New Zealand

On December 9, 2011, in Places To Visit, by admin
New_Zealand_relief_mapEveryone assumes that you have to be an experienced pilot before you can enjoy flying in strange and exotic places, but one place you can fly at any stage of your aviation training is New Zealand, where Rest New Zealand Tours and it’s aviation partners have created a number of packages called ‘New Zealand Sky Safaris”. These allow you (and your flying family) to explore the exceptional scenery of the North and or South Islands of New Zealand in the company of an experienced New Zealand pilot tour guide. Packages can be created just for you and appropriate aircraft made available, allowing a family of up to four to travel together with their guide. The result is a holiday which is equally ideal for pilots who want to do most of the flying themselves and those who may not fly at all, but feel that this is, surely, the best way to see New Zealand’s glorious scenery. For full details, visit their web site, or read on for a full description from someone who has been on one of these incredible trips. Parked, polished and fuelled up just outside the Flightline premises is our spotless Cessna 172 which will take us on our voyage of discovery around New Zealand’s beautiful "Islands of contrast". Graeme is busy on his mobile phone making the necessary arrangements. In New Zealand you must register a flight plan for every VFR flight, and the mobile comes in very handy in reporting position to ATC from some of the more remote areas. Our initial briefing with Graeme familiarised us with some of the peculiarities of local conditions, and then we’re off, our Cessna climbing easily and allowing us a big circle over metropolitan Auckland. The Coromandel Peninsula in the east is our first heading. Auckland Radar control & Approach signs off wishing us "good weather and happy sightseeing". We look down on the outer harbour and Hauraki Gulf, and agree that Auckland lives up to its name as "The City of Sails". We are now flying controlled airspace VFR and are in constant contact with Ardmore tower. On the approach into Pauanui airstrip we announce our position and intention on the required frequency - but no reply. After a comfortable landing on the 800 metre grass strip, we find information on airfield protocol on a sign by the reception hut. A payment or "honesty box" asks us to pay whatever landing fees we think are appropriate. A courtesy vehicle awaits us and five minutes later we’re all checked into "Puka Park Lodge", a luxury lodge set in native bush and our resting place for the night. Yep, it’s great to be in holiday mode! After a sound sleep, it is up early the next day. Graeme has already submitted the flight plan, and we discuss the weather report over a hearty breakfast. Everything you need to know about flying procedure you will find in the "VFG Guide" published by the New Zealand Civil Aviation authority. Way points must be reported in the flight plan. You can deviate en route, but all changes must be reported. Graeme proposes to look after the radio, leaving John and I free to enjoy the hands-on. Outside the main cities New Zealand is scarcely populated, so VORs and NDBs are rare. ELT, the emergency transmitter is a must and on-board GPS very desirable. We decide to take a south-east coastal route, and then head inland until we reach Mount Tarawera, a volcano featuring a massive crater that was formed by a huge eruption last century. In the process it created the very aptly named "Buried Village"and destroyed the world famous "Pink and White terraces". We swing low, cruising right into the crater mouth and its alien looking landscape. Then onward to land in Rotorua, New Zealand’s centre of Maori culture and thermal activity. Maori are the country’s indigenous people, whose ancestors migrated from Polynesia. We retire for the evening after a relaxing swim in the thermal pools, a Maori feast (known as a hangi) and concert. A visit to the Rotorua Aero Club is first up the next morning. Aero clubs have a long tradition in New Zealand, and are a very important feature of general Aviation throughout the whole country. As a result, their role is highly appreciated in a country where flying is so popular. Rotorua departure, and I’m looking forward to some hands-on with John in the rear seat. We climb and head south to New Zealand’s largest lake. Lake Taupo is an international trout fishing mecca, and was created by huge volcanic eruptions. Just south of the lake is Tongariro National Park and Mount Ruapehu at 9156 ft, the North Island’s highest peak. Taking in the vistas over the volcanic plateau and on to the dense native bush of the Wanganui National Park, we head south-west towards the Kapiti coast in the lower part of the North Island. Despite some approaching bad weather Graeme chooses not to lodge an IFR-flight plan. The decision proves right, as a freshening wind clears the weather as we get to the west coast. A quick stop for some fuel (both us and the aircraft) at Wanganui Airport, and we’re off for the South Island. As we cross Cook Strait, which separates the North and South Islands, we are guided by Wellington Air Traffic control, as the area is quite busy with national and international air traffic. The five New Zealand VFR-maps feature international standards and are easy to use. We leave the North Island with its spectacular beaches; thermal activity and green pastures behind and are now looking forward to the dramatic landscape of the South island. This is the island of incredible contrasts. High mountains, glaciers, fjords, lush rainforests, alpine rivers and lakes, change within minutes into dry and nearly rainless regions where some of the best wines in the world can be found. Brilliant sunshine greets us as we land at Nelson airport. At the northern tip of the South Island Nelson is the gateway to the "Abel Tasman National Park" and prides itself as the sunniest town in New Zealand. Abel Tasman was the Dutch explorer credited with discovering New Zealand in the 1600’s. On the ground we’re off to take in some