When my husband and I signed up for a trip to New Zealand, the option to do heli-hiking caught my attention. I love to hike, and to be dropped into a totally remote, untouched area, miles from anywhere seemed like a dream come true.
Years ago I had a friend who went helicopter-skiing in British Columbia, and at the time I thought that sounded elitist. I mean, there's a lot of ski opportunities in British Columbia without resorting to heli-skiing. But in New Zealand there are many spectacular mountain areas that are only accessible by helicopter, so this seemed like a practical option.
When I mentioned--okay, gushed--to friends, non-hikers, that I'd be helicopter-hiking, the unanimous response was: that will put you on at the top of the mountain. Cool! Then you don't have to walk up!
But seasoned hikers know that walking down is the hardest, most stressful part. And in New Zealand helicopters don't put you in at the tippy-top, the summit of a mountain. As Dion Mathewson, the pilot of the R40, the 4-passenger Robinson helicopter at Cedar Lodge, explained, "There are no tracks [trails] up there, and the slope is mostly scree."
I just had a quintessential helicopter-hiking experience in a remote area called Boundary Creek, near Lake Wanaka. It turned out to be my best day in nature--ever.
In the morning Dion flew Ket Hazledine, my guide, and myself into Boundary Creek, and dropped us into a valley in the middle of nowhere, exactly like I'd imagined. With the propeller still whirling, he said he'd be back for us at 4, 4:30--about 6 hours later. The valley floor was crisscrossed with streams and spectacular mountain ranges rose on all sides. We hiked toward a waterfall through a swampy, muddy marshland. Each step took enormous effort--to place your foot safely where the land seemed secure and then to lift your foot up from the oozing mud and find another safe place to put it down.
But the sight of the waterfall with no one else around was worth wading through the swampy creekbed for over an hour.
Next, we crisscrossed the creek, often wading in freezing mountain water up to our knees, 60 plus times, until we reached the second waterfall. Ket called this one "Spectacular," and it was. To reach such a glorious sight, untouched in nature, unnamed on a map, is a once-in-lifetime hiking experience. And it was available to us only because we got helicoptered into a remote valley. At the top of the 70' vertical drop, there was no viewing ledge with a protective guard rail for tourists because there were no tourists. There was also no green and yellow government sign like at all other hiking tracks in New Zealand because this waterfall is off the charts.
Camped on rocks, and wearing raincoats, we ate lunch, while getting sprayed by the cool mist of the waterfall. I was having my best day in nature--ever. Thanks to the R40 helicopter.