Our lovely hosts at the AirBNB gave us a lift to the airfield, accompanied by their teenage daughter. Their daughter was interested in aviation; she had been gliding fairly often until a wing separated from the glider one day. She miraculously survived the crash, spiraling down 1,500ft with one wing like a sycamore seed and walking away with only minor injuries. She’d been taking a bit of a break from flying since then, which was entirely understandable! She gave me a hand doing the pre-flight inspection on Planey; all was good, and we were soon starting up and ready to go.
The overnight rain and cloud had cleared out from Picton, but had been moving the way we were going and was now over the Wellington area. I had therefore decided to file an IFR flight plan. Just before takeoff I received a call from the ATC center asking about our route; they couldn’t find the airway that I had filed after Wellington on any of their maps! As we were chatting, they said “Oh no, wait, it’s ok, we found it. Wow, nobody ever flies that one”.
The weather over the Cook Strait was beautiful, but low cloud and fog was hanging over the land of the North Island. We entered the cloud as we passed over the coast, with the autopilot following the GPS course for us east towards Masterton. We had decided to stop into Masterton that morning as the New Zealand national aerobatic championships were going on there; it would be a good opportunity to meet a bunch of other pilots and see some high level flying.
As we descended towards the field we came clear of the cloud, and entered a left downwind. Transient parking was right where all the aerobatic aircraft seemed to be gathered, so we taxied over and shut down somewhere that I hoped would be out of the way. As we came in someone came on the radio and quizzed us about current weather conditions, to try and get some idea of when they’d be able to start the day’s competition.
There were plenty of pilots and spectators hanging around, waiting on the conditions to improve enough for aerobatic flight. We passed the time chatting about the competition and our flight. A couple of aviation journalists were present to cover the contest, and they took the opportunity to interview us about the journey so far and take a few photographs. After an hour or so the bad weather blew through, and the first contestant was able to take off and start their routine. One of the visiting pilots kindly lent me her BP fuel card so we could fill up the aircraft before continuing.
We watched some of the very impressive aerobatic maneuvers before starting up and following out the kind fuel-card lending pilot and her husband in their RV. We took off between competition flights and climbed hard to the north to clear the mountains north of Masterton, setting course for the small airstrip of Te Kowhai. Cloud was scattered, with thicker sections off to either side of the route including over Mt Ruapehu; yet again we were denied a view of it!
We were stopping off in Te Kowhai to attend their annual open day and fly-in. It seemed like most of the fly-in visitors had attended in the morning as there was now a steady stream of aircraft taxiing out of parking to depart. We taxied in and some men on a golf cart directed us to a space next to a Yak and we shut down and said hello. They recognised the aircraft and invited us across to the pilot tent for some hot dogs and to chat to some of the locals. It’s always a pleasure to talk about the trip!
One of the men who had greeted us came back over with a journalist in tow. He interviewed us and took some photographs; it was turning out to be a busy day for talking to local media! This done, we went off to wander around the airport and check out the various stalls and displays. There were quite a variety of aircraft and cars on display and plenty of good food stalls to enjoy. By the mid-afternoon we’d seen all there was to see, and returned to the ‘plane for our final flight of the day.
We took off towards the west and turned right towards Auckland. It was a beautiful afternoon to fly, with clear skies and smooth air. We cruised north across the parched fields, trundling along well behind a couple of RVs which had left just before us and rocketed off ahead. On arrival at Ardmore we taxied straight to the NZ Warbirds Association’s hangar 2; they had kindly offered to host Planey for a few weeks until the flight was ready to continue across the Pacific. One of their pilots gave me a lift to go and collect the rental car, after which we put the airplane to bed and headed out to our hotel near the main airport.
The next morning we went for brunch near the international airport before Elsa’s flight. We had a bit of time to kill, so we went and visited the memorial garden for the crew of the ill-fated Air New Zealand flight 901. This was a DC-10 with 257 people on board that crashed into Mt Erebus during a sightseeing flight to the Antarctic, with the loss of all on board. It was very sobering to sit on the grass and watch the flights taking off from Auckland airport, and think about the unfortunate chain of errors that led up to that disaster. After a while it was time to head to departures, and send Elsa on her way back home.
With Elsa safely at the airport and through security I returned to Ardmore. As I pulled in a parade of Land Rovers was pulling out of a side road – I stopped to let the tail of the column continue and keep them all together. I then regretted my decision, as they all continued to the Warbirds hangar and took the last parking space!
I had been due to meet another journalist here but he’d cancelled at short notice, so I pre-flighted, loaded up, and headed out to the south. My father was still around, making his way back up the North Island, and we had planned to meet up in Turangi at the southern end of Lake Taupo. I set up a slow climb to remain underneath Auckland’s airspace and leveled off at 3,500ft to cruise south towards the lake. There was an overcast layer hanging about over Ardmore, but as I headed south the weather cleared up.
I climbed a little more as I approached the lake to stay clear of terrain, and then descended overhead Turangi to check out the field conditions. I circled out to the south and came in to land towards the lake, surprising some trout fisherman in the river near the threshold. Turangi is famous for quality fishing. My father was visible next to his car, taking pictures as I landed, and he met me in the parking area as I taxied in.
Dad met me at the aircraft and suggested we take a scenic flight. Given that Mt Ruapehu was finally visible and not covered in cloud, I thought that this sounded like an excellent idea. We fired the engine back up again and took off to the north, with a left turn out towards the mountains in the National Park. One of them, my father informed me, had been used as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings films, the filming locations for which we had managed to mostly avoid so far!
We climbed steadily towards Ruapehu, reaching just under 9,500ft to stay below the controlled airspace above. As we drew closer to Ruapehu we were able to climb a little higher, into the circle of uncontrolled airspace that surrounds the peak of the mountain, and at 10,000ft we were able to look right down into the crater lake. It was exciting to get this view that so few people are ever privileged to see. After circling the volcano we descended down the western side towards the lake again and came in to land back at Turangi.
That evening we drove out to the lake for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the water. The view would have been perfect; if there hadn’t been a giant marquee blocking the entire frontage of the dining room!
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