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Learning a vocation is reasonably common for most, dedicating oneself to earning a qualification before pursuing a career in the field of choice. On the other hand, having one passed down is rare. Being born into it, growing up around it, and naturally developing expertise. A craft running through one’s veins. 


Nature on Steroids


Glacier Country Helicopters, run by Gus and Poppy Gordon, is family-owned and operated in the beautiful town of Franz Josef Glacier. While she wasn’t soaring above stunning peaks and glaciers, I caught up with Poppy to learn about the wonderful things they do.  


Glacier Country Helicopters


Where in Franz Josef are you located?

Poppy: Our office is at 10 Main Road. Then, we take off from our private airstrip, right in front of the Mid Waiho Loop, the glacier’s last great push. 


How long have you been operating for?

Poppy: Over 10 years! We took over the business in 2014, but we both come from families of helicopter pilots. Gus has been in the industry for 30 years, and I’ve been flying for 15. Also, my father had a helicopter company here, and Gus’s grandfather flew in World Wars One and Two. So it’s a long lineage of aviators. 


That’s incredible! So, it was just a natural occurrence. 

Poppy: Yes! I grew up in this area, so this has been my backyard since I was a baby. We’ve got a whole family of helicopter operators. My father was a helicopter pilot, my brother is a helicopter pilot, I’m a helicopter pilot, and I’m married to a helicopter pilot. You might say it’s in the genes (laughs).


Glacier Country Helicopters, West Coast, NZ


How many people are on your team?

Poppy: We have ten full-time and casual staff members. We’re a tiny, local, family-owned and operated team. 


And you recently received quite a deserving accolade, right?

Poppy: Yes! Last year, we received the Trip Advisor 2023 Travellers’ Choice Award



Poppy: Thank you! That puts us in the top ten per cent of activities to do on Trip Advisor. We all work really hard and care so much about our clients, which is reflected in our reviews. We’re really proud to see that effort and hard work pay off.  


Scenic Flight, West Coast, NZ


Can you describe your best day on the job?

Poppy: Every day is a happy day! Flying around those glaciers ensures no two days are the same. Our whole team gets a real high from showcasing the beauty this area has to offer and watching people take it all in with beaming smiles on their faces. It’s such a privilege and a really enjoyable job. We’re very blessed.


What’s your favourite part about living and working here in Glacier Country?

Poppy: The scenery is next level! Intense mountains, glaciers and the sea are all in very close proximity to each other. There’s a lot to take in and a lot to do. So it’s just about getting out and amongst that.


Scenic Helicopter Flight, Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, NZ


Can you tell us what your favourite New Zealand plant, animal, or insect is and why?

Poppy: I’d probably have to say Kea (NZ Mountain Parrot). We work with ZIP as part of their program to eradicate introduced predators and protect native wildlife, so we work with Kea quite a bit. So, I guess we’ve developed a bond with them. They’re intelligent birds and cheeky too – they were squawking behind our house this morning (laughs). 


What do you do exactly while trying to protect them?

Poppy: Before ZIP does a drop targeting invasive predators, we deliver animal carcasses to attract the kea to set sites around the Southern Alps. We then place a lookalike bait pellet which has specifically been made with bird repellent to teach them not to eat the pellets. Our role is to help train the kea to stay safe when ZIP drops the real bait for the predators and pests they are targeting. So, we’re kind of like Uber Eats for the kea in a sense!

Kea, Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, NZ

Credit: Geoff Marks

And working with ZIP isn’t your only environmental effort, correct? 

Poppy: That’s right! We’re actively working to become carbon neutral, which we thought might have been challenging for a helicopter company. But after looking into it and seeing that it’s possible, we decided to make it happen. We’re currently working with a consultant to figure out how to reduce our remaining footprint beyond the carbon taxes we pay and carbon credits we purchase. We’re not quite there yet, but we are doing everything we can to fly around New Zealand’s beautiful areas in a conscious manner so that we’re not destroying the planet at the same time.


Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?

Poppy: Yes, another highlight is flying into the Middleton. We’ve got a landing site called the Middleton Snowfield. It’s just so beautiful there, and people love it. I get a kick out of telling them that Gus and I actually got married there. We flew up, me in my big white wedding dress and gumboots, and got married in the Middleton Snowfield. That’s a little something about our backyard that we like to share with people, and they just love it.

Terrific! And it wouldn’t be very West Coast without those gumboots.


Glacier Country Helicopters, Franz Josef Glacier, NZ


Poppy: I’d also like to reiterate that we’re a very small, passionate team. As a local family operating in our backyard, we know the area well. Our highly qualified pilots have plenty of experience, but we all pitch in where needed. If we aren’t flying, we’re at the front desk, everyone doing their part. That family dynamic within our team and how much we care about and love what we do seems important to our clients. We see this mentioned a lot in our reviews. 


That’s a big deal. I think people are moving away from larger, more corporate operations and seeking something more authentic and intimate, which is precisely what they’ll get with you. 


Poppy: Absolutely! You aren’t just another bum on the seat with us. We love what we do, showcasing New Zealand’s best. We have scenery on steroids, including glaciers and the country’s highest mountains. And we have the best tools to show you around in the most exciting way. So come and see us. We can’t wait to fly with you!


What are you waiting for? 

Glacier Country Helicopters is located at 10 Main Road, Franz Josef. Drop in to see Poppy, Gus, and the team, or get in touch to get a new perspective on things. 

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Mike Bilodeau is a freelance writer focused on ecotourism and sustainable travel.