My dad and aunt left Takaka a couple of hours before us. We’d be meeting up again that evening, and their journey was going to take them significantly longer than ours would. Elsa and I took a walk up and down the main street, grazing on a selection of croissants and Thai beef curry for breakfast. Takaka is clearly a very trendy town, as evidenced by the number of people wandering around with no shoes and dreadlocks. The highlight was the very friendly cat in the flower shop; half the people passing were stopping to pet him on the step as they went by!
The day before, Tim Gorman had sent me a message pointing out that the Golden Bay Flying Club had spotted our Cessna parked up and posted photos on their website. We chatted to the club official, Murray, who had been following the trip and he invited us to meet him at his office on the high street for a lift out to the airport. We gratefully accepted! At the airport he showed us around the club house before lending a hand to push the aircraft out onto the tarmac, ready for departure. After waiting to let an arriving Golden Bay Air charter flight onto the apron, we taxied out and departed.
Our first stop for the day would be the airport at Karamea, to kill a bit of time and allow the ground team to make progress towards our night stop. A Golden Bay air-van had departed a little before us, and Murray had tracked it on Flightaware for us to see if it made it through the pass that was on the most direct route; he was unsure if the cloud base would allow that today. It did, so we set off in the same direction, following Murray’s directions to head up the valley to the southwest. As we went, the cloud layer helpfully broke up, and weather turned out not to be an issue for our climb up into the mountains.
The flight to Karamea wasn’t long, and almost as soon as we reached the required height to clear the pass, it was time to start descending again. We flew a right downwind to Karamea, over the water, touched down and taxied in to park up by the little pilot’s room/terminal. Closer inspection revealed that there wasn’t really anywhere close enough to easily walk to, so we relaxed on the sofas and watched a couple of helicopters come and go, tracking the ground team using Google location sharing to figure out when it would be time to take off again.
It was a straight run down the coast from Karamea to that night’s destination of Westport. Phone signal is surprisingly good when aloft in New Zealand, much like it was in Australia, so we were able to track the progress of the ground team as we flew. We decided it would be fun to go inland and wave to them; the route took us between several restricted areas, set up over quarries to keep aircraft clear of blasting debris.
We overflew the Buller River canyon to check for obstructions, before descending lower and following the road downstream. There was very little traffic, so we were able to spot my aunt and father easily (the second time around, at least). They were stopped at a view point taking photos of the canyon, so managed to get a great look at us as we flew past, but unfortunately were too busy waving to take any pictures!
We carried on down the Buller River towards Westport, climbing into the traffic pattern for landing at the airport. We flew a left downwind over the water, and landed to the north, taxiing in and parking off to one side of the apron to stay out the way of the commercial traffic. The ground team arrived just as I finished fitting the cover, and we headed to the motel to check in.
Elsa and Dad relaxed at the motel while my aunt and I headed out for some essential supply shopping, preceded by ice creams. That evening we strolled a few blocks down for dinner at the “Dennison Dog”, who turned out to serve portions that would not have been out of place in the USA.
The weather the next morning was awful. Low cloud, high wind, and rain had come in overnight. The ground crew dropped us off at the airport and went on their way. We hung around in the terminal building using the wifi to finalise the flight planning, and waited for a break in the rain so that I could take off the airplane cover without getting soaked through. The manager of the airport was there, although it was otherwise deserted; she kindly opened up the garage for me so that I could fold the cover up in the dry.
We set out from Westport and were into the cloud within moments. New Zealand has a very pragmatic system for IFR flight outside of controlled airspace, to go along with their excellent network of instrument approaches for even the smallest airports. The one positive of the bad weather was that the strong wind was blowing our way, so the flight down the coast to Hokitika was a high speed affair.
Conditions over the field were cloudy, and it wasn’t until the very last minute that we caught sight of the runway, right at minimums, and touched down. One of the local pilots came out to greet us and directed us to the tie-downs. We secured the aircraft, and made our way towards the terminal. The ground team turned up just as we got there!
One of the top attractions in Hokitika is the National Kiwi Center. In the middle of Hokitika, the center houses two kiwis (one male and one female) in a purpose built habitat. Feedings happen three times a day, and we were able to make it just in time for the 3pm session! As well as housing kiwis, the center is home to a large collection of giant freshwater eels. These eels start their lives in the waters around several of the Pacific islands, journey all the way to New Zealand to mature and live their lives, and then swim back to the islands to reproduce.
While Elsa and I were visiting the kiwi center, Dad and Aunt Janet took all the gear to the house that we’d rented through AirBNB. This turned out to be a much better way of accommodating four people than using motel rooms! They joined us opposite the kiwi center to shop for an evening barbecue, the cooking and eating of which took up most of the rest of the evening.
Click here to read the next part of the story.