Wellington Helicopters: from CBD to seal colony in 15 minutes

Take an exhilarating helicopter ride to explore the rugged, isolated beauty of Wellington’s South Coast


Waterfront precinct


Shed 1, 19 Jervois Quay
Te Aro

Taking off from Wellington Helicopters’ helipad at Wellington waterfront on Queens Wharf, the helicopter quickly darts upwards and across the city and out towards the South Coast.

Soon, the wind farm at Makara comes into view, the stark white modern structures in contrast with the green of the hills and shifting blues of the sea and sky. The turbines stand at 111 metre-tall but it’s hard to get a sense of their immenseness when you’re looking down from above and everything is reduced to doll-house proportions.

We follow the line of the coast, where the green pasture and tussock lands drop off steeply and jaggedly to the rocky foreshore below. The water of the Cook Strait below is an incredible turquoise, skimmed with white caps and bodies of kelp breathing below the surface. The landscape feels wild, untamed and fresh out of the can.

As we fly, our pilot Dai Daniel gives a running commentary, pointing out landmarks and dropping interesting facts He points out the Karori Light, aka the Leaning Lighthouse was built in 1915 to alert nautical passersby to the Karori Rock lying underneath on this treacherous stretch of the coastline which claimed the Penguin steamer in 1909 with the loss of 72 lives.

As the helicopter lowers into landing on a rocky outcrop onshore, it becomes apparent that the large seal-shaped rocks are in fact, New Zealand fur seals. Winter is the best time for seal spotting, as the colony descends along the South Coast to claim their favourite rocks for sunbathing.

It’s July when we visit and there are dozens of seals sunbathing on the rocks. We stand back and happily gaze at the seals from a safe distance as they lie in the sun, yawn and flip over or sigh as they heave themselves from their rocks and into the clear water of the Cook Strait.

Across the water, we can see the dark silhouettes of the Marlborough Sounds with the snow-capped peaks of the Kaikoura Range and Southern Alps in the distance. Dai points out the entrance to Tory Channel, the route that the interisland ferries take on their daily trips between Wellington and Picton.

Strapped back into our seats, we’re back in the air and continuing along the coastline, spotting the substation associated with the Cook Strait Cable and Terawhiti Station, a historical sheep farm. Landing back at Queens Wharf, the helicopter does an impressive downward corkscrew spiral, a necessary manoeuvre to ensure we avoid getting in the way of Wellington Airport flight paths.

Back in the city, it’s a rush to think that were recently wandering a remote piece of Wellington coastline and breathing in fresh, salty air. We go have a local craft beer at a nearby waterfront bar and raise a toast to our fur seal mates back on the rocks on the South Coast.

Lunch at a luxury lodge

Fly over the spectacular Cook Strait coastline, Remutaka Range and Orongorongo Valley before arriving at Palliser Bay, home to Wharekauhau Lodge, where a gourmet five-course lunch matched with award-winning wine awaits you. 

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