red Centre, a loop around Mt Taranaki, a swoop above Iguassu Falls in Argentina/Brazil, a dusk flit around Long Island and now this birthday buzz over Auckland. And apart from being trapped in the centre in the back on the Iguassu flight and able to catch only glimpses of the falls between the professional snapper's big camera on one side, and another writer's (spit) iPad on the other, they've all been brilliant ways to see the scenery.
Iguassu, in those snatched images, was truly spectacular; South Africa was amazing because for the guys in front this was their daily job and they were so matter-of-fact about the whole deal (also, you can never beat seeing a rhino in the wild however you come at them); Kings Canyon is a piece of work from any angle; so is Manhattan; and this country's not too shabby either, scenery-wise, and I wouldn't like to have to rank Mt Taranaki against the Remarkables - but despite all that, there's something very special about seeing your familiar surroundings from 300 metres up, everything recognisable but at the same time so strange. It all fits together so neatly - who knew?!

The whole experience was soured, however, by Peter's saying at the end that in a couple of days he's piloting a couple of Germans with tons more money than time on a 3-day chopper trip that will include a Tauranga winery, Huka Lodge, Rotorua, White Island, another fancy lodge somewhere further south, and Abel Tasman NP. Spit. I was just writing about that White Island helicopter trip this week for an inflight magazine, and I had to do it third-hand because, for once, I hadn't done it myself. Double spit.

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