Cultural Heritage

Te Waipounamu, Southwest NZ Cultural Heritage

Wanaka Helicopters scenic helicopter flights encompass some of the most varied and beautiful scenery to be found – not only in New Zealand but also the world.

The Fiordland & Mount Aspiring National Parks are part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site which is inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it’s superlative natural phenomenon, exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

Our pilots are familar and knowledgeable with the history and geography of the routes we fly within these parks.

Early Maori’s began to explore Fiordland about 800 years ago and remnants of the major tribe Ngatimamoe remain. They were pursued by Ngaitahu tribesmen in the late 18th century and two battles were said to be fought in the far southwest which was called Rakitume ‘the threatening sky’. The survivors fled into remote Fiordland and disappeared becoming known as the lost tribe or wild natives.

In Maori legend, the fiords were not created by rivers of ice, but by Tu Te Raki Whanoa, a godly figure who came wielding a magical adze and uttering incantations. Maori named it Piopiotahi after the native Thrush – Piopio, a bird that lost it’s mate, the god Maui, and came to Milford to mourn. Although called a Sound, it is more accurately classified a Fiord and is situated in Fiordland National ParK.

Europeans approached Fiordland from the cold sea’s of the South and West. Captain Cook took Endeavor in close to Doubtful Sound in 1770 but due to weather was forced to sail away. He returned in 1773 and left a rich legacy of information and observation which fascinates us to this day.

The Milford Track was cut in the years proceeding 1877 by explorers including the legendary Donald Sutherland and Quinton MacKinnon who was given credit for discovering the pass on the track before tragically drowning in Lake Te Anau in 1892.

Gold mining and prospecting also lured people to Fiordland in the late 1800’s with a small rush in 1886 at Martin’s Bay and in the 1900’s cray fisher’s began to arrive, booming in 1950’s and 60’s.

The most important commercial activity in Fiordland today is tourism. People come from all over the world to experience its magnificent natural features. The Milford and Routeburn tracks are amongst the most scenic in the world.