Fiji to New Zealand: 9 of the most scenic Asia-Pacific flights

By KATE SPRINGER, CNN
Kate Springer/CNN

Turtle Airways provides day trips around the archipelago.

(CNN) - Whether you're in the Himalayas, Maldives or the Great Barrier Reef, these incredible natural wonders are beautiful from every angle you travel.

But the view from a prop plane, helicopter -- or even a hot-air balloon -- is hard to beat on foot.

Ready for liftoff? From a Cessna over the majestic Fiordland region of New Zealand to island puddle jumpers in Fiji, these are nine of the most scenic flights in the Asia-Pacific region.

1. Milford Sound, New Zealand

There's a reason director Peter Jackson chose to shoot the "Lord of the Rings" films in southern New Zealand's Fiordland National Park.

For starters, the landscape is stunning -- picture dramatic craggy cliffs and snow-capped peaks that will make you feel infinitesimally tiny.

In the center of it all lies the Milford Sound, where the Tasman Sea flows inland between high cliffs and Mitre Peak looms in the distance.

There are several ways to experience it -- hike, drive or fly -- but you'll get the best views from the air.

For those who prefer a plane, Air Milford enables travelers to combine a scenic flight with a cruise along the sound.

Meanwhile, tours with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters warrant a worthy splurge. The nimble choppers will get you as close as possible to the untouched hinterland.

You'll hover over ancient forests and empty valleys, fly by waterfalls and, if weather allows, even park for a few quiet moments atop the Mt Tutoko glacier.

Some itineraries even squeeze in time for a nature trek along the shores of the glossy sound, where you'll spot penguins and seals.

2. Fiji

Home to 333 islands, Fiji is a vast archipelago that's impossible to experience without easy access to a Cessna.

Luckily, several airplanes and helicopter services have developed day-trip itineraries to help travelers hop from the big island of Viti Levu to the popular Mamanuca Islands southwest, and over to lush Taveuni in the northeast.

In addition to the spectacular bird's eye view, most seaplane and helicopter tours will also provide a meal or activity, be it a Champagne lunch at Tokoriki Island in the Mamanucas with Island Hoppers Fiji or a bespoke picnic at the famous Blue Lagoon with Turtle Airways.

Then there's the "Mystery Flights" organized by Pacific Island Air, where travelers won't know where they're spending the day until they hop on board.

3. Bagan, Myanmar

As the first commercial hot-air balloon outfit in Asia, Balloons over Bagan launched its first flight about 20 years ago.

Since then, the postcard image of Bagan has been synonymous with sunrise flights over the mystical archaeological zone -- picture tens of thousands of Buddhist monuments, shrouded by a gentle mist.

The company has since expanded to offer two-day balloon safaris, which takes travelers from Inle Lake in central Myanmar to the Pindaya Caves northwest. The experience includes private breakfasts, village tours, half-day cooking experiences, cycling excursions, bonfire dinners and more.

Just be sure to check the seasons before you plan a trip, as balloon operations usually run from October to April, with the high season in January.

4. Hamilton Island, Australia

While most might experience the Great Barrier Reef on the water, we'd highly recommend an aerial view.

From a home base on Hamilton Island, off the northeast coast of Australia, intrepid travelers can hire a seaplane or helicopter to traverse the tropical paradise.

Stop first on the white sands of Whitehaven Beach, pay a visit to the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands, fly over iconic Heart Reef or land at the permanently moored Reefworld pontoon for a day of snorkeling around Hardy Reef.

From 10-minute heli rides to full-day seaplane excursions, you can experience the best of both worlds with companies such as Hamilton Island Air or GSL Aviation.

5. Bhutan

Due to its steep mountain paths and narrow one-lane roads, Bhutan is most easily traversed by plane or helicopter.

The "Happiest Place on Earth" is home to several options when it comes to scenic flights, including the recently launched "Scenic Heli-Adventure" from COMO group and Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services.

The six-night experience shuttles travelers around the Himalayan Kingdom, flying over yak farms, dense forests, mystical mountain scenery and glistening Turquoise Lake.

Each valley has its own charms, from Paro's ancient temples to Laya's remote villages.

After each guided helicopter flight, guests will stay full-board at a COMO property where a menu of excursions could include white-water rafting, hiking, yoga and village visits.

If you're looking for an organized day trip or a 20-minute joyride around the Himalayas, you can also find a variety of scenic flights with Firefox Tours and Bhutan Senses.

6. South Pacific

Every year, the Southern Lights -- also called the aurora australis -- light up the skies above New Zealand and the Antarctic circle from March to September.

The best way to see it? On a dedicated aurora-chasing charter operated by Air New Zealand with expert guides from the Otago Museum.

Dubbed the Flight of the Lights, this annual experience usually takes off from Dunedin or Christchurch on the South Island, then follows the Southern Lights around the Antarctic circle.

Next year, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner takes off on April 11, 2019.

7. Hong Kong

Hong Kong might not be the first place you'd think of to take a scenic flight.

But The Peninsula hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui boasts a rooftop helipad, its own chopper and private harbor tours with advanced booking.

There's also a "Fly and Tea" experience that includes a 15-minute helicopter tour, followed by a decadent afternoon tea set.

We'd recommend booking a morning or early evening tour for the best lighting; though you'll want to check the weather ahead of the flight as it's common for polluted air to clog the view.

That said, on a clear day, the views are brilliant -- picture the magnificent steel and glass skyline sparkling in the sun, shipping vessels stacked with colorful containers and the Star Ferry plying the channel as it's done for more than 100 years.

8. Mount Everest, Nepal

Don't have quite what it takes to summit Mount Everest? Fair enough. After all, the storied peak is the world's highest at roughly 29,030 feet above sea level.

The next best thing might be a scenic flight around the Himalayan mountain range with Buddha Air or Yeti Airlines.

Picking up travelers in Kathmandu, both companies offer hour-long propeller plane flights around the mountain kingdom.

A typical route passes by the Kathmandu Valley, rice paddies, and pine forests until the southern side of Mount Everest comes into view.

Amidst the dramatic snow-capped peaks, you'll also catch glimpses of gorgeous glaciers and icy lakes.

While you can go any time of year, operators recommend planning a flight from October to May for the clearest skies.

9. The Maldives

Travelers heading to one of the 1,192 islands in the Maldives are in for a treat -- many of the remote island resorts can only be reached by seaplane.

From the capital, you'll hop into a small seaplane that will take you over the sprawling archipelago, a watercolor of turquoise swirls below as you pass by shallow sandbars, coral reefs and deep ocean trenches.

Still craving more air time? With a 40-strong fleet of puddle jumpers, Trans Maldivian Airways operates most of the inter-island transfers as well as a slew of private tours.

From a 15-minute "photo flight" flyover to bespoke excursions, the company provides a mix of experiences to match your schedule and budget.

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