Air Safaris commenced operations in 1970 based at Mesopotamia, a well known High Country Sheep Station in the Rangitata Valley. The fledgling company gained an Air Service Charter and Scenic Flying Licence and for three years operated a 3 passenger Cessna 180 aircraft, transporting and guiding trampers, fishermen, hunters, photographers and sightseers into the remote areas of the Aoraki Mount Cook region.
In 1973 the company purchased its own brand new aircraft, a 5 passenger Cessna 185, and the scenic flying side of the operation was extended to introduce the Grand Traverse flight for visitors at Lake Tekapo using a short grass airstrip courtesy of Mount John Sheep Station.
Moving from the original Tekapo airstrip in 1975 Air Safaris established the Lake Tekapo Aerodrome complete with sealed runway, hangars and passenger facilities. A brand new 5 passenger Cessna 206 was purchased followed by another bringing capacity up to 15 passengers.
In 1978 in the first of many pioneering changes to New Zealand scenic aviation, Air Safaris introduced the Swiss built Pilatus Turbo Porter, a turbo prop short takeoff and landing machine carrying up to 10 passengers. This milestone set the scene for larger, quieter turbine powered aircraft in a continuing effort to carry more passengers with fewer aircraft movements with the minimum noise impact in the alpine areas. For a number of winters both the Cessna 185 and Pilatus Porter were operated with skies.
During 1981 the company introduced the Australian built GAF Nomad, bringing yet another new class of aircraft to scenic operations in the Mount Cook area. Carrying up to 15 passengers this twin turbo prop became the mainstay of the Air Safaris operation. Carrying the equivalent of three smaller aircraft, the larger and extremely quiet Nomad was another major step in minimising congestion and noise in the environmentally sensitive alpine regions.
With the extended capability of the Nomad aircraft the company entered into contracts to provide a back up service on South Island routes for major air carriers and in 1991 commenced operating a scheduled service between Timaru and Christchurch in the Air Nelson and Air New Zealand Link network. In 1995 Air Safaris purchased the Franz Josef based company Westair and established a West Coast base, developing a sealed runway which became the new Franz Josef Aerodrome.
In 2002 Air Safaris introduced larger, quiet aircraft (Cessna Grand Caravan & GA8 Airvans) and operational procedures to minimise noise impact, Air Safaris continued to be active in promoting environmental awareness in aircraft operations. New branding was launched in 2003 and both the Lake Tekapo & Franz Josef offices were modernised.
In 2009 a new turbocharged GA8 Airvan was purchased to add to the 3 normally aspirated Airvans operated by Air Safaris. The turbocharged GA8 is the first to be operated in New Zealand and is fitted with a three bladed prop which will assist in reducing the noise footprint of the Air Safaris fleet. Significant upgrades were also made during this time to the companys main terminal building at Lake Tekapo Aerodrome.
During 2012 a R44 Raven II helicopter was added to the Air Safaris fleet and the company received NZCAA approval to conduct commercial helicopter operations. From 2013-2014 several new helicopter products were developed to compliment the Grand Traverse.
In October 2016 Air Safaris took delivery (and ferried back to NZ from the USA) a brand new Cessna Grand Caravan EX. This became the first Grand Caravan EX operating in NZ and is one of the best sightseeing aircraft in the world today. This aircraft will be used by Air Safaris on charter and scenic operations throughout the South Island of NZ.
During the first half of 2017 Air Safaris imported a Bell 206L3 from Canada to replace the R44. Helicopter options were expanded from Lake Tekapo.
The summer also saw, at times, 3 family generations working together !