Epic adventures over Kaikoura

Kaikoura-based South Pacific Helicopters is a company that triumphed over adversity to provide international and domestic visitors with unique flight experiences above coastal and inland Kaikoura.

Established in September 2016 by helicopter pilot Daniel Stevenson and his wife Monique, the company was open for just six weeks offering whale watch flights before the Kaikoura earthquake struck. The visitor business plan was shelved and the team went straight into rebuild mode, providing helicopter support and transport for the recovery effort.

In the period that followed Daniel and Monique continued to evolve South Pacific Helicopters alongside the rebuild, collaborating with local businesses to showcase Kaikoura as a destination, setting up a pop-up base in ‘downtown’ Kaikoura, recruiting new staff, and joining Qualmark.

“To really evolve the business and market ourselves to the world it was essential that we joined Qualmark. Despite having a very new team and only operating in our full capacity for about four months at the time of the Qualmark assessment, we were confident that we would get at least a silver endorsement [which it achieved]. We had a very clear idea of what we needed to prepare. As a helicopter company we have very strict health and safety policies in place, which are governed by the Civil Aviation Authority. This put us in a very good position in terms of reservations, health and safety, and business systems for the assessment,” says Hine King, South Pacific Helicopters’ Sales and Marketing Manager.

“Environmental sustainability is a primary focus for our team – and also for Qualmark. As a helicopter company this poses challenges but we have reduced our footprint through selecting helicopters with reduced fuel consumption and noise reduction, establishing our own recycling programme, and supporting initiatives such as Trees for Travellers, whereby visitors donate a native tree to plant on a local Kaikoura reserve. We’re also very selective about our tours and have a strong education component teaching travellers about the areas we fly to and the importance of ‘leaving only footprints’.”

Qualmark Tourism Business Advisor Peter Clinton-Baker says he was impressed with the company’s culture and focus on excellence during his assessment.

“South Pacific Helicopters has a great business model and is a company that has the potential to be at the top of its game. The team has shown incredible resiliency and really has its systems nailed down. I can see it going from strength to strength.”

Since the initial Qualmark assessment, South Pacific Helicopters has evolved its customer service and environmental sustainability processes further and recently bought the iconic Kaikoura company, Wings over Whales – a move that will see it establish a permanent base at Kaikoura Airport and add fixed wing aircraft flights to its visitor offerings.

“Our overarching success has been attributed by our company culture, willingness to succeed, collaborate with like-minded tour operators and celebrating Kaikoura as a destination. We’re really looking forward to this next stage of the company’s evolution and providing travellers with authentic, quality ‘epic’ experiences that are meaningful and sustainable,” says Hine.