Tourism potential still there
The scenic grandeur of the Southern Alps remains the same, but numbers of people taking advantage of the Mt Cook National Park are dwindling.
If you are down in the South Island, travel up the side of the astonishingly blue Lake Pukaki and head to Aoraki Mount Cook Airport. Here you can experience a touch of adventure with Aoraki/Mount Cook Ski Planes, whose aircraft can take you on flights up on to the Tasman Glacier or around Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park or Westland National Park.
Flights can also take you across the main divide of the Southern Alps to view the sweeping coastline and stunning alpine vistas of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
The ski planes are based at the Aoraki Mount Cook Airport and comprise 10-seat PC6 Pilatus Porters and six-seat Cessna 185s, while helicopters are also available. The two ski equipped Porters are ZK-MCN and MCT with MCK now on wheels. Of the Cessna 185s, MCR and CBS are on skis and MCR on wheels.
The airport is right in the heart of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, a World Heritage Area, a short distance from Mount Cook Village and The Hermitage Hotel. The company is approved to land on the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest.
Operating out of two hangars, all engineering work is also carried out on site by the company’s full-time engineer, Stephan Kemp, with Wayne McMillan chief pilot and operations manager.
Wayne has been flying fixed wing aircraft for more than 40 years and over 8700 flying hours. He started his aviation career in the early 1970s in the agriculture industry as a loader/trainee ag pilot before starting with Mount Cook Ski Planes in December 1979. Wayne has flown a range of aircraft — various Cessnas, Pilatus Porters and the Grumman AA5.
The other pilot today is Mike Williams, who has more than 4800 flying hours. He started out in commercial aviation in 1993 taking passengers on scenic flights around Mount Cook/Westland National Parks. Since September 1994 Mike has been flying Cessnas and Pilatus Porters for Mount Cook Ski Planes, prior to which he flew skydivers in the Mt Hutt area.
Other staff members include Sam Paton flying the Cessna and helping with all other aspects of the ground operations, and Jemma Thomas managing the office and everything else required on the ground.
Mount Cook Aoraki Ski Planes is a much smaller operation today than back in the mid-1980s when Wayne says sometimes 500 passengers would pass through the terminal in a day. Those times have well gone, and without a permanent air service into the region Wayne sees things not getting much better.
“There is a need for more tourism in the Mt Cook region. This is essential for the viability of the region and its tourism operators,” he says.
- Report and photographs by Peter Burke
» Summer success at the Walsh
» The luxury of living in the Ivory Tower
» Comper moves swiftly
» UAV usefulness increasing
» Woodville’s even dozen
» 60th birthday party for ZK-BNL
» New airline MRO facility
» Hands across the Southern Alps
» Praise earned in tough place