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How to Pick the Best Mount Cook Helicopter Ride

How to Pick the Best Mount Cook Helicopter Ride

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Choosing the best Mount Cook helicopter tour can be confusing, especially with all the different routes and companies available. So, here’s everything you need to know about a Mount Cook Helicopter flight and how to choose the best scenic flight in Mount Cook.

Mount Cook National Park is one of the most beautiful places on New Zealand’s South Island! The sharp sudden rise of the Southern Alps along with the many glaciers and the turquoise lakes that they feed into, make this one magical place.

Thousands of people visit Mount Cook National Park every year and enjoy the views from the many hiking trails in the area.

However, to truly get the best views, a scenic Mount Cook helicopter flight is hands down the best way. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best things to do in Mt Cook / Aoraki!

Here’s everything you need to know about a scenic helicopter ride in Mount Cook National Park and how to choose to best one for you!

About Mount Cook Helicopter Rides

When it comes to picking the BEST Mount Cook helicopter flight for you, your budget is going to be one of your biggest deciding factors. Let’s face it, they’re not cheap. So deciding how much you’re willing to spend on your Mt Cook scenic flight is your big first step!

The reason?

Well, all flights are charged by time in the air and landings. You see, helicopters are not only expensive to run but also to maintain, so the more air time and landings involved the more you’re going to have to pay!

Standard scenic flight times in Mount Cook start at 25 minutes. These times continue until the longest flight of 50 minutes.

Let’s break it down: To make choosing easier and to get your budget sorted, here’s a guide to what you can expect to pay (in NZD approx) for each flight time:

20 minute helicopter flight – $337pp
30 minute helicopter flight – $434pp
40 minute helicopter flight – $592pp
50 minute helicopter flight – $780pp

These flight prices above will include one landing on a glacier (landings also affect the price). They are estimates but honestly are a great ballpark figure.

The Different Mt Cook Helicopter Tours Available

The mountains that separate the west and east coast of New Zealand on our scenic flight through Mount Cook National Park
The mountains that separate the west and east coast of New Zealand on our scenic flight through Mount Cook National Park

Each flight you take (although set out in time) isn’t going to go wherever you please. Instead, each time period has a planned route that the helicopter has to follow. This is because of flight traffic and safety requirements can’t have 10 helicopters just flying around as they please in Mt Cook.

For instance, I did a 40-minute flight in Mount Cook on my visit. If you too choose that flight we’ll just about take the exact same path and see pretty much the same things!

From looking at the map, the longer flight means the larger the loop you do. On the 25-minute flight, you’ll leave the airport and fly through the valley to Mount Cook before looping back for your landing on the glacier and then back to the airport.

However, on a 50-minute flight, you’ll do the same except you’ll take a trip right over to the west coast and look down at Franz Josef and Fox Glacier before again landing on the glacier and returning to the airport!

The Mount Cook Helicopter Ride I Recommend

A close up of Mount Cook on our scenic helicopter flight
A close-up of Mount Cook on our scenic helicopter flight

Let’s face it, some of you reading this will have a large budget and this flight won’t hurt it! So, if you have the money, I recommend choosing the longest flight!

However, if you’re more like me and to you this is a huge treat then I highly recommend going for the 30-minute flight. It’s the best value flight for $ per minute and enough time to really enjoy the flight. With only 25 minutes you’ll be up and down before you know it.

Another thing to add is that the first 5 minutes of the flight is flying to the mountains from the airport. So the 30-minute flight gives you 20 minutes in the mountains (which is what you came to see!)

Book my recommended 30-minute flight online in advance. These flights do book up in advance so it is vital to book it online ahead of time!

The Best Scenic Mount Cook Helicopter Ride Experience

Another angle of Mount Cook on our scenic flight
Another angle of Mount Cook on our scenic flight

Further below in this guide, I talk about choosing between a helicopter and a plane. Both are very unique and are sure to be an unforgettable experience in New Zealand, but there is one way to get the best of both worlds – and that’s on a helicopter and plane flight through Mount Cook!

