I'd never been to New Zealand, so when a business opportunity came up I started thinking about the flying possibilities as well. Most pilot tourists seem to follow the accompanied flying route with an NZ PIC and I think this is the best advice if you have family with you, because my chosen independent route involved a great deal of hanging about! Visitors can obtain a visitor's permit based on their foreign licence, or an NZ PPL. The fly in the ointment is a mandatory requirement for an approved course in terrain familiarisation which is being applied to all new PPL's and visitor's permits. This mandatory training is extremely well intentioned and apparently justified by NZ's unusal and sometimes extreme weather, combined with mountainous terrain, but the course is 5 Hours and something of a dis-incentive to a visitor with limited time in the country.
The permit is only valid for 6 months and a 'BFR' is required. Also required although I only found out at a late stage is an NZ 'type rating' in the intended aircraft - in this sense, a 152 is a different aircraft to a 172, regardless of how many hours you have in either. I found the response from NZ aero clubs that I approached via email somewhat mixed, although this may have had something to do with my announced intention of renting a 172 for 10 days to go Auckland (In the N Island) to Queenstown (in the S Island). However, every club that I contacted had the courtesy to reply.
I was lucky to be put in touch via a friend who lives there with a club at Ardmore, one of the few who would rent an aircraft to go to S Island.
And so, armed with all my original logbooks, licences etc., and having pre-applied to NZ CAA with everything apart from the BFR (which can only be done in NZ), I set off for Heathrow.....
The Auckland flight arrives at 5am Auckland time and there was nothing for it but to get a rental car and drive to Ardmore, 10mi from the International airport. Fortunately I found a hotel that would let me check into a room at that ungodly hour and suitably refreshed I presented myself at the Aero club.
They seemed quite surprised that I'd even turned up, and spent the first hour trying to put me off my planned trip with descriptions of incoming weather systems and the fact that the NZ summer had ended the day before. I got the impression that the NZ aero clubs get quite a lot of enquiries from hopeful PPL's and I had to work quite hard to convince them that a) I'd done this sort of thing before and b) I might be able to do it in NZ and bring their plane back as well.
After a while, it was like a dam had burst and the CFI said quite suddenly "OK, lets go and do the BFR then". This was partly because the weather was already turning and the next couple of days were indeed horrendous. So here I was, straight off the LA flight walking out to a 152 in a place I'd been in for 6Hrs and trying to convince a CFI that he wanted to rent me a plane to fly the length of the country.
Ardmore is very close to the Auckland International. Here's a screencap of the area borrowed from SkyDemon.
Most of the checkout / BFR consists of teaching you how to get back into Ardmore once you've left and with traffic coming from all directions it's Useful experience! Here's the view on departure looking NE to Auckland harbour. The city is in the right distance. The BFR consists of the usual manoevres, stalls, etc and a PFL in the highly scenic area S of the airport.
We route back staying carefully over the Hunua and Waterworks VRP's. Auckland Harbour in the far distance, Ardmore right behind the range of low hills in the middle distance.
Then it's back to the airport for a deadside join ('Non-Traffic Side' in Kiwi).
I make a half respectable landing, switching to the parallel grass runway on short final as a twin announces he is on final behind us for the hard runway ('Sealed' in Kiwi). Standard proceedure at Ardmore and we land virtually side by side. To my surprise, I find myself in posession of an NZ BFR, type rating in the 152 and completed temporary permit application form. Wow! I've come half-way round the world for this!
Maps copied from SkyDemon> Huge storms are rolling in from the Tasman Sea and Ardmore is drenched in torrential rain. Sometimes it's quite hard to see the other side of the runway but about midday a break appears to the SW and I decide it's time to go. The little Cessna is quite watertight and starts eagerly. Even at the hold it's still raining cats n' dogs, but the bright patch of sky is ever beckoning and away we go. This close to Auckland airspace I have to be very careful about what I was shown during the checkout about the road and railway line that parallel the TMA, only a mile to the N.
Fortunately the break in the weather is right where I want to go and soon I am passing the glider site at Drury, another 'must avoid' highlight of the check ride. As we leave the Ardmore area I am delighted to see that SkyDemon is performing flawlessly, confirming my visual navigation and clearly showing the all-to-close CTR boundary.
