There are a few small airports in the Nelson region which I had not previously visited; and some which I had, but were worth a return visit. The first new airport was Motueka, just up the coast from Nelson and home to a busy flight training center, an aero club, and plenty of private owners. Apparently the field had become busier since the latest managers of Nelson airport started to introduce policies and inflated fees that seemed designed to drive General Aviation away from the airport. Motueka is a good airport with a well-maintained tarmac runway, and is about a 30 minute walk from the center of the town, making it practical to fly in for a meal; which is what I did, walking into town for a Thai curry.
By the time I got back to the aircraft, the sun had entirely disappeared behind the mountains. This, then, would be my chance for my first night flight in about a year! Flying at night always feels rather difference, and this night did not disappoint; the air was smoother, and cocooned in the cockpit it felt like the rest of the world had almost ceased to exist. All too soon I was on final approach to Nelson, the runway lights blazing in through the windshield, and I was back to real life.
A few days later, Kevin joined me and we flew back up the coast, passing overhead Motueka this time and continuing to Takaka, home of the Golden Bay Flying Club. We had planned to fly to Paraparumu airport, to attend a public meeting in opposition to the new owners, land developers who want to shut the airport down and develop it (making huge amounts of money in the process, of course). The meeting was cancelled at the last minute due to attendance limitations caused by COVID 19, but we found out about a fly-in breakfast being held at Takaka and decided to go there instead.
Turnout was remarkably good, with upwards of 30 aircraft present, and not much parking space remaining. There was a spot landing competition on arrival, which I had not been aware of in advance of, at least that’s the excuse I’m using for poor performance! There was quite the selection of interesting aircraft, including a scale reproduction of a P51 Mustang. I chatted to many of the attending pilots, some of whom let me know about a fly-in that would be happening the following week, near Christchurch. It sounded like a great time, so I added it to my calendar!
Aircraft started to depart for home, and before too long Planey was blocking in a couple of early arrivals. Kevin and I used this as our signal to head out too, and after saying our goodbyes we back-tracked down runway 36, taking off to the north and heading out across the bay. I handed control to Kevin after take-off and he flew us home, staying lower this time and following the coast around Farewell Spit and down past Motueka. Kevin performed an excellent landing back at Nelson, despite admitting that it had been quite some time since he’d flown a small single engine aircraft!
The following weekend, it was time for the AOPA NZ fly-in. This was being hosted at a private airfield near Christchurch owned by member Charlie Draper. Most of the participants, myself included, arrived on the Friday evening and attended a gathering at the local rugby club, for dinner and a briefing about the following day’s activities. The 50+ attending aircraft were to be divided up into small groups, each of which would be led around a number of local private airstrips. I selected a group with two other Cessna 182s, and a Cessna 172, which would be touring a number of airstrips set up into the Southern Alps. It would be hard to beat the views!
The following day dawned bright and clear, with light winds. Unusually great weather for a fly-in! These conditions would allow us to visit all the planned airstrips, assuming they held throughout the day. After a light breakfast of croissants and juice at the bakery across the road, I caught a ride in a “ute” and headed out to the airstrip, where more aircraft were arriving, and plenty of pilots were preparing their craft for the day.
After pre-flighting, I fired up the engine and let it warm slowly; it had been a cold night. As the oil temperature neared 80 I eased in some throttle, checking carefully that none of the various pedestrians milling around were dangerously close, and made my way to the runway. I departed off the northerly runway, carefully fitting in between arriving aircraft, and flew the short flight south the the Charing Cross airstrip. This is the home of Ross Millichamp, owner of a beautiful back-country modified C182, and the leader of our little group. The other C182 flown by Angus Ross (there was something of a “Ross” theme going on), and the C172, touched down shortly after me. After a few introductions and a briefing about our first stop, we were off.
Our first destination was the “Intake” strip, named for its location on river flats adjacent to a water intake on the Rakaia river. The flat, fertile land in the Christchurch area is a huge producer of cattle; and to produce a large amount of cattle, you need to grow a great deal of grass. This all takes plenty of water, much of which is drawn from these snow-melt and glacier fed rivers flowing down from the Southern Alps. The strip was rough and rocky, about at the limit of what I was comfortable flying into on my stock tires, but the landing passed without incident. I did nearly get stuck in a muddy section when parking, though!
The four of us departed from Intake and headed up the river towards the strip at Bruce Nell’s. This strip is really just a large, relatively smooth paddock, and was apparently correspondingly difficult to spot; we followed Ross on a couple of circles of the area before spotting the tell-tale hangar building (painted dark green, and standing in the shadow of trees). Landing was uphill, and I rolled to a stop quickly before parking up with the rest of the fleet off to one side. It wasn’t long before another collection of aircraft, led by Ian Sinclair in his C172, arrived to join us; Ian had had to remove his aircraft battery, so the engine was left running at most subsequent stops to remove the need for hand-starting it!
As a larger group, we now set off further into the mountains. The next stop was the Manuka Point Lodge airstrip, most often used for bringing guests to and from the lodge. We all parked up on the shorter, crosswind runway, and had a slightly longer stop here in order to enjoy a drink and a snack. It’s important to keep the energy levels up when flying!
We set out from here further up the valley to the Jellico strip, taking off in small groups that could backtrack and depart in between arriving dribs and drabs of tail-draggers. Jellico is a one-way strip, with landing being carried out up the hill, and taking off being done downhill towards the valley floor. Everybody managed to get in and out of this short stop without incident.
From Jellico, we headed due south into a side valley, and Lake Heron. We landed on the strip at Lake Heron Station, which is blessed with a large parking area; hence, this stop was chosen for lunch. As we sat in the sun and ate our various sandwiches and other snacks, more aircraft arrived, including a nice new C206 and a helicopter. The challenge of strip flying seemed to be rather removed when in a helicopter!
The afternoon continued with short stops at Arrowsmith, and then Lake Camp. The latter was without a doubt the roughest strip of the day, with the grass long enough to be mown down by the propeller. I stuck carefully in the wheel-tracks of the preceding airplane, to try and avoid any potential animal holes.
As the afternoon drew on, we continued to the Ben McLeod strip, another paddock which took a couple of orbits to locate. It was here that a small unaccompanied dog came to meet us on arrival, and had to be quickly swept up by one of the other pilots to avoid an untimely meeting with the propeller of an arriving aircraft. From here our route took us back down out of the mountains, dropping into a couple more well manicured strips, and ending up at Lismore Base where we had a chance to check out the owner’s gyrocopter. Before long it was time to fly back to Nelson, after a great weekend’s flying.
The weather over the next few days was good; Nelson was living up to its reputation as the sunniest place in New Zealand. I was able to take advantage of this to make flights to the nearby grass strips of Murchison and Nelson Lakes.
Murchison sits at the confluence of the Buller and Matakitaki rivers, about halfway between Nelson and Westport. It services Highway 6, and offers tourist attractions centered around whitewater activities such as river rafting. The Murchison earthquake in 1929 resulted in 17 casualties, making it the third deadliest in New Zealand’s history. The airstrip is located very close to the town, making it a very short walk into the center for a chocolate brownie and a hot drink!
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