• About

About Us

The essence of what we do is focused on quality, passion, and experience, and we’re proud to have provided helicopter services in the Southern Lakes region for more than 40 years as a family owned and operated business.

We’re proud to have provided quality helicopter services in the Fiordland region for more than 40 years. As a family owned and operated business, every team member here at Southern Lakes Helicopters is genuinely passionate about what we do.

Our founder, Sir Richard Hayes, developed his love for aviation in the ‘70s when he first learned to fly planes in Dunedin. From there on, he quickly expanded his skills to flying helicopters and started a job in the deer recovery business across the South Island of Aotearoa. He worked closely with Sir Tim Wallace and the Alpine Group and was positioned in Te Anau, a spot close to his heart thanks to many family vacations when he was younger.

Sir Richard Hayes decided to settle down and start his own family after 10 years of being a part of the Alpine Group. This allowed him to take the leap and start his own business – Southern Lakes Helicopters – in 1982. He quickly became known as a pioneer in the Fiordland Aviation Industry and used his highly developed skills to fly many search and rescue missions. Sir Richard Hayes has been nationally recognised and was awarded the MNZM (Member of New Zealand Order of Merit) for his services to Search and Rescue. In 2014, he was also promoted to Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the community.

Credit: Barry Harcourt

The love for aviation was passed to the next generation and Sir Richard’s son, Michael Hayes, has followed in his father’s footsteps. While studying at the University of Canterbury, Michael realised how much he loved the outdoors and discovered his own passion for helicopters. His work took him across the world for a number of years, flying Scientific missions in Antarctica and working for the MIA program in the exotic highlands of Papua New Guinea. In 2010, Michael returned home to Te Anau to work alongside his father at Southern Lakes Helicopters and continue the business’ legacy. As the new CEO of Southern Lakes Helicopters, Michael strives to keep the genuine passion for helicopter flight alive within every employee and guest alike.

Both the love for aviation and for Aotearoa bonds the father and son team with the other highly skilled pilots that fly under Southern Lakes Helicopters. Sharing the beauty of the many remote and untouched locations across both Fiordland and Aoraki/Mt Cook with guests and putting in the mahi (work) to preserve the essence of Southern Lakes Helicopters and the core of its future.

Our Staff

  • Sir Richard 'Hannibal' Hayes
    Director - 36,500 flight hours

    Sir Richard is a well known and respected pilot with 40 years of experience flying in the mountainous terrain of Fiordland, and has in excess of 32,000 helicopter flying hours. He operates with skill and professionalism and is heavily involved in Search and Rescue operations, often with the use of Night Vision Equipment. His skill and experience has been recognised nationally by being awarded the MNZM (Member of New Zealand Order of Merit) for his services to Search and Rescue. In 2014 Richard was promoted to Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to search and rescue and the community. Sir Richard and Lady Carol Hayes also own and operate Heliworks Mt Cook, based at Aoraki/ Mt Cook airport.

  • Michael Hayes
    CEO - 3,800 flight hours

    Michael now a second generation pilot has began his flying career in 2010 with Southern Lakes Helicopters and gained valuable experience in scenic, commercial and rescue operations over 7 years here in the beautiful mountains of Fiordland and the remote continent of Antarctica.
    In 2017 Michael moved overseas for three years, flying BK117 and B212 helicopters on oil & gas, mining and the United States MIA programme in the exotic highlands of Papua New Guinea.
    Now back in his home town Te Anau, Michael has returned to Southern Lakes Helicopters to share his passion for flying and Fiordland with our guests.

  • Sean (Snow) Mullally
    Chief Pilot - 12,800 flight hours

    Snow joined the team in 2015 after many years flying in Milford Sound. Snow has over 20 years flying experience in the Fiordland area, and also flew commercially in Canada for a year which included fire fighting. In 2019 Snow was promoted to Chief Pilot.

  • Andrew (Heff) Hefford
    Pilot - 7,500 flight hours

    Andrew grew up in Te Anau and has been flying around Fiordland in between overseas tours for 10+ years. Has gained valuable experience in a broad range of operations both here and overseas. He enjoys spending time with his family, boating and hunting.

