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1. Volcano & Art Deco Safari:
On his previous visits to NZ, British aviator Joe Edwards had been for flights up to Cape Reinga and down to Tauranga. This time wanted to get his NZ Microlight Certificate, go further afield, sample some of the classic Kiwi strips.
Joe and ZK-WIK at Orini.
And what better way to become thoroughly familiar with NZ weather and conditions, than a few days in the air doing the sights?
Climbing out of West Auckland and off south by the West Coast, we used the West Coast transit lane under the Whenuapai approaches. An easy way to clear Auckland airspace without having to bother any controllers, and very scenic besides.
After having a look at Bellingham's pretty airstrip at Glenbrook on the way, the first stop was Thomas's strip at Orini to give Joe a taste of a 'Real Kiwi Strip'... and they don't come much more real than Orini which is 370m long and sometimes needs sheep cleared by a low pass on full noise. Around 200m of it slopes up towards the West, with a small plateau then a short slope down down on the other side. (Click here for Orini airstrip details.)
We landed up the slope, and Will Rowe had kindly left things unlocked for us so we could have a good look at the clubrooms in the old wool shearing shed, and his early rag-and-tube microlight in its hangar. The clubrooms are great... well worth a visit for a bit of old Kiwi nostalgia.
The shearing shed / clubrooms at Orini.
After soaking up the atmosphere, which lacked only Fred Dagg himself in gumboots, we walked half the strip discussing the best direction, the 'go' and 'no go' points and speeds that we'd like to see at the wind sock. We both agreed that the best option was to take off to the East despite a slight tail wind to make use of the major part of the downhill slope for acceleration, and that going across the plateau it was important to go off the lip in the right spot so as to find ourselves lined up on the downhill part of the runway... rather than into either the fence to the left or the concrete water trough to the right. Could spoil your day to find an unwelcome sight dead ahead when going over the lip.
When flying with another pilot, it is a good idea to have it agreed that both the handling and non-handling pilot have to be happy with any proposed course of action... the Pilot in Command at the time always has the final say but if another experienced person is not happy with something, then it shouldn't be done. We both agreed that if we had 35kts airspeed at the windsock we would certainly pick up another 30kts down the slope and so have a respectable 65kts available for climb out. If we didn't have 35kts at the sock, we'd immediately jump on the brakes and go back for another think.
In the event, WIK had wound up to more like 50kts at the windsock, and with one of us flying the plane and the other reading off the speeds it was easy enough. Going off the edge of the plateau it lifted off, but was still pointed downhill to take advantage of the ground effect by following the slope down for good acceleration.
Orini was a good spot to visit... a proper Kiwi cultural experience, a bit more technically challenging than the 800m of flat seal at West Auckland, and satisfying to make good use of the strip's, crew's and plane's resources.
The mountains were happy to receive visitors, so we did the Tongariro - Ngaruahoe - Ruapehu trio of volcanoes, and as always they were beautiful to behold. The crater lake on Ruapehu was steaming gently.
Joe at 9500ft, at the Ruapehu summit.
The wind being around 25kts, which is what passes for a mild day up there, but we were careful to stay on the windward side, and with the wind almost due south as we vacated North to Taupo for lunch (the cafe in the passenger terminal is now open every day), we kept to the West side of the lake to avoid the downwind turbulence in the lee of the mountains, before heading across to join long right base at NZAP. With the skydiving at Taupo there are no overhead joins, and flying a wide circuit keeps a good distance from the descending jumpers.
Off from Taupo after a good lunch, it was across into Napier for the night. We'd arranged to meet a British aviator (recently moved to NZ) and his wife for dinner at Havelock North, but when ready to set off by rental car we discovered that the restaurant details were were still in the plane... should we go back to get it and be late? With vague memories that the restaurant was called 'Out of Town', 'Off the Planet' or similar, we settled on 'Off your Face' as the most likely name for a restaurant in the Hawkes Bay wine area and found it soon enough. Sadly, it only turned out to be called 'Off the Track'... Good food though, and good to catch up with the war stories of flying here and in the UK.
Breakfast in the Napier CBD, Art Deco city.
Next morning, brekky in the Art Deco CBD of Napier, great ambience in this small city that was rebuilt in Art Deco style after the 1930s earthquake. Napier feels like a film set, but it is all for real.
Seaward end of the Main St.
At the Deco Centre, Joe discovered that his car was waiting, note the number plate. A beautifully restored 1939 Packhard.
After wandering around the town, and doing the 'tourist thing' we left late morning and headed South from Napier under solid stratus at 3500 ft, thinking we'd have to go down to the Woodville Gap to get through the Ruahine Range on our way to New Plymouth. But no worries, a gap appeared and we went to have a look, agreeing that we weren't going to be enticed into the gap unless we could see right out the other side, there had to be farms and cattle clearly visible in the Manawatu Valley before we let go of the Wairarapa Valley. Which there were.
Cloudbase 3500, Ruahine Range with an enticing gap.
Across past Wanganui, there was a good breeze of around 30 kts at the top of Mt Egmont, and from the little clouds scudding UP the side of the mountain and swirling as they went around the sides, plus the turbulence streamer trailing off the lee side, it was clear that we needed to approach with caution and stay on the windward side.
Mt Egmont, 8200ft. A little cap cloud and lee turbulence streamer.
So we approached respectfully with a series of "S" turns, always turning away from the mountain and going back and forth across the windward side in smooth and rapidly rising air for some great photos, before vacating well out to one side and descending into New Plymouth for an excellent lunch at Jim Hickey's 'Airspresso' cafe.
The Mountain from New Plymouth Airport.
Even from the ground at NZNP the mountain is a great sight. In this photo the cloud is dewing out in turbulence running down the lee side of the mountain, great to see from a safe distance but the lee side would be no place to be in plane.
Marokopa Town. Only a 90 minute drive to the nearest pub.
Then off back North up the Awakino coast, passing Marokopa which is a pretty little town a very long way from anywhere. Great for fishermen, and for those on the dole no risk of being offered a job to spoil it.
Back into West Auckland, 7.3 hours of flying time in the DynAero, ZK-WIK.
Good company, pretty terrain, reasonable weather, nice flying, and all of it in open uncontrolled airspace except for joining NZNR and NZNP airports. Lovely.
For more details about Flying Safaris in NZ, contact FlyWest Flying School
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