From gliding over the Great Barrier Reef to soaring above Uluru and getting an aerial view of Sydney Harbour, sometimes the best way to see Australia is from the air.
An aerial view is sometimes the only way to fully appreciate the scale and beauty of a landscape, and with Australia’s vast size, a scenic flight lets you cover maximum terrain in minimum time. Though not the cheapest way to sightsee, soaring with the eagles offers a viewpoint so unique and striking you’ll be promising yourself you should do it more often. Here are our top picks from around the country.
Wilpena Pound and Lake Eyre
Flinders Ranges – SA
Wilpena Pound is an amphitheatre of serrated mountains around 17 kilometres long and eight kilometres wide but it’s only from above that you can grasp its striking crater-like appearance and begin to imagine how the slow folding of sedimentary layers around 800 million years old once created it.
Surrounding the Pound, mountain ranges such as the Heysen and Elder also snake across the endless orange outback. An alternative route from Wilpena flies over Lake Eyre, by far Australia’s largest lake at 9500 square kilometres. Though usually dry and encrusted with salt, occasional floods attract seas of birds and wildflowers.
Great Barrier Reef
Cairns – QLD
The world’s largest coral reef system becomes a swirling patchwork of colour when seen from above. Shallow reefs are highlighted in green and aqua, while sapphire blue reveals deep water and small coral cays stand out as yellow dollops dotted with palm trees.
Flying at around 150 metres above the reef makes spotting dolphins, turtles and rays possible, with flights at low tide offering the best view. During winter months, whales make an appearance too. Optional touchdowns at floating pontoons allow for snorkelling and scuba diving to get face to face with the reef’s inhabitants. Extend your flight from Cairns to swoop over the Daintree Rainforest and you’ll tick off two World Heritage areas in one trip.
Find out more through GBR Helicopters
Kununurra – WA
In Western Australia’s far north sprawls a rugged wilderness dotted with rivers, waterfalls, ancient mountain ranges and gorges, all hemmed in by the Timor Sea. The Kimberley is enormous – nearly twice the size of Victoria – but a scenic flight can capture its essence and highlights in a day or two.
Various routes take in the Bungle Bungle Range (banded beehive-shaped rock towers), spectacular Mitchell Falls, Lake Argyle (famous for its diamond mine), the Ord River and Wolfe Creek Crater. Extended itineraries allow for hiking, 4WD and overnight stays. April to September provides the smoothest flying conditions while waterfalls and wetlands are best March to June.
Cradle Mountain – TAS
The rugged Tasmanian wilderness can be a challenging and inhospitable place to explore but take to the skies and you can see it all without breaking a sweat. This World Heritage area is home to some of the state’s biggest peaks including Mt Ossa, Tasmania’s highest at 1617 metres.
In summer, the rocky and mountainous landscape pocked with alpine lakes is swathed in green, while in winter virgin snow blankets the peaks. Start off with a jaunt around the rocky spine of Cradle Mountain with Dove Lake nestled at its base, or fly south to head deeper into the wild with views of Frenchman’s Cap, the Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour.
Find out more through Cradle Mountain Helicopters
Great Ocean Road
Port Campbell – VIC
The Great Ocean Road is one of Victoria’s busiest tourist regions but hop in a helicopter and you’ll have a private view of this stunning coastline. The pounding of the Southern Ocean against sandstone cliffs has created numerous striking features such as the water-bound sandstone stacks of the Twelve Apostles, the impressive arch of London Bridge and the sheltered haven of Loch Ard Gorge.
Extend your flight to head all the way to Cape Otway to take in all that the Shipwreck Coast has to offer including the Bay of Islands and Australia’s oldest working lighthouse.
Find out more through 12 Apostles Helicopters
Sydney – NSW
One of the world’s most picturesque cities, Sydney is graced by a sprawling blue harbour and the architectural wonders of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but navigating around it at ground level can be a challenge.
A view from above reveals the city in all its glory, scattered around the winding harbour coastline, while yachts and ferries streak trails of whitewash behind them. Short flights also include the golden swathe of Bondi Beach, while longer routes head inland over the ruggedly dramatic Blue Mountains.
Find out more through Sydney Heli Tours
Nitmiluk National Park
Katherine – NT
Bordering Kakadu, this national park sprawls nearly 3000 square kilometres across arid stone country, largely inaccessible except for the odd hiking trail and 4WD track. Here, you’ll get an aerial view of the vast rocky plateau of the Arnhem Land Escarpment and Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine Gorge) which carves a passage through sheer orange sandstone for 12 kilometres.
Seventy metre high walls funnel water over rapids and drops to pass through 13 separate gorges. Waterfalls are in full flow during the wet season (November to April) while during the dry (April to October) you can opt to touch down for a swim in your own private wilderness rock pool.
Find out more through Nitmiluk Tours
Yulara – NT
Uluru is popularly pictured side-on, appearing as a roughly oblong block of orange rock, but from above its chunky and slightly more rounded shape is revealed. Enormous grooves in the sandstone catch the light, casting deep shadows particularly in the early morning and late afternoon.
This monolith rises from the Great Sandy Desert – a spectacular sight in itself – and spotting wild camels from above is a possibility. A modest $120 will start you off with 20 minutes of airtime but longer options will also include Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Kings Canyon, the meteorite crater of Gosses Bluff and the salt pans of Lake Amadeus.
Find out more through Helicopter Group