of the town’s renowned arts and crafts. As we head down the east coast we fly over Kaikoura. With its deep sea and cooler water temperatures close to the land, the area is a plentiful feeding ground and haven for whales, dolphins and seals. True to form we get a birds-eye view of several Giant Sperm Whales on their dives. We press on and arrive in Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city with a very English appeal. Parking our 172 outside one of the local aero clubs, we are immediately welcomed by friendly club members. Out on the tarmac a huge US Starlifter transport plane has just returned from Antarctica. Christchurch is the base for all supply flights to the icy continent and dear to many pilots and scientists as the first contact with civilisation, after spending time on the ice. Following some on-ground sight seeing we board our aircraft and head south to the rural town of Timaru. Another unique highlight is in store for us. We are met by our local hosts for the evening, and driven a short distance to their farm where we stay the night. "Farm stays" as the experiences are known are a great way to sample some true Kiwi rural hospitality, not to mention some fine country cooking! Leaving Timaru we fly in land towards New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook which is 12320ft high and part of the Southern Alps, which divides almost the entire South Island top to bottom. To get a close-up of Mt Cook we take a commercial skiplane scenic flight and land on the Tasman Glacier. Our pilot makes the whole thing look so easy, but there is clearly a lot of skill involved.After leaving Mt Cook we climb to 12000 feet. The views are sensational. We overfly the township of Omarama, the venue for recent World Gliding (soaring) Championships, and take advantage of some favourable thermal updrafts this area is known for. After not long on our south-westerly track we land in Wanaka, which will be our base for the next few days. To any aviation enthusiast Wanaka is a ‘must see’, and is best known as the venue for the "Warbirds Over Wanaka" air show, which happens every two years in April. From small beginnings in 1988,the event has grown to where the 1998 airshow had over 75000 visitors. On the airfield at Wanaka is an aviation museum packed with restored warbird aircraft. A short 40 minute flight south from Wanaka and we are in Queenstown, tourism capital of New Zealand. The airport is bordered on one side by the scenic Lake Wakatipu with mountains all around, and handles steady commercial traffic as well as GA. Next we take a hair-raising jetboat ride on the Shotover River. We even have time for another New Zealand invention, a "bungy jump" from a local bridge. I must confess to some trepidation beforehand, but afterwards they can’t wipe the smile off my face. There are just so many adventurous things to do in and around Queenstown, that I am convinced there must be a New Zealand Government Department for Fun & Excitement based here. The next day we fly further south to Te Anau, the gateway to "Fiordland National ParkGraeme explains the procedure of landing on unmanned airfields: Register verbally and announce your intentions. As you get closer to the airfield announce your altitude and then position either mid field or directly, but always at 45degrees into downwind. Announce your final position and then land. Another successful landing! The reason for going to Te Anau is to meet up with one of New Zealand’s well known aviation "characters",Chris Willett, ex airline pilot, glacier pilot and now float plane guru of New Zealand. Chris’s float plane operation is located on Lake Te Anau. After an initial briefing it’s all aboard the Cessna 206 and off amongst the surrounding mountains and descend on one of the clear mountain lakes. Now I get my chance to show my floatplane"skills". A downdraft forces the aircraft down sooner than expected and a big smile and a very forgiving comment by Chris accompany the noisy exercise. If you want you can do extra flying time with Chris to tame those mountain lake landings! On our last day in the area we fly further into "Fiordland National Park"and on to Milford Sound, an icon of new Zealand scenic beauty. It’s a busy spot, frequented by commercial activity, so flying requires precise following of procedure. The fjord is absolutely spectacular and will leave a lasting memory. We leave Wanaka and head north-west, following the valleys of the "Haast Pass" out to the open sea of the West Coast. Along the way we pass Mount Aspiring at 10,000 ft. At the coast we have the Tasman sea on our left and the snow-capped Southern Alps with prolific rain forests to our right - the combination is unique. Weather and visibility are excellent today, so Graeme takes over and flies us up to the turquoise ice masses of Franz Josef Glacier. You need years of experience and skill to do this manoeuvre. The sheer size of the glacier is evident as further up the ice flow we see another aircraft, which appears as an insect against the ice and rock. For our final night in the South Island we land at Omaka airport in Blenheim. It is located in the heart of the Marlborough wine-growing region, producing some of the finest Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines in the world. The evening brings a BBQ dinner and wine tasting in one of the local vineyard restaurants. I sleep exceptionally well that night. The weather continues to be very kind to us for the return flight along the north Island’s west coast and on to Ardmore Airport in Auckland. We make good use of the last two days(which are buffer days for the tour in case of bad weather), by further exploring the region and coasts from our now very familiar 172. The view from our 747 as we climb out of Auckland International Airport leaves us with one final memory of just how much scenery and variety is packed into such a relatively small country. And we could not help talking about coming back to do another "SkySafari", because once is certainly not enough!
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