We wanted to visit some attractions in Rotorua, so we left the Puka Park lodge fairly early and drove north to Whitianga airport. The DC3 had clearly had its engine repaired, as it was no longer on the field. We later learned that it was the one normally based in Ardmore, which had been stranded here after the engine issue. I left my landing fee in the honesty box, and we headed out south along the coast. Yet again, the weather had cooperated and it was a beautiful, sunny day in the Coromandel!
Our destination today was Rotorua, and the flight took us down the coast over the city of Tauranga, before heading inland. The views of the coast were beautiful, and we got a good look over the unusual, enormous hedges that we had been driving past everywhere. Our best guess was that they might be wind-breaks for fruit orchards…? The coastal scenery gave way to Tauranga town, followed by more dry fields as we headed inland. Lake Rotorua was soon in sight, and we passed near the central volcano as we flew the circuit to land.
We parked on the grass near the control tower, and spent a bit of time wandering around trying to figure out how to get out of the airport before a helpful fireman showed us the large “push to exit” button that we’d somehow missed. I collected our car from RaD (previously Rent-a-Dent) car hire, and we set straight off to Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland, about half an hour down the highway, and one of the most popular geothermal tourist locations to see bubbling mud, steaming pools, and so on. The geothermal area overall covers about 18 square kilometers, with the “Thermal Wonderland” situated over some of the most active and impressive features.
The wonderland is set up in three loops, and we had just enough time to walk them all. The variety of thermal features is impressive; hot springs, boiling mud, geysers, and more. With the amount of sulfurous gas being vented, it’s a treat for the nose as well as the eyes! The site is still active enough that new pools are appearing, and existing ones enlarging, sometimes without much warning.
The signs telling one to keep to the path are not just for show; many of the pools are right at boiling point, and poorly suited to swimming. It was interesting to find that the walls of some of the craters have been colonised by birds for nesting, as the temperature is nice and warm even through the winter.
After some souvenir shopping and ice creams, as well as the rescuing of Elsa’s forgotten hat from the shop, we stopped at the bubbling mud pools situated on the access road. These pools of bubbling mud are the real stereotypical image (and aroma) of Rotorua.
Geothermal adventure complete for now, we drove back to Rotorua and our AirBNB. We were greeted by our lovely host, who turned out to have injured her foot and then put her back out, all in the last two days, but didn’t want to cancel our booking and inconvenience us! We were glad she’d kept the booking, as it was a beautiful room and a good location; she was a great source of ideas for where to go and what to do, as well. Dinner was at a Japanese restaurant in the center of town, followed by dessert at an ice cream parlour. Here, the smallness of the modern world was demonstrated yet again, when it turned out that three of us strangers next to each other in the queue had all lived in The Hague at some point.
After dinner, we drove out to the Redwoods Treewalk, suggested by our host. This treewalk, high in the canopy of a grove of imported redwood trees, is 700m long with 28 individual bridges. At night, the entire grove comes alive with a light show that can be enjoyed as one wanders around the loop of suspended walkways. It’s popular enough that even though we arrived after 9pm, there was still a 30 minute wait to start the walk!
Today would be a long day of flying. We breakfasted at the AirBNB, then headed out to the airport for the first of our two flights. On the way, Elsa insisted on a stop at the “Fruit Monster”; being a major fruit lover she was expecting great things, but reported that overall the store was a disappointing experience. I returned the car to RaD, and put my baseball cap on to free up a hand for carrying bags. A sharp pain on the top of my head was soon explained, when I hurriedly took the hat off and a bee flew out. This was not something I had expected.
Not wanting to have any complications from the stinger being left in, I dropped in to the airport fire station on my way back to the aircraft, to see if the first aider could check it out. After all, it’s difficult to assess the top of one’s own head. The fire service were very helpful, although did take the opportunity to call a few of their colleagues to come and have a good laugh. One, I assume the most junior, was tasked to write up the incident for the airport’s incident reporting system and settled on the headline “Pilot brought to his knees by killer bee attack” which I thought was a little melodramatic.
We had decided to fly out and see White Island, before doubling back to the south and heading towards Wellington. We donned life jackets, given that the island is 30 miles off shore, and set out from Rotorua. White Island is an active volcano and just a few months earlier had erupted while groups of tourists were present in the crater, tragically killing 20 and seriously injuring a further 25. A restricted area was still up around the island, and so we could only get within 2 miles and 2,000ft of it, which was still closer than I wanted to get! The volcano was at a fairly low activity level as we flew around it; a particularly adventurous mariner had positioned his yacht close to shore, which seemed a questionable decision.
We turned back to the south, for what would be another two hours flight across the north island to the difficult-to-pronounce Paraparaumu airport. We’d been invited to this field, a little north of Wellington, to have lunch with a couple of pilots who’d been looking to fly their homebuilt aircraft around the world. We’d been corresponding a little bit, with me trying to share the various things I’d learned, and while they’d decided to put the flight on hold for now it would be nice to meet one of them; Simon was away on business, but Peter would be there to greet us!
The route took us back past Lake Taupo, which looked as beautiful as ever, and would then take us past the tallest mountain on the North Island, Mt Ruapehu. Unfortunately, the weather curse struck and the mountain was entirely shrouded in cloud and entirely invisible. Soon after passing Ruapehu, it started to look like conditions in Paraparaumu would necessitate flying the instrument approach, so we called up Ohakea approach for an IFR clearance. They were happy to oblige, clearing us through their airspace. They called back shortly afterwards to ask “Is that the round-the-world C182? We just looked you up online!”
The low cloud over Paraparaumu persisted; a layer of overcast that finished just a few kilometers north of the field. Most airports in New Zealand have great GPS approaches though, and we were able to fly our chosen approach all the way to minimums. The field appeared at the last minute, and we landed without difficulty and taxied to the flying club. Peter arrived shortly afterwards, and drove us down to a nearby restaurant for lunch by the beach. Elsa very stoically put up with the non-stop pilot talk about round-the-world flights, no doubt being well used to it by now.
After lunch Peter dropped us back at the flying club, and we spent a while chatting to the members before departure. One of the people who turned up was Tim Gorman, keen photographer, who had been following our progress towards and through New Zealand. It was great to catch up with him and have him take a few photos of the aircraft.
Photographs finished, we started up and taxied out behind a couple of back-country tail-draggers that were headed to an event. The overcast had lifted a little, and we stayed just below the ceiling as we headed out to the west, climbing up higher as soon as we were clear of cloud. The south island came straight into view, with perfect visibility all the way from us to the fjords around Picton and Nelson. We cut straight across the water towards Takaka, where my father and my aunt were waiting to meet us.
The field was tucked into a cove on the tip of the south island. We landed to the south, and taxied in to the small apron nestled between two of the runway ends. Dad and Aunt Janet walked out as we arrived, and after checking with some pilots from Golden Bay Air, helped us push it onto the grass by the flying club. We loaded up all the bags into the car and headed into Takaka.
We settled into our rooms at the motel and took care of some laundry before relaxing with a drink and figuring out what to do for dinner.
Takaka did not have many options to choose from of an evening, and we ended up at a trendy local bar and grill, with a very hip menu but not much in the way of service. Three of us enjoyed almost the right meal, and about ten minutes after we finished, my aunt’s food finally arrived! Better late than never.
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