On this tour, you’ll not only get the fly through the valley on a helicopter but also land on a glacier on the ski plane!

In my opinion, the ski plane and helicopter tour is a high contender for the best scenic flight in Mt Cook! However, there are a lot of different aspects of each tour so what may be the best for one person may not be for someone else.

Here’s a quick summary of each tour to help you see and compare the main differences:

  • 20 minute helicopter flight – Fly above the Canterbury region, over the Ben Ohau Mountain Range for a quick alpine landing looking directly at Mount Cook.
  • 30 minute helicopter flight – Hover above Fox Glacier, land at the summit above the icefalls, and tour Mount Cook and more of the Southern Alps from the sky before descending through the valley. $90 more for 10 more minutes than the 20-minute flight but it feels less rushed.
  • 40 minute helicopter flight – Go past the Hochstetter Icefall of Mt Cook, then a snow landing above Tasman Glacier, fly through more of Mt Cook before soaring to Mackenzie Basin for views of the Burnett Mountains. Over $100 more than the 30 minute flight.
  • 50 minute helicopter flight – Pass through the glaciers and snowfields of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park with a landing here. Next, fly over the Blue Lakes and the whole length of Tasman Glacier before passing Franz Josef and Fox glaciers and finish with breathtaking views of the summit ridge of Aoraki/Mt Cook. The high ticket price will give you the most relaxed and scenic experience.
  • 45 minute ski plane and helicopter flight – Starting in either a plane or helicopter you’ll fly over Tasman Terminal Lake, and Hochstetter ice fall, and then watch as Mount Cook’s peak comes into view. You’ll have a view over the Tasman Glacier and then land on a mountain peak where the plane or helicopter will shut down for you to experience complete silence. Then transfer aircraft on the way back for different angles. $399 NZD is a great value and cheaper than the 40 minute heli-only flight.

3 Reasons you simply MUST take a Scenic Mount Cook Helicopter Ride

If you’re still unsure about taking a flight around the national park then don’t worry, I have 3 reasons to make the decision that little bit easier!

1. The Stunning Views!

A photo of the west coast from our Mount Cook scenic flight
The views are amazing on any Mount cook scenic flight!

As mentioned above, the views are what truly make the flight so worth it. Mount Cook is not only the tallest mountain in New Zealand but, in my opinion, the most beautiful.

Its sharp peak is picture-perfect and a magnificent sight to see from above!

Aside from seeing Mount Cook, you’re also going to see (depending on your flight) several glaciers including the Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier, wildlife, and so many other mountain peaks you’ll likely lose count!

2. You see a lot in a short amount of time!

Landing on the Tasman Glacier on a Mount Cook helicopter flight!
Landing on the Tasman Glacier on a Mount Cook helicopter flight!

If you (like many visitors) don’t have several days to explore the park, then a Mount Cook helicopter ride is the best way to see large amounts of Mount Cook National Park in of short amount of time.

Within seconds of taking off, you’re already taking in spectacular views and that doesn’t stop the entire flight!

3. It’s a helicopter!

Our Mt Cook helicopter fueling up before leaving
Our Mt Cook helicopter fueling up before leaving

Let’s face it, helicopters are cool as hell to ride in. The feeling of moving through the sky at 200km an hour in a tiny capsule is such an amazing experience!

I am so glad I chose Mount Cook for my first experience as it’s one I’ll never forget!

Related Read: Before you visit the park learn about how to take the famous road photo of Mount Cook!

Plane vs. Helicopter

The Valley floor of Mount Cook National Park from a helicopter tour
The famous valley floor of Mount Cook National Park

Helicopter flights aren’t the only scenic flights available in Mount Cook National Park, planes are also a great way to get some great views!

