FLOATING ON AIR

If you enjoy a bit of luxury and want to feel like a rock star, there’s only one way to see the Bay of Plenty – from high above in a helicopter! Aerius Helicopters, based at Tauranga Airport, operate scenic flights right across our beautiful coastal region and beyond.  

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You can book a 20 minute flight to take in spectacular views of Mauao, Tauranga Harbour, the CBD, oceans, beaches, farmland, hills and orchards. Or you can venture further afield for 2+ hours and fly over Rotorua’s mighty Mt Tarawera or Whakaari (White Island) off the coast of Whakatāne, or explore the Coromandel coastline.  

“We have exclusive landing rights at a secluded private beach in the Coromandel where people can hop out and take photos,” says Aerius Helicopter Manager and Pilot Dave Rayner. “A lot of the scenery you just can’t see by road. It’s so rugged – you’ve got towering cliffs for miles on end and crystal clear water that’s turquoise blue. It’s incredible to see it from the air.” 

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Aerius Helicopters has also teamed up with Mills Reef and Leveret Estate near Aongatete to offer an exclusive wine tasting experience. Passengers are flown to the estate and enjoy fine wines and picnic grazing platter before returning to the airport. The two hour trip costs $330 per person while other scenic tour options start from $235 per person. 

Dave loves the diverse landscape on offer in the Bay of Plenty and has been flying helicopters here, and in Queenstown, for 20 years. 

“I grew up in Auckland close to Whenuapai air base so we always saw plenty of aircraft and helicopters coming and going.  

“When I was eight, the world rally championship came to New Zealand. You had all these international rally cars racing through the forest and then lots of helicopters filming and chasing them along. So as an 8 year-old, that was quite an adrenaline overload and I become hooked.” 

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Aerius Helicopters began in 2004 when the business owner, Graeme McKenzie, bought a small chopper to use as frost protection on his kiwifruit orchard.  

“He always had a passion for the tourism industry and wanted to help put Tauranga on the map so decided to launch a helicopter tour company as well,” Dave explains. 

Two sleek black AS350 Squirrel helicopters now fly passengers year-round. Around 80 percent of clients are Kiwis, while Australian visitors and cruise ship passengers are also frequent flyers. 

“We’ve always had a strong domestic market as lots of Kiwis come here for their summer holidays. People like to book a flight to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, get their wedding photos taken or as a luxury transfer to lodges and weekend getaways.  

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“We get a lot of wedding proposals too. A few years back one guy wrote ‘will you marry me’ on the sand around the far side of Mauao. Everyone was taking pictures of it and it was in the paper. We got to take the couple in question up in the air so she could see it. It was pretty special.” 

For many, the experience is the first time they’ve ever flown in a helicopter. Dave says nerves quickly evaporate and they’re transfixed by the incredible views. 

“It’s very different from going up in a small plane as there’s no runway. You just go straight up in the air so you feel like you’re floating.” 

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