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LUXURY TRAVEL: Helicopters over New Zealand
Louisa (Choppy) Patterson's sleek black helicopter sits purring at the side of Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand, ready for take off. The B4 Eurocopter is the most luxurious of beasts; all sleek grey leather seats and shiny as obsidian. We take off to the sound of Frank Sinatra 'Come Fly with Me' in our headphones (yes, Choppy knows how to instill a sense of theatre into the moment). We fly up across the impossibly green glacial lake and on towards the old men of the mountains, Mt Cecil and Mt Walter, their heads dusted with white.
in flight
in flight
helicopter
helicopter nz
flight deck
choppy
in flight above mountains
A wall of mountain appears to be approaching far too fast, "Left, right or straight over the top?" asks Choppy. Given the name of the company is Over the Top Helicopters we have no chose but to be OTT too. "Go for it", I say. The helicopter rears upwards at the last moment, it feels as if we are so close to the mountain that we'll actually scrap the side of Cecil, but Choppy, who has been flying here since the1970s , knows exactly what she is doing. She brings us skimming over the peak into a paradise of snow. Below us the ridges and folds of the mountain look like a rumpled hotel sheet.
The' copter banks round and hovers over a little rock platform know as The Ledge which juts out from the side of mountain. We land in a swirl of snow and whirring blades. Yes, It is all very 'Bond movie' so far.
Sadly, swathed in several layers of NZ merino and a less than tasteful fleece I am no Bond Girl, but Jodhi beside me is. She's come in stilettos, not the best attire for traversing a slippery snow bridge with a drop on either side but she does look good. Choppy however saves the day with some emergency re-styling and feet swathed in plastic bags Jodhi nips across the bridge with considerably more style than I do. But then I am hampered by my friend Cleo who is clinging hard to my arm having gone all 19th century maiden on me and had an attack of the vapors at the thought of the drop. Let's see how she copes with the edge.
We are now on the very edge of the ledge -the perfect place for a picnic it seems. Hundreds of metres below the lake has an emerald glitter. Up here in the snow we picnic on champagne and salmon bagels to the scratchy sound of a wind-up gramophone. Choppy has brought along some old 78rpms and the voices of Ken Branch and The South Sea Islanders float out across the lake...' I'm sending you a love letter...' croons Ken as we eat on the edge -it is a surreal moment.
Cleo's vapors were quite in keeping after all.
Now the needle is on a new record; Gene Autry, the singing cowboy himself serenading us with 'you are my sunshine my only sunshine"... I'd boot scoot but there really isn't room. By now I have a sneaking suspicion that Choppy has a wicked sense of humour as well as a passion for the wilderness.

Back aboard the sleek black beast we rise into the air to the sound track of Wagner's Ride of the Valkerie's, drop down the side of the mountain before my heart has time to miss a beat and on towards the skyline gondola above Queenstown.
As we climb out of the helicopter several Japanese tourists who have come up the gondola to look at the view take our pictures -w e're celebrities for a millisecond courtesy of our dramatic entrance. It doesn't last long. Choppy leaves us behind on the ground and the tourists lose interest.
As she waves goodbye she puts her chopper into a dramatic dive just for the sheer joie de vivre - a showman to the last.
OTT Helicopters can organize anything with panache: trips to Milford Sound and the glaciers, wine tasting by whirlybird, fly fishing or the ultimate bespoke itinerary - a 21 day 'copter tour of NZ wildest regions over-nighting at some of the country's best luxury lodges.

 

The Luxury Travel Bible says...
Stay at: The new Matakauri Lodge, which completes a luxury trifecta for the Robertson family (who also own the sublime Kauri Cliffs, and Cape Kidnappers, Hawkes Bay.) All are members of Relais & Chateaux and amongst The Luxury Travel Bible's favourite New Zealand lodges.

Matakauri, interior-designed by Virginia Fisher, is five minutes outside Queenstown but feels as if it is in the wilderness. Stay there and you can stare at Mt Cecil and the wondrous Lake Wakatipu everyday through it wide windows.

Luxury hotels link: www.matakaurilodge.com
Hilary Doling 1/11/10
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