We could buy a lot of stuff with 750 bucks. Depending on the person doing the shopping in our family, that $750 could get spent on a 50-inch television, some expensive shoes, a trampoline, half a dozen American Girl Dolls or an entire case of Beanie Boos. A year ago spending that amount of money on a 30-minute helicopter ride through the Southern Alps would have seemed rather ridiculous to us. If we really have that much money to burn, then why on earth would we drop it on something so short-lived? I mean, for that kind of money think of how many hours we could spend zoning out in front of a better, sleeker TV screen! Or combing the hair of an artificially gorgeous, 18-inch doll with actual horse tail on her head! Or snuggling a cute, little elephant with bizarrely enormous eyeballs. Spending $750 for a ride on a helicopter!? That’s just crazy talk!
Or so we used to think. Somewhere along the way our opinion has changed. As we’ve journeyed across continents, made our way through tiny villages and massive cities, met people from all walks of life, and seen both the best and the worst of humanity, we’ve acquired a very different viewpoint when it comes to how we want to spend our money. Televisions stop working. Clothes go out of style. Toys get forgotten. It’s those valuable life experiences that stay with us. Even if the memories start to fade, our new views of the world remain. Our family has come to believe our money is best spent on the experiences we have together.
For example, take our recent memorable, yet rather expensive day on the west coast of New Zealand. The morning had been spent hiking up to the Franz Josef Glacier. Waterfalls waited for us around every corner. Rocks along the trail begged to be stacked into balanced towers as we approached the massive sheet of white and blue ice looming before us. We even threw in some experiential homeschooling as we read the informational signs describing the glacier’s formation, its geological effects and its recent recession back up the canyon as it melts away.
Throughout our trek we heard the periodic hum of helicopters above us, all taking tourists up for an aerial view of the glacier. We’d looked into doing such a tour, but the schedules were booked several days out, and our go-with-the-flow travel philosophy didn’t allow for such advanced planning. We Carisches like to blow with the wind these days, remember? Nevertheless, we were all a little disappointed we wouldn’t be able to do the aerial tour. I said at one point, “If the experience is meant to happen, a better opportunity will present itself.” Just call me Eckert Tolle.
Ironically, the opportunity did present itself. About an hour north of Franz Joseph we passed a brown sign with a helicopter symbol and an arrow. I quickly flipped a U-turn and soon we were bumping along a gravel road taking us through the woods and into a clearing at the edge of the crystal blue Whataroa River.
Glacier Country Scenic Flights is a small family-run business owned by Kevin Hill and piloted by his son, Josh. It turned out they could take us up after the next tour returned, and Kevin was nice enough to give us an off-season discount. It would be NZ$1000 for our family to have this experience, and in a testament to how this trip has changed us, Brian and I didn’t bat an eye. We knew this money would be well spent.
Before long I was loading into the helicopter with Alison and Emily. Glancing at the spinning propeller blade above me, I thought to myself, “If that thing stops working we’re just a rock in the sky.” (Yes, these are the thoughts that go through my brain, people! How did I ever manage to dive with sharks?) My anxiety subsided when I saw that the interior of the chopper was brand spanking new and immaculately clean. Something told me this little beauty wouldn’t be breaking down on us.
Cruising along at 9,000 feet and being surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks in every direction was utterly indescribable. We all sat with our jaws dropped (literally) as we stared eye-level at the tallest peaks in New Zealand, looked down upon blue crevasses in the ice, and watched our chopper’s shadow glide across the glacier we’d hiked up to earlier that day.
I knew I wasn’t the only one having this sublime experience. Every few seconds Ali’s little hand would tap me on the leg and she’d enthusiastically point to some new beautiful thing she’d just discovered, her over-sized headphones bobbing next to her smiling little face.
After we landed I couldn’t put into words what we’d just seen. As he was getting ready to board the next flight with Liv, Brian asked me, “So, how was it? Did you get to see a few peaks?” I could only smile and nod my head. He would see for himself soon enough.
Our afternoon with Glacier Country Scenic Flights was something our family will never forget. Seeing such a beautiful part of the world from that vantage point was a reminder of the untouched natural beauty remaining on this planet. The earth still keeps places we humans can’t tramp on or bulldoze or fill with strip malls. It’s made me think more about our human impact and how incredibly important it is to keep some places sacred.
Valuable life experiences do that. They make you stop and think. By helping us view life from a different perspective, experiences leave a much bigger mark on the world than any TV or trampoline or toy ever could. Maybe not true for the shoes, though. Every woman knows that a great pair of shoes can be pretty damn life-changing.