The following day dawned with much lower winds. It looked good for a flight to Pitt Island, before heading back to the mainland. After breakfast Greg provided a lift out to the airport, I met up again with Dylan the 206 pilot. He helped with pulling the 182 out of the hangar, and offered up use of the Air Chathams computer to file the flight plan. The Convair was parked up on the ramp, having cargo loaded before its flight out to the mainland. The captain asked if I wanted to look around, and I jumped at the chance to check out the cabin and cockpit. It certainly looked like something from an earlier era!
I started up the engine and let the oil warm, as the passengers were walking out to the Convair. They sent puzzled glances towards Planey, perhaps wondering what such a small airplane was doing so far from New Zealand. The oil temperature came up, and I back-tracked down the runway, pausing at the end to carry out a thorough set of pre-takeoff checks before pushing the throttle in and getting underway. The Convair started to taxi out as I passed over the end of the runway and turned south towards Pitt Island.
I stayed at low level, and flew down the coast past Waitangi towards the lodge. Descending to 500 feet gave great views and photo opportunities of home for the last three nights, before I climbed up again to cross the south eastern side of Chatham Island towards Pitt. From the air, there were great views of some of the inland lakes and then all of a sudden, coming over the coast, a spectacular waterfall tumbling over the cliffs! It was impressive enough to warrant a circle round to see it a second time and get some good photographs.
Having drunk in my fill of the coastal views, I climbed up to 2,000 feet for the water crossing to Pitt Island. It came into view very quickly, and I kept Dylan’s instructions in mind as I tried to pick out the right landmarks to spot the airstrip. His instructions were spot on, and the strip popped into view right where expected. I flew a left downwind to check out the strip conditions, and came in for a landing, making sure to avoid the bottom third of the strip which was apparently the most bumpy. I parked up next to the windsock and shut down, keen to step foot on Pitt Island.
There wasn’t a great amount at the strip, apart from the windsock and a long drop toilet. While wandering around and taking a few photos, a black robin stopped by and perched on the propeller. These little birds are unique to the Chatham Islands, and it was great to see one up close. After a little more stretching of the legs, it was time to start up and get under way again. I took off downhill, avoiding the bumpy lower part of the strip, and circled around the northern side of the island before settling into a long climb en-route.
Amazingly, the wind had shifted around and was giving a tailwind for the flight back. I climbed to a little under 10,000 feet and set the autopilot to follow the course set in the IFD540 GPS. The Air Chathams Convair was still just about within VHF range, and they were kind enough to use their HF radio to let Auckland Oceanic know that ’53H was airbourne and en-route.
The flight was very smooth, with nothing to do other than pass the time with a little entertainment from my tablet and occasionally transfer fuel from the ferry tank until it was completely emptied out. About 100 miles out from the coast, I made contact with Napier tower, and a little later started my descent. There was a fair amount of cloud around, but it was not too challenging to remain in VMC conditions.
Napier sent me to the ship dock reporting point initially, and then cleared me for a left downwind to land. I taxied in to parking; no fuel was needed at this stop, given the large amount that I’d taken when leaving Gisborne to head out to the Chathams! The only order of business was a bathroom stop and a bite to eat at the airport cafe. Similar to a few of the other regional airports in New Zealand, there was no obvious way to exit and enter the secure area, but a couple of local flight businesses were happy to help out with exit and entry through their offices. Soon it was time for the final flight back to Ardmore.
The airport itself was pretty clear, but low cloud was hanging around most of the rest of the area. Tower cleared me to fly out to the west, back over the sea, and climb up through an area of clear sky until I could get on top of the clouds. One circle was enough to get the job done, and I set course for Ardmore. The cloud tops slowly rose as I went, and Napier was able to coordinate with Rotorua control and get clearance into their airspace to keep me in clear air.
The cloud dispersed as I approached Ardmore, and I gradually descended to remain underneath Auckland’s airspace. I parked Planey up at Warbirds again, and took an Uber to the rental car place to collect my transport for the next few days. This done, it was time to return to the Airline Flying Club for drinks and burger night – they’d invited me along when I’d flown with them a few days back! It was another great evening swapping flying stories with the gang, including one lady who’d been knocked down by the Beaver in the Raglan incident; she was healing nicely and had even been given a free Beaver t-shirt for her troubles.
There was only one big event left before the end of the New Zealand section. This was the annual Warbirds Open Day, held at Ardmore, with plenty of flying displays and ground exhibits. Planey’s presence had been requested on display in one of the hangars, along with some information boards all about the trip. I had been excited to oblige, it was always fun to talk about the flight! I arrived a little after seven to taxi Planey around to Hangar 4, and get the displays set up. Others were already at work in the hangar, setting up a record-breaking motorcycle as well as an aircraft from the Ardmore Aero Club, and various radio control modelers.
People started to show up in dribs and drabs a little while before the official opening time. A couple of the earliest visitors were police officers on airport duty, and we chatted for quite a while about the adventure before they moved on. More and more people started to stop by and talk, and look over the display that I’d put together; big posters showing the map of the trip, some of the key information, and most of the required tools and equipment laid out on a table.
There were a wide range of historic military aircraft on show, all of them still flying. Apparently, this was one of the best turn-outs they’d had in years. One highlight was a Grumman TBM-3E Avenger torpedo bomber, which sadly met with some bad luck on arrival; a cylinder cracked and as it taxied in, gallons of oil poured onto the tarmac. It looked like the poor old Avenger would not be going anywhere for a while, but at least it had made it in safely!
In the afternoon, I took a break from manning the Planey display, and went for a walk around the rest of the show. There were all kinds of exhibits and displays, centered of course around aviation but also classic cars and muscle cars, old military vehicles, and more. Back at the 182, plenty of people were still coming by to chat, including an oceanic controller from Auckland control! Marnie was kind enough to invite me over to visit the control center before I left on the final leg of the trip, and introduce me to the controllers. I eagerly accepted in advance!
The event wound down, and I took Planey back over to parking at Hangar 2. A drink in the Warbirds bar finished off a great day at Ardmore!
The final day in New Zealand was spent having a final sort-out of the aircraft. I got together a box full of extra items that could be sent back to home base, as well as the spare engine cylinder that was a leftover of the engine rebuild in Australia. Oceania aviation were good enough to help out again with a couple of spare boxes and packing supplies, and even sent me on my way with a couple of key-rings. I was already looking forward to stopping in and seeing them again on my return to New Zealand! For now, it was time for a long airline flight, and a long lock-down thanks to the rapidly unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. When the flight could restart was anybody’s guess.
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