I have done many small plane flights and really wanted to try the helicopter – which is the main reason I chose it. However, the scenic plane flights actually land on the snow which is something I’ve never done before and also really want to try!

Plane flights are also slightly cheaper, so if you’re looking for a budget option you really get more bang for your buck!

You can book a great scenic plane ride through Mount Cook here.

Company to Book Your Mount Cook Helicopter Ride With

Views of Mount Cook from a helicopter
Views of Mount Cook from a helicopter

In all honesty, I don’t think you can go wrong with any company in Mount Cook. In fact, there are only 3 helicopter companies in the park and they all have really amazing views!

However, for those who really want to have a similar experience as I did, I went with Heli Works. I actually know the pilot’s son and that’s why I chose the company.

Obviously I 100% recommend them to others as the flight was amazing!

Disclosure – This is not a sponsored post nor is any company paying us for a recommendation

You can book your Mount Cook helicopter flight here!

Realated Read: Plan out your NZ road trip with the help of our New Zealand road trip itinerary ideas.

Where to Stay After Your Mount Cook Helicopter Ride

Aoraki Court Hotel, Mount cook National Park
Photo Credit – Aoraki Court Hotel, Mount Cook National Park

Booking stuff way in advance can be annoying and mean less freedom. However, when it comes to helping people book their New Zealand holidays, there are only a very select few places that honestly need to be booked well in advance.

There are only a handful of places to stay in Mount Cook Village so it’s best to book them ASAP as they book up fast (especially in the summer)! Here are your options for places to stay in Mount Cook:

White Horse Hill Campground– This is a DOC caravan park and campground right inside the national park. It costs $13 per person per night. However, they do have specials for students and kids. The campground caters to tents, cars, and motorhomes.

Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park – For around $100 NZD a night this holiday park in Twizel is the most affordable option that you will find pretty much anywhere in the area. Even though it’s a 45-minute drive to Mount Cook it is only a 2-minute walk to the gorgeous Lake Ruataniwha. Note, no matter which size cabin you book all facilities here are shared.

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – The Alpine Lodge is a medium-budget hotel that has stunning views of the surrounding mountains. This is probably the best value hotel in Mount Cook Village and as such, is almost always fully booked.

The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook – The Hermitage is a great hotel and the largest in the park. It’s also where the visitor center is located. It likely has some of the best views in the village! Their onsite restaurant is delicious and offers incredible views while you eat.

Aoraki Court Motel – Another great hotel in the village. It’s actually got the best reviews in Mount Cook Village so you know it’s a great choice!

For more detailed info about the hotels in Mount Cook Village or alternative nearby towns to stay in, check out our blog about where to stay in Mount Cook National Park!

If all hotels in Mount Cook are fully booked, consider booking a hotel in Twizel instead. Twizel is the closest town to Mount Cook and is home to budget hotels. You can search all of the Twizel options here.

Other Things to do in Mount Cook

Bailey at the endof the Sealy Tarns Track staring out at the views of Mount Cook, the hooker Lake and Mueller Lake
Bailey at the end of the Sealy Tarns Track staring out at the views of Mount Cook.

There are PLENTY of other things to do in Mount Cook but here are a few more ideas to look into!

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.

We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.

Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!

Thanks for reading!

three poepl stand on the Hooker Glacier next to a helicopter in Mount Cook National Park
Our glacier landing!

Our visit to Mount Cook is home to some of our fondest memories in New Zealand. The sheer beauty of the national park really takes your breath away. The scenic flight only adds to this already amazing adventure, and to me, it made our trip as great as it was.

Regardless of whether a scenic Mount Cook helicopter ride is in your budget, there are so many other amazing things to do that won’t cost you a penny which we’ve listed below:

The Sealy Tarns Track

The Hooker Valley

The Tasman Valley walk to Tasman Lake

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Amy

Friday 5th of January 2024

Very informative. Thanks for the advice.

Peter Toovey

Wednesday 11th of March 2020

thanks for this very helpful advice, much appreciated