I'm making for the coast now, so that if the storms close in I'll be able to descend to low level. To the N, Auckland harbour slides by and ahead the Waikato river offers a route to the sea. But by now I can see the coast away to the SW and at 1500' I am clear of the weather. This is my first glimpse of the Tasman Sea and a wild coast it is!
As I route South now I'm heartened by reports of good weather at my destination, New Plymouth and the fact that no high ground lies between it and me. Just off the coast, the sky is bright, but inland clouds are firmly glued to every hilltop. There are several airfields along my route and the first, Raglan, slips by. It's comforting to see that these coastal fields are easily accessible despite the weather.
South, always South, we go. Rounding each headland reminds me that New Zealand is a volcanic country and that each one of these hills is actually a volcano. Not so long ago (28,000 years apparently) they were spitting fire and brimstone into the sky. Now, it's just me up here - and in this entire journey I won't see another plane in the air.
Gradually the skies brighten and the runway at New Plymouth slides into view.
Shame that the cloud seems to have spoiled your view of the little hill to South of New Plymouth. >
I got quite a good look at that 'little hill'. The hill in question is a vast classic Shield Volcano and it took a good 30 mins to fly around. Here it is as i depart the New Plymouth area, initially to the South but soon turning West to the coast to avoid weather inland.
My route today tracks the E Coast of the North Island down as far as you can go, to the capital city of Wellington. On my right is the Tasman Sea, strange and Exotic to European eyes, and far over the horizon is the continent of Australia. If I owned a plane here, I'd sure have long range tanks so that I could make that little hop (of 1200nm) whenever I felt like it.
Here's a rather fuzzy view of that 8000' 20 mi diameter 'little hill'.
South of the mountain the weather is clear for the long run down to Wellington. Here we are approaching Paraparaumu (Try pronouncing that> on the radio!). Actually a very welcoming GA airport - wish I had time to stop over.
And finally, Wellington harbour. One of the most spectacular settings of my flying career. And I've seen some spectacular places, but this is just stunning.
At Wellington they don't seem to have too many VFR tourists turning up in 152's and they rise to the challenge, parking me in the engine test bay. This is a large enclosed area surrounded by 30' concrete walls that would protect the little Cessna from a hurricane if one developed (it didn't). There are even concrete tie down blocks. (In NZ, they have heard the Rolf Harris ditty "tie your aircraft down, boy, tie your aircraft down" and i agree 110%, if such a thing were possible.) I'm delivered to an international arrivals gate with instructions for how to navigate the labyrinthine corridors to get to the exit. In the morning, I will come to the flying club and have specific instructions for the cab driver because they've moved recently and most of the airport diagrams are out of date. I really like Wellington and wish I could stay longer, but the call of the South is overwhelming. I'm almost there! A note for pilots: If you come to Wellington, stick to the published proceedures. Just because they say "cleared to join downwind" does not mean that you are cleared to proceed direct to downwind - it means fly the published VFR proceedure to downwind. One of my instructors said "stay away from Wellington" and that's a bit over the top, but apparently it's not unusual to get a bo****ing and, in the nicest possible way, I was no exception.>>
Leaving Wellington harbour (this is the site of the Wahine ferry disaster in 1968) we head straight out into the 30 miles of the Cook strait direct to Cape Campbell at the tip of the South Island.
I consider that I'm an old hand at this channel crossing business, but I would hesitate to bring passengers on such a long overwater trip, especially while being held down at low level (1500') by Wellington ATC until half way across. I have the comfort of an ex Air NZ passenger lifejacket provided by the club, but no liferaft. I'm glad I have my 406 Mhz PLB from home because while the plane does have an ELT, this won't work well in the sea. At least the water here is likely to be a bit warmer than around the British Isles, but I soon notice that it's no Irish Sea in another sense. There are no ships to splash down in front of. Soon, Cape Campbell and the South Island hove into view and thoughts of a lonely ditching are set aside until next time.
The South Island terrain is immediately more rugged that the fairly rugged North Island, but there are plenty of crescent beaches along the way. Soon, I begin to see the braided streams that cascade for the interior mountains down to the sea along this entire coast.
