Hell of a View
Voted number one as a 'must do' experience in Taranaki, Richard and Jolanda Foale bring you Heliview, a small and very proud family-owned business.
I caught up with the couple last Monday and had a great time getting to know them and their business, sharing lots of laughs and learning their interesting story.
Richard and Jolanda are now true Taranaki locals, moving to Auckland in 2001, then Taranaki in 2003.
Their beginnings is a wealthy story, full of adventure in a land far far away in Kenya.
Jolanda was born in Switzerland and moved to Kenya with her family when she was four. She went back to Switzerland for university, studying Hospitality and Tourism.
Richard was born in Kenya, son to a pilot who ran a civil engineering and building company throughout East Africa. Flying is in his blood. When he finished school he joined the British Army and Air Forces for six years before moving back to Kenya flying for an American Company that ran airports at Mogadishu and Dijibouti, the small country north of Somalia. It was during this time that Richard flew UN and NGO staff around Somalia, landing in many unsavoury and often dangerous places.
The couple joke about the movie Black Hawk Down. A very Hollywood film that didn't depict the whole truth and what it was really like, Richard would know - he was there.
After the company started losing contracts in Somalia, Richard went back to Kenya to fly helicopters for a tourism company for two years. This is where he met Jolanda. When the company convinced Richard that it was okay to return to Somalia, he went back; flying a large Dauphin helicopter that had come from South Africa and used to fly Nelson Mandela.
Things became tricky when they were contracted to fly a wealthy Arab around Somaliland. One morning, following procedure to radio the camp, there was no answer and Richard knew something was wrong. He and his co-pilot would not go any further, much to the unhappy Arab's protests. After a dangerous trip, they made it back to Kenya and Richard never set foot in Somalia again.
Not long after returning to Kenya, a company came out to film the World Rally Championship. The boss offered Richard a job, working in the UK at the race circuit in Silverstone. A medical helicopter is part of the contract with drivers. Richard was there when Michael Schuhmacher crashed and flew him to hospital.
During this time, Richard's sister met a Kiwi and moved to New Zealand. Richard and Jolanda attended their wedding in January 2001 and fell in love with the country. Six months later they moved to Auckland, both were tired of Europe. Richard worked for Helilink covering backup duties for the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter while Jolanda worked at Hotel du Vin in South Auckland.
After two years of being in Auckland, Richard accepted the full-time position of chief pilot for the Taranaki Rescue Chopper. In Dec 2005, the couple started Heliview.
These days Heliview is a full-time business with Jolanda running the Administration/Tourism side of things and Richard is CEO, Operations Manager, Maintenance Controller and Chief pilot. They employ an independent third party for Quality Assurance.
On a good day, they do up to seven scenic flights a day with it increasing over the Christmas/New Year break with people on holiday and the use of Christmas gift vouchers.
With weddings, it's a unique market. Couples are looking for a big-impact entrance to or departure from their ceremony.
I ask Richard and Jolanda what the most common questions are from couples looking to utilise a helicopter for their wedding:
I don't want to ruin my hairstyle, do I have to wear a headset? The answer is no, but it will be very noisy without the headset filtering the sound. You will still be able to hear instructions without a headset and in terms of safety, it is imperative that you wear a seat belt.
Will my dress get dirty? No not at all, its easier to get in and out of a helicopter than a limo. Our doors open wide.
Is it windy and will things blow away? There is very little down-wind when moving underneath the rotors of the aircraft.
How many people can travel? Although the helicopter can seat up to six adults, we strongly advise you contact us to discuss requirements. How many people depends on the length of the trip. We calculate the length of the trip against how much fuel we need. Fuel is heavy and therefore that determines how many passengers we can carry.
Can you land on top of Mount Taranaki? The answer is no. No-one is permitted to land in the Egmont National Park, unless it's for a rescue.
Can you pick up and land in residential areas? All cases need evaluation depending on where the wedding is. Put simply, we have a number of designated helipads at wedding venues in the New Plymouth District. Practicality needs to be taken into account. It's not realistic for a helicopter to land in the back of Nana's yard, however if she lives on a farm there are less issues.
How about using a helicopter for photo sessions? Using the helicopter for wedding photography is becoming a trend. We advise you to consult with your photographer as they will have their own ideas of what aerial shots, locations and angles work in with their style of photography. We've seen the best photos come out of using the helicopter, where the background isn't too busy and the main focus is on the couple. A helicopter can get some really unique angles and is also great to get that height for a shot of the entire wedding party, guests and surroundings.
We break into a conversation about using the helicopter for photography, the ideas are limitless. They've been to a wedding where the wedding party went off for photos and they took six people at a time for quick 5 minute scenic flights over the ranges. This is incredibly special for overseas family and friends new to Taranaki.
With this understanding, I quickly realise that Heliview has done Taranaki proud in terms of Tourism. This family is all about positive experiences and how magic it is to see our great region from the air!
I highly recommend giving Jolanda and Richard a call if you're thinking of incorporating a helicopter into your wedding day. You won't be disappointed with the customer service and you'll be in complete safe hands with Richard in control, his flying career spans over 25 years and he continues to fly for the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter.