The Grand Tour

Glenorchy Air likes to suggest that every seat in its aircraft fleet is a window seat. Just as well really, as the operation services some of the most spectacular routes in the world. From the moment you take off, you won’t want to miss a thing.

Aug 12, 2022

For some of the best views on offer in the country, you want one of the best aircraft available to show them off. In the hands of a skilled pilot with immense local knowledge, Glenorchy Air’s Cessna Grand Caravan EX and the iconic vistas awaiting at Milford Sound are a match made in heaven.

And the man at the controls of Glenorchy Air’s Cessna Grand Caravan EX 14-seater today certainly ensures we don’t. It’s not every day you get flown to your destination by an airline’s top brass, but up front our own personal aerial tour guide today is none other than Glenorchy Air’s owner and managing director, James Stokes.

A Queenstown local, James’ passion for and knowledge of the stunning alpine region he flies through every day is obvious from the moment the trusty turboprop’s wheels leave the runway. This is ‘Scenic’ with a capital ‘S’. And James knows every square metre of the dramatic topography below us.

The generous glasshouse of the Cessna Grand Caravan EX provides for truly jaw-dropping vistas in every direction. We are particularly blessed with a bluebird day for flying: the chatter among fixed- and rotor-wing pilots in the area heard through our headsets during our journey suggesting that even they are impressed with the stunning conditions. James manoeuvres ZK-MMZ to afford us grandstand views of the ice plateaus, glaciers and peaks of the Darran Mountains and Barrier Range, Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls, the distant shining Tasman Sea and, as we draw nearer to our destination at Milford Sound, the iconic waterfalls and sheer mountain passes of the fjord.

In highlighting the many natural wonders below us, what else becomes increasingly obvious as we make our way to our destination is the incredible precision and talent James brings to flying.

A CAA certificated Airline Flight Examiner with years of mountain flying experience and a background in flight instruction of both private and commercial pilots, James has served as both a regular pilot for Glenorchy Air, as well as its Training Captain and Flight Examiner. In 2019 he realised a lifelong ambition when he purchased the respected family business.

ZK-MMZ isn’t Glenorchy Air’s first or only Cessna. But with a solid reputation for reliability, a modern technology feature set and a well thought out interior that gives it the payload performance of a bigger craft, James is very enthusiastic about the company’s latest fleet addition.

“The Grand Caravan is just so smooth, so effortlessly placeable too. It really flatters whoever is at the controls,” he says somewhat modestly. “You can see why it’s such a popular model.”

The 867hp Cessna Grand Caravan EX is known for its dependable and efficient performance by regional airlines, charter operators and cargo carriers worldwide. The popular turboprop was engineered for challenging missions, high payloads, and short runways. And it goes about its business for companies like Glenorchy Air while delivering impressive economy and simplicity, helping keep the bottom line in check.

Being supremely fit-for-purpose on short runways and offering impressive climb capability makes it the perfect tool of trade in these environs. We are reminded of that as we descend into Milford Sound, the towering mountains we were looking down upon moments ago – iconic Mitre Peak among them – now crowding the horizon in stunningly steep fashion above us.

Remarkably though, this unforgettable trip isn’t over yet. As part of the ‘Fly-Cruise-Fly’ Milford Sound experience partnership between Glenorchy Air and Southern Discoveries Cruises, we’re leaving airspace behind for the next couple of hours and taking to the water in spectacular style.

With the Grand Caravan EX parked, James escorts us from the short runway over to the Milford Sound Visitor Centre, where we board a Southern Discoveries cruise for a ‘bucket list’ trip from one end of beautiful Milford Sound to the other.

The landscape is otherworldly, filled with inaccessible bush clad cliffs crisscrossed by dramatic waterfalls. If you’re lucky, dolphins might even escort your Southern Discoveries vessel as you head out to the Tasman Sea entrance and back again. And of course, at the cruise’s conclusion, you then have the return flight to Queenstown – via a different route – to look forward to as well.

If a scenic daytrip is something you crave, the ‘Fly-Cruise-Fly’ experience is completely out of the box. It’s a reminder that, for a little country, New Zealand can certainly deliver big landscapes.

The journey is also a reminder of the comfort and versatility of Cessna aircraft. And those all-important window seats.

Backed by Textron Aviation, the world’s third largest aircraft manufacturer boasting a 90-year history, Cessna offers advanced product and flight training for its comprehensive model line-up, with Textron Aviation priding itself on a superior 24-hour parts and service offering around the world. Even for clients like James and Glenorchy Air, here in the rugged and beautiful south of the south.

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