An aerial view of Lake Whakatipu surrounded by mountains
Things to do

Scenic flights from Queenstown

Guide by Jo Williams

Last Updated 25 January 2024

If you think the views around Queenstown are remarkable from the ground, you have to see them from above!

If you’re looking to book a scenic flight in Queenstown, there is a wide range of options to choose from. In fact, it can be a little overwhelming to know which one to choose.

There are two main types of scenic flights from Queenstown; helicopter and fixed-wing. Each offers differences in not only flight cost and duration, but also where you can land. Helicopters are often more expensive, but they can land in wonderfully remote places that planes can’t reach.

However, small planes can offer many of the same spectacular views, and are better for larger families and groups as they come in everything from 6 seater to 13 seater aircraft. They are also more accessible for those with strollers and wheelchairs.

Helicopter approaching a glacier near Queenstown

Of course, booking a scenic flight in Queenstown is highly recommended if you’re short on time (with many flights taking less than an hour), but there are also some full day tours that will help you to explore places you just couldn’t get to in a day on foot or by car. In this guide we look at all of the different options.

A note on the weather

It’s a good idea to book your flight in advance, preferably near the beginning of your Queenstown trip, so there’s plenty of time to rebook if the weather isn’t great. Usually if the aircraft cannot fly due to the weather conditions, you can transfer your booking to another day for free (or get a full refund).

By booking through our links to Get Your Guide and Viator, you can cancel your reservation, for any reason, right up to 24 hours before the departure time, and a full refund will be made.

A scenic flight above Milford Sound, New Zealand

Scenic flights from Queenstown to Milford Sound

There are a few different options when it comes to visiting Milford Sound from Queenstown on a scenic flight. You can take in the sights from a small plane, a helicopter, or choose to land at Milford Sound and take a cruise and either fly, or take the coach back.

It’s a great way of saving time if you are visiting Milford Sound from Queenstown, especially if you only have a small window of time to book in your visit. Flying also offers absolutely incredible views that you just can’t get from land, with natural wonders such as Mitre Peak, Bowen Falls, and Mount Pembroke.

Fly over Milford Sound from Queenstown by plane

One of the most popular ways to see Milford Sound from Queenstown if you’re short on time, is a 1-hour round-trip flight. See the UNESCO-listed landscapes in the Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound from above on a scenic flight.

Operated by Milford Sound Scenic Flights, you can choose from multiple departure times throughout the day as this tour is so popular, it also includes a pick-up from your hotel and all transfers. This flight is wheelchair accessible.

Milford Sound from Queenstown by helicopter (plus stops)

Jumping up in the price range, you can also opt to take a helicopter to Milford Sound with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters. This is a great option as you will actually get to land in Milford, and go out on a short nature walk.

There’s another bonus stop on a glacier too, along with a fantastic commentary throughout from the local pilot.

It’s still a quick trip at around one and a half to two hours (depending on the weather), but this way you get to experience Fiordland up close. This tour will also include bus transfers from selected locations in Queenstown, so you don’t have to worry about having your own transport.

Half-day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound by air

If you have a little more time on your hands, you should absolutely add in a cruise in Milford Sound. You can avoid the long drive from Queenstown to Milford, and still get to enjoy the iconic sights from the water.

The fixed-wing plane has a maximum of 13 travellers, so there’s plenty of room to enjoy the views. Plus you will fly back along a different route to experience  even more of that epic mountain scenery.

Operated by True South Flights, it’s one of the best value scenic flights of Milford Sound too - you get the cruise for just $90 extra than the round-trip flight. This flight is wheelchair accessible.

You can also do a ‘Drive-Cruise-Fly’ to Milford Sound that includes a coach trip on the way there and a flight on the way back; but it’s not worth it in our opinion as it costs more (NZ$ 689) and takes around 10 hours.

Milford Sound fjord cruise & helicopter glacier landing

Another alternative, again slightly more expensive than the plane option, is the same trip via helicopter.

This way you will also get to land on the glacier, take the scenic cruise, and have more room on board.

Everyone can have a go in the window seat in a small helicopter like this as there is a maximum of just 6 passengers.

There’s also an in-flight commentary, as with the other helicopter tour, and all transfers are included.

Looking down at mountain reflections in a lake

Scenic flights around Queenstown

If Milford Sound seems like a bit of a trek from Queenstown (or is simply too expensive), there are many other stunning flights closer to town.

Hop on a short, 25-minute taster to see the spectacular views across Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, or take a longer flight over the rugged Skippers Canyon. Otherwise, take a helicopter ride over the mountains and land on an otherwise inaccessible glacier or a remote peak for photos in the snow.

