Round the World – New Zealand Days 24 and 25

Round the World – New Zealand Days 24 and 25

It was a pleasure to wake up and not need to be heading to the airport for another flight. The flying is always enjoyable but a day off every now and then helps to manage the fatigue and keep the pace sensible. We had a relaxed breakfast with the Drakes before relocating the aircraft around the side of the house to the tie-downs; the wind direction had shifted and Bruce had warned us that wind strength could increase without warning, so better to be safe than sorry!

After this we drove back into Christchurch to meet my father and aunt. We parked at the botanical gardens and walked through them to meet the family, who had texted me to let me know that they were waiting “next to a gorilla playing an accordion”. This was an accurate description; the musical gorilla was certainly pulling in plenty of tips so his strategy seemed to be working. We pulled ourselves away from the spectacle and headed for a light lunch at the “Boat House” restaurant.

After lunch we walked through town for a while. The impact of the 2011 earthquake was still clearly visible throughout the city, although the rebuilding was clearly proceeding at a great pace. The earthquake was New Zealand’s 5th deadliest disaster at the time and knocked it off of its perch as the nations 2nd most populous city as people moved away in the aftermath.

We carried on through the city until we came to the Cardboard Cathedral. The main Christchurch Cathedral was seriously damaged in the earthquake and this replacement was opened in August 2013. A major part of the structure is made up of 24″ cardboard tubes, hence the unofficial moniker. Rising nearly 70ft above the alter and seating around 700 people, it’s a very impressive structure indeed! The timeline to repair the main cathedral is still unknown so this one is expected to be in use for quite some time.

We walked from the cathedral back towards the center of the city. Dad and my aunt would be carrying on now to drive north along the coast, while we enjoyed one more night in Christchurch before heading to catch up with them. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Elsa and I jumped onto the city sightseeing tram that runs loops around the central districts, a guided commentary being provided by the driver. He pointed out a number of the significant buildings and described a lot of the various impacts of the earthquake and what was being done to rebuild. We got off the tram near the botanical gardens after most of its loop was done.

We took a slow walk around the gardens, starting at the Peacock Fountain. We carried on along the Avon River before heading through the Rose Garden, and back towards the car. Our next stop was the earthquake museum, a very moving exhibition about the 2011 earthquake including many first person accounts of the day itself.

We drove back up towards Barradale, stopping to pick up some desserts and wine and to fill up the car that Bruce had kindly lent us to use. That evening we enjoyed an amazing home-cooked meal of salmon and accompaniments courtesy of the Drakes.

We enjoyed another late breakfast with the Drakes and afterwards had a little tour of the airfield to see Bruce’s aircraft and workshop. That done, we taxied the aircraft round to the front of the house for a couple of photographs. Bruce had very kindly fixed the broken landing gear fairing the day before while we had been out, using a spare which he had from a wrecked aircraft. This was really taking hospitality to the extreme and it felt good to have that issue taken care of; there are enough other things to worry about on a trip like this.

We took off using runway 06 and circled overhead the field once to gain height before heading on course to the north. We’d taken Bruce’s advice on this, ensuring that we were high enough not to clash with any traffic at the private strip just to the north, or at Rangiora airfield which was not much further away. There was one aircraft flying at Rangiora but we were well above him as we climbed out, sandwiched between their traffic pattern below and the controlled airspace of Christchurch overhead.

We headed north near the coast. The wind was blowing hard from the west, coming in over the mountains, but at our level there wasn’t much in the way of turbulence. As we closed in on Kaikoura we started descending in the hope of seeing some whales; this part of the coast is renowned for whale watching. We tuned into the area broadcast frequency so that we could listen in to the positions of the whale watching aircraft, and let them know what we were up to.

We had arrived at a good time; two aircraft were discussing the location of a whale that had been spotted and two whale-watching boats were close to it, making it easy to spot. The commercial aircraft were down at 500ft, so we circled above them at about 1,200ft, still getting a pretty good view of the whale. Before long it dived and we continued on our way north along the coast.

Christchurch to Picton

As the mountains draw closer to the coast north of Kaikoura the highway and railway are sandwiched into a narrow strip of land along the beach. It was fascinating seeing how they had been constructed, hurdling the rivers and streams that run down out of the mountains at irregular intervals. After a little while we turned inland to head to the VFR corridor that allows traffic to come in to the airfield at Omaka, putting up with a bit of turbulence as we came across the hills south of Omaka and Blenheim.

The wind was blowing hard from the northwest but with Omaka’s six runways it wasn’t hard to find one with minimal crosswind and we taxied in to visitor parking in from of the Marlborough Aero Club. I checked in with the club to confirm we were parked in the right spot, and chatted to them about my next planned stop of Picton. They suggested that it wasn’t a great place to try and fly into in with these wind conditions, and recommended that I stop back in and have another chat on the way out.

We walked back down the field to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center. Omaka is a major center of warbird activity, which started in the 1990s when local pilots imported a pair of Nanchang CJ-6 trainers. Stage one of the Aviation Heritage Center was opened in 2006, dedicated to World War One aircraft. The director Peter Jackson has played a large part in the center and most of the aircraft are displayed in tableaus created with the help of his movie set teams. Stage two, covering World War Two, opened in 2016.

We met my aunt and father at the center, and the ladies relaxed in the cafe while Dad and I visited the aviation exhibits. The tableaus set up to display the aircraft were beautifully created and really helped to put the aircraft in context and tell the stories around them. A large number of the aircraft in the displays are still airworthy and fly at open days and other special events.

We left the museum and drove over to the Aero Club. Elsa had decided to ride with the ground team, given the expected turbulence on the short flight to Picton. I chatted about the conditions with some of the experienced pilots at the club and we called up someone living at the destination field; all concurred that there’d be bumps on the way in, but the actual approach and landing shouldn’t be a problem. I sent the ground team on their way, headed back to the aircraft, and launched north for Picton.

Blenheim cleared me through their airspace and I headed straight for the entrance of the valley that leads to Picton. Up at 1,500ft there was a fair amount of turbulence but nothing horrific. The airstrip at Picton is run by Sounds Air, and one of the restrictions on visiting aircraft is that no take-offs or landings can be made while a Sounds Air aircraft is at the terminal. I’d timed my arrival to be just after a flight departure, but I arrived a couple of minutes early. I circled a little way north of the field as the Cessna Caravan departed to the south, before joining a left downwind to land and parking up between the hangars as instructed.

The ground team had arrived just in time to watch me landing; Dad gave me a hand unloading the aircraft and getting the cover in place.

After paying the landing fee at the terminal building we drove north to Picton. We checked into our AirBNB before Dad, Elsa and I hopped back in the car and drove north for some sightseeing along the Port Underwood Road. Most of the road was heavily vegetated so the sightseeing opportunities were limited, but we managed to find a couple of beautiful vantage points to stop and look out. That evening we ate down near the water front in Picton and returned to bed early; the ground team would be departing at 6am the following morning to catch the ferry, and we wouldn’t be far behind them!

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