  • Dave Butson
    Pilot - 4,000+ flight hours

    Dave grew up on a high-country merino station in the Wakatipu. He joined the Heliworks team in 2010 and has been flying in the Mt Cook region since 2012. Dave has also worked as a pilot in the Northern Territory of Australia and the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.

  • Matt Deaker
    Pilot - 1,450 flight hours

    A third-generation pilot, Matt grew up in Te Anau and loves the diversity and outdoor experiences right on Fiordland's doorstep. Matt loves diving & hunting, and gained his flying experience mostly through venison recovery. Matt joined the Southern Lakes Helicopters team in 2018.

  • Richie Hunter
    Safety Manager / Crewman

    After 18 years in the outdoor industry, Richie became our Safety Manager and Crewman at Southern Lakes Helicopters. His role with us has a number of responsibilities similar to his former career of mountain guiding, field safety and search and rescue in New Zealand, Antarctica and the Himalaya.
    Richie still enjoys skiing, climbing, cycling and canoeing in the mountains and rivers of New Zealand.

  • Erin Robertson
    Office Manager

    Living on a lifestyle block in Te Anau with her husband, two children and 'Minnie' the Jack Russell, Erin is a true-blue Southlander. She joined the SLH team in 2006 and loves the mix of work SLH undertakes, including Medivac/SAR - every day is different!

  • Ngaire Lindsay
    Operations Support Administrator

    Ngaire has been a member the SLH team for 11 years, and comes from a farming background near Otautau. Ngaire loves all that Te Anau and Fiordland have to offer, especially in the summer months. She enjoys getting out on the lake in the boat fishing & water skiing.

  • Marleen Wilson
    Marketing Manager

    Originally from The Netherlands, Marleen arrived in New Zealand in 2007 - and loved it so much that she stayed! Marleen joined the Southern Lakes Helicopters team in 2015 and recently also took on Heliworks Mt Cook under her marketing portfolio and loves the mix of work both bases undertake.

  • Bex Jones
    Office Team Member

    Southland born and bred, Bex joined the Southern Lakes Helicopters team in October 2018. Bex loves all of the outdoor activities that Fiordland has to offer - chat to her about Fiordland's Great Walks, or our new Lake2Lake cycle trail.

  • Catherine Smith
    Office Team Member

    Catherine started at Southern Lakes Helicopters in November 2021 after moving to the area from Canterbury. Catherine comes from an agricultural background and is usually found out running, swimming or biking in her spare time.

Our Fleet

  • Kawasaki BK-117 (Twin Engine)

    Passengers: up to 7-9
    Fuel: 300L per hour
    Heli weight all up: 3350kgs
    Cruise speed; 235km/hr

  • AS350 BA Squirrel

    Passengers: 5-6 passengers
    Heli weight all up: 2100kgs
    Cruise speed: 120 knots / 220km/hr
    Engine: Arriel 1B

  • AS350 B2 Squirrel

    Passengers: 5-6 passengers
    Fuel: 180L per hour
    Cruise speed: 235km/hr
    Engine: Arriel 1D 1

  • AS350 B3 Squirrel’s

    Passengers: 5-6 passengers
    Fuel: 200L per hour
    Cruise speed: 235km/hr
    Engine: Arriel 2B 1

  • Raven R44

    Passengers: 3 passengers

  • Stunningly Beautiful. Amazing trip with Heff as our pilot. Scenic views breathtaking & landings amazing. Views can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.

    Melissa – January 2022 – Dunedin, New Zealand

  • WORTH EVERY PENNY! We did the Doubtful Sound flight and it was the most amazing experience I have ever done! Craig was an amazing pilot who was super chill and easy to chat with and made it just that little bit better.

    Mackenzie – February 2021 – Stewart Island, NZ

  • Our photos do not do justice to the feeling of standing what felt like the top of the world. The feeling of total amazement was worth every dollar it cost to do and I’d do it again when we can. This is an absolute must do and I’d highly recommend Southern Lakes Helicopters.

    Phil – August 2021 – Havelock North, NZ

  • Trip of a lifetime!! Pristine wilderness, fab pilot and staff: an experience I will NEVER forget!!! A MUST DO for anyone visiting Fiordland. No matter what your budget, figure out a way to make it happen. A 360 degree sensory experience that will keep you buzzing for days. Do it.

    Susan – September 2020 – Koi Samui