From Tasman Glacier, to Greenland, Norway, Alaska, Antarctica and Wanaka to Fiordland's Te Anau
Adventures of the first New Zealand woman who made it to the South Pole on skis.
From Tasman Glacier, to Greenland, Norwegian Fiords, Alaska, Antarctica and Fiordland, New Zealand - Kylie Krippner leads a life full of adventure. Alina Suchanski talks to Kylie.
This is the second of a series of articles, which covers some of the previously untold stories related to Fiordland heritage and personalities. We hope it will help to preserve these memories for future generations to understand, honour and be proud of. This series is brought to you by Go2 New Zealand - a tour operator providing memorable tours around Southland, Fiordland and the rest of New Zealand.
Kylie entrepreneur & guide - Mt Cook's Glacier Explorers , Greenland
Kylie Wakelin was born and raised in Little River, a tiny settlement on the Banks Peninsula near Christchurch. Although she grew up near the sea, from a young age she loved mountains and became a keen hiker and rock climber.
At just 19 years of age she teamed up with a friend to start their own business venture running boat cruises on Tasman Glacier terminal lake near Aoraki Mt Cook Village. They named it Glacier Explorers. When the lake froze in winter, the work would stop, giving Kylie an opportunity to pursue other interests, such as flying over the mountains with her pilot friends, mountaineering and alpine rock climbing, which became her passion. Through a climbing acquaintance she got an offer to work as a guide for High Places - a UK-based company running hiking expeditions in Greenland. Each trip was 17 days long, and she’d do three of those before coming back to New Zealand. She stuck with it for three consecutive seasons, but found the job physically demanding.
“It was hard yakker, carrying heavy loads on my back, staying in a tent every night. After a few years my knees started to play up,” Kylie says.
Kylie's Norwegian and Antarctic adventures
Through her contacts she was offered a job in Norway as a guide for a company called Ice Troll, running glacier lake kayaking and later sea kayaking in the Norwegian fiords.
She continued to divide her time between Aotearoa and northern hemisphere destinations, where she’d work in the New Zealand off-season. In 2002 Kylie did a 5-month stint in Antarctica working as a base assistant for the British Antarctic Survey. As part of the job she was helping scientists with carrying their equipment. Under a heavy load her knees started to hurt again and she knew this kind of a job was not for her.
Glacier Explorers of Kylie Wakelin Krippner, Kylie's collection
Kylie Wakelin Krippner in Greenland, Kylie's collection
Inspired by the Mt Cook ski-plane pilots, Kylie decided to re-train as a pilot herself. She stuck with it and passed her private licence in 2003. It took a few years to get ready for a major career change. One needs 200 hours of flying for a commercial licence and a fair bit of money. In 2005 she sold Glacier Explorers, but continued to work two more seasons for the new owners and still travelled to Norway during New Zealand winters.
The summer of 2007 was her last with Glacier Explorers and when the season ended, she flew to Alaska to visit her friend Rebecca. The plan was to climb Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley), the centre piece of the Denali National Park and Preserve, and North America’s tallest peak (6,190m). Its name, Deenaalee in the language of the Koyukon people of north Alaska means "the high one". (Denali, n.d.)
This is when Kylie was introduced to floatplanes, which later became her passion and prompted yet another career change.
“Rebecca was a floatplane pilot and when I visited her I got the bug. I went back four times!” she says.
In 2008 she stayed in NZ over winter and did some flying training towards the commercial licence, while working at the Wanaka Airport. This is where Kylie met a young pilot, Ivan Krippner. A relationship sparked up between them, but it didn’t stop her from completing her training, and in summer 2009 she became a commercial pilot.
Kylie showing beauty of Fiordland, Photo: Martin Sliva
The first New Zealand woman who made it to the South Pole on skis
In June-August 2009 Kylie went climbing and skiing in Norway, Russia and Kazakhstan. When she came home she was invited to join an all-women’s team on the Commonwealth Antarctic expedition to ski from the coast of the Antarctic to the South Pole.
The expedition was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Common Wealth. The group initially included a representative from Cyprus, Brunei, Singapore, India, Jamaica, Ghana, United Kingdom and New Zealand. However, the person from Ghana was not able to leave her country to join the expedition.
In November 2009 the seven women flew from Punta Arenas, Chile to the American Antarctic base and spent two weeks training in preparation for the journey.
“The group leader, Felicity Aston from England, ran the expedition as a strict, military-style operation. We were the largest team to complete this expedition and the only one to carry out our own waste,” Kylie says.
On 31 December 2009, after 38 days of trekking through some of the most challenging conditions on earth, the seven women reached the South Pole, making Kylie Wakelin the first New Zealand woman to ski to the South Pole.
"We were all absolutely ecstatic. The feeling of finally getting there was absolutely brilliant. We started as a culturally diverse group of women. By the end of the expedition we were like sisters. It was a very empowering thing to finish," she said.
Commonwealth Antarctic expedition (Kylie second from the left), Kylie's collection
From Wanaka via Alaska to Te Anau
When she completed her commercial pilot training in 2009, Southern Alps Air offered her a job in Wanaka. She worked for them for two summers and later was employed by Lindis Pass-based Flyinn, guiding foreign pilots on flying tours. To stay current in her new field of expertise she started training towards a flying instructor rating, and when this was done in 2011, she bought a flying school U-FLY Wanaka, which she ran with Ivan who is also a certified flying instructor.
The winter of 2010 Kylie returned to Norway with a plan to start her own sea kayaking business.
Ivan followed to help her establish the Big Wall Kayaking Company at Lysebotn, Norway at the end of the Lysefjord.
“Norway is an amazing place. We were kayaking in fiords with thousand-metre-high vertical walls on both sides. People were base-jumping off these cliffs with parachutes and wingsuits. We’d be paddling on the water and suddenly, woosh, someone would fly right above our heads,” she recalls.
Kylie and Ivan got married in 2013 and when she became pregnant with their first child, she knew it was time to settle down.
She visited Alaska again in 2011 and 2015 to do some floatplane training and passed the test for the FAA American Private Pilot’s licence.
“We were living in Wanaka and running the flying school. When in 2015 Wings and Water came up for sale in Te Anau. We came to check it out and loved it,” Mrs Krippner relates.
"I was pregnant when we bought the business and Ivan was still working in Wanaka, so we employed a local pilot, Adam Butcher for our first season of operation," she says.
Today Wings and Water offer scenic flights of varied lengths of time and distance. Their two little floatplanes have become icons on Te Anau’s lake front. Kylie and Ivan juggle parenthood duties with flying. Their two daughters: Indi (5) and Elly-May (6.5) keep them busy.
Covid-19 took a hard toll on the tourism operators in Fiordland forcing both Kylie and Ivan to take additional part-time jobs.
“The company just manages to keep afloat,” Mrs Krippner says.
But she still believes she has the best job in the world.
Article by Alina Suchanski 24/6/2021
More about Kylie's Wings and Water in History of Seaplanes in Fiordland
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Alaska, Lake Christensen - Kylie learning flying floatplane, Kylie's collection
Lake Manapouri - Kylie with her clients, Photo: Martin Sliva
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Destinations of Fiordland
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