Back in October I had the opportunity to fly on Delta's inaugural flight to New Zealand but I didn't just stay in Auckland, instead I hopped on another flight and spent my week in Queenstown which is one of the most stunning places that I've ever been to. During my time there one of the opportunities that I had was a full day tour out to Milford Sound, which is a fjord with mountains jutting straight out of the water.
As part of my tour that I booked it included a portion on a small Cessna prop plane that brought us back through the fjords to experience it from the air.
I booked this flight as a larger excursion directly through the Glenorchy Air website. I ended up doing the Coach Cruise Fly package as it would allow to experience Milford Sound and the surrounding area the best. The package is about $719NZD ($450USD) per person which includes the bus tour through the national forest, an hour long boat tour with a buffet lunch, and of course the flight back from Milford Sound directly to Queenstown airport which also includes a free shuttle back to your hotel.
This is not a commercial flight and there really isn't any security to speak of when boarding the flight. However you must watch the weather, the flight will not operate during low clouds or bad weather and it's important to know that you must call to confirm your flight. You can book just the flight on your own, if you do that it's your responsibility to call and confirm yourself on the day of to see if the flight is operating, however if you're like me and booked a larger day tour that includes the flight the bus driver handles all that for you as well as escorting you from the bus to meet up with your pilots to take you back.
If you are boarding from Milford Sound or the Queenstown airport you are picked up and dropped off plane side. There are no security checkpoints or bag searches, instead your pilots act as your full service ground crew to bring you through boarding, safety, and stowage of bags under the airplane. Because this is a small prop plane don't expect any luxuries as you would on a commercial airliner. The air conditioning only works when the plane is on, there are no power plugs or tray tables. However you conveniently do have a sick bag, and if you get queasy easily you're going to need it.
As with my New York float plane review, the seat is almost identical. It's quite narrow and depending on which row you sit in there may be a lot or a little leg room. Thankfully these flights only last about 45 minutes so the views and the experience that you will see makes up for the tightness of the seats. There is as well a shoulder harness much like in a car, and it is very much needed as we hit some updrafts that jostled us around in the airplane.
The only service that you receive is from your two pilots upfront, there are no flight attendants or gate staff to help you out. My pilots were extremely friendly and knowledgeable. As you're flying they give you commentary on the surrounding features and you can ask them questions, however with the sound of the engine you'll really have to yell a bit louder than you should, so any questions that were asked included a lot of pointing out the window and asking what they were flying over.
As mentioned this is a small plane and there is no electronic IFE screens, there is however a large window and I will guarantee that your face will be glued to it the entire time. I couldn't stop staring out of the window, the way the snow capped mountains had quite the sharp peaks on them and the way that they went on for miles and miles in every direction was absolutely stunning. The craziest thing was the take off, you have to ramp up and use full power to take off of this short runway, and when you take off you're launched over Milford sound while you do some steep climbing turns to be able to get above the mountain tops before you can start turning towards your destination.
After that, depending on the day, it can be a roller coaster on the passenger seat as the airplane is pushed up and down by the wind. It was a strong windy day and what happens is all that wind rushes from the water and hits those mountains and it launched straight up, so when you crest those mountains you're forced up and down by the air. A few times I felt like I was weightless, but it was always pretty brief and only lasted for about 10-15 minutes before it smoothed out closer to our destination.
I can't stop telling friends and family about this trip. Queenstown is an absolutely stunning place to visit. If you like outdoors and enjoy massive landscapes of scenery I would highly encourage you to go on the Milford Sound tour that I booked. There are a lot of operators that do tours just like this one but during my extensive research to find the best one Glenorchy Air stood out. They seemed to have the best busses, the best boat, and the best airplane to experience this amazing part of New Zealand with.