Pilot’s Choice

One of the cheapest helicopter rides from Queenstown is the ‘Pilot's Choice’ flight.

On a quick 25-minute trip with The Helicopter Line, you will pass by the Remarkables mountain range (the tallest mountain range in the Wakatipu Basin), Lake Wakatipu, and part of the gloriously stunning Southern Alps. There’s an informative commentary from the pilot, and plenty of time to take pictures and enjoy the ride.

You will make a quick stop at around 1,538 metres above Lake Wakatipu, to look out at the magnificent view from a mountain ledge. This twin-engine helicopter seats just six passengers, so you'll have plenty of room to move around and see all of the beautiful scenery.

Helicopter glacier landing

Several different companies offer a glacier landing experience from Queenstown. But the best-known in the business has to be Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters.

With experience in the worldwide film industry, such as Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible: Fallout and providing many of the aerial shots in the filming of The Lord of the Rings, the pilots have a lot of experience when it comes to flying a helicopter in dangerous places - and the stories to go with it.

Taking a scenic route through Paradise Valley, over ice formations and mountain tops, you will come in to land on top of Clarke Glacier. There’s plenty of time to take snaps on one of the region's largest glaciers, during this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Earnslaw Burn

For a chance to spot the unique ‘hanging’ glacier at Earnslaw Burn, head out on this scenic 50-minute helicopter ride with Glacier Southern Lakes.

You will also get the chance to get up close to dramatic waterfalls, and land on the Clarke Glacier where you can walk on a frozen river of ice.

Again, as its Glacier Southern Lakes, fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit may be lucky enough to fly with one of the pilots involved in the filming.

You may recognise the north-western slopes of Mount Earnslaw as they featured in the opening sequence of The Two Towers.

Skippers Canyon

An integral part of Central Otago’s gold rush era, Skippers Canyon was once the wilderness home of many prospectors.

These landscapes are even more unforgiving from up above, flying over them gives you a real insight into how isolated and tough mining life could be in the late 19th century.

Highlights of this trip include flying over Coronet Peak and travelling through the deep canyons as you follow the Shotover River.

You will also get to stop for a quick alpine landing on a snow-capped mountain peak. Flights are in a modern 6-seater Airbus Squirrel helicopter, and pickups and transfers are included.

Mt Aspiring National Park glaciers

Operated by The Helicopter Line Queenstown, this 50 minute helicopter flight takes you from the low-lying Wakatipu Basin to the heights of Mount Aspiring.

Traversing the Southern Alps that divide the South Island, you will get amazing views over Mount Aspiring with its ancient glacial icefalls and wild native forest.

The experienced pilots will provide insightful commentary, and might even offer to take some photos during your mountain-top landing!

Flying over Tasman Lake in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Further afield - other scenic flights from Queenstown

There are plenty of amazing options for scenic flights around Queenstown, but if you want to go just a little further you can see even more of New Zealand's top attractions.

Flights from Queenstown to Mt Cook

Take a scenic flight to Mount Cook with Glenorchy Air to see three of the country's most spectacular glaciers in just one flight.

Highlights of this epic day trip from Queenstown include New Zealand’s largest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook, aerial views of the Franz and Fox Glaciers, and 4 hours of free time to explore the surroundings of Mount Cook village.

Fly from Queenstown to Franz Josef & Tasman Glaciers

The Southern Alps are home to over 3000 small glaciers, but by far the most famous is the mighty Franz Josef Glacier.

After a small plane flight to Mount Cook, you will jump in a helicopter to get up onto Franz Joseph.

Known as one of the best things to do in New Zealand, you will get to trek out onto the glacier and explore the ever-changing ice caves on this disappearing national treasure.

From Queenstown you can also take the fixed-wing flight to Mount Cook, then switch to a helicopter, to spend the day hiking on New Zealand's highest glacier - Tasman Glacier.

True South Flights offer both of these incredible experiences, spending around 2 hours on the glacier itself. A professional guide, hiking boots and crampons are all provided.

Scenic flights to Stewart Island

Just off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Stewart Island is famous for its diverse wildlife and interesting Māori heritage.

Get the chance to fully explore with five hours of free time included on Glenorchy Air’s Stewart Island day trip from Queenstown.

Top things to do on Stewart Island include spotting native brown kiwi birds in Rakiura National Park, taking a cruise around Ulva Island, or visiting Oban.

The trip includes an introduction to the island from your pilot, pickup from your hotel and return flights in a small 6 seater plane.