Rocky volcanic headlands punctuate this stunningly, overpoweringly beautiful coastline as the miles drift by, as if in a dream. So dreamlike, in fact, that at first I don't notice the ever increasing ETA at my destination as a strengthening headwind takes it's toll on the little Cessna's modest endurance. Soon I'm approaching the famous whale watching resort of Kaikoura. There's fuel here, but I calculate that it's safe to continue toward my intended destination of Ashburton, but with no reserves for whale watching today. Past Kaikoura, the coastline opens out into a wide plain between the sea and the central spine of mountains.
The cliffs give way to a vast crescent beach stretching away for ever to the South. I am approaching the Canterbury plains.
Now the headwind strengthens remorselessly. According to Skydemon my ground speed is down to 70kt and I know I am burning more fuel for a slightly higher airspeed as well. The kindly controller at Canterbury, doubtless noticing my snail's progress along the shoreline, asks if I'd like to turn direct to Christchurch away on my right. I realise that Ashburton, still 50 miles away and directly into wind , is outside my range and that I will have to divert into Christchurch, my designated alternate, but not yet. First, I want to have a peek at famous Lyttleton, behind that very bumpy mountain range just ahead.
The wind at Christchurch is freshening now and I call with "a change of plan - request land Christchurch" which is immediately acknowledged. Now, SkyDemon comes into it's own as I hurtle downwind over this featureless plain, allowing me to pick up and identify completely unfamiliar VRP's like a pro. Too much like a pro, really, because the tower assume that I can identify runways as well.
Turning onto final, I realise that the grass to which I have been cleared is much less obvious than expected. I've already been told that it's "between the white marker boards" but there are white marker boards all over the airfield! (They shift the grass runway sideways during the season and it's far from obvious to an exhausted visitor which one is active). The controller senses my difficulty and says "cleared to land on the sealed if you'd prefer" which I gratefully accomplish. I gingerly taxi in the gusty wind, remembering that taxying is the most hazardous part of flying a Cessna. and contact the aero club for a parking spot with tie downs. For once I am relieved to be on the ground, and still with an hours' fuel remaining. Ashburton will have to wait. For now, I have made it to the South Island.
I am hoping to see the famous cathedral, but the area of the city centre cordoned off is so great that I never even get a glimpse of it. Instead, I cruise around the dead-end roads, every turn bring more shocking revelations.
Evidently a lot of the damaged buildings were of older steel frame construction where the fascias had been replaced. When the quake hit, these fascias fell away from the buildings into the street. This accounted for quite a lot of the fatalities.
Lyttleton> Feeling that I've done enough rubber-necking to last a lifetime, I turn away from Christchurch to the little port of Lyttleton. I know that Lyttleton is reached by a long road tunnel and I do wonder if it will even be accessible. In the event the very long tunnel is apparently unaffected, surely a tribute to the designers.
My objective, apart from seeing the famous and now hideously damaged port, is to find one of what must be one of the world's most obscure museums - the torpedo boat museum.
I've always been fascinated by the Victorian navy, and this tiny building, accessible only by a remote clifftop path, houses the remains of New Zealand's only means of defence against Russian ships in the 1880's - The torpedo boat 'Defender'.
This tiny craft, built by Thornycroft at Chiswick in 1883, carried a 'spar torpedo', a charge carried on a long wooden pole that had to be rammed against an enemy ship and exploded electrically. Improbable as it sounds, these devices had been used successfully in the American civil war. Defender had lain on a beach at Lyttleton for almost 100 years and had eventually been bulldozed into a pile of scrap, before being dug up and preserved by enthusiasts.
Access to the museum is by courtesy of local volunteers and my host, who had come out especially, was rather surprised when another unannounced visitor just turned up. This gentleman produced from his wallet a faded snap of a small boy standing in the conning tower of Defender while she was still intact and lying on the beach. My host and I both immediately recognised the picture because it is in the museum's collection, but he was as surprised as I was when the chap said that the little boy was him>! He then told us a wondrous tale. He had grown up in Lyttleton and his mother had been a Lyttleton girl. She clearly remembered all of her life that day in November, 1910, when Scott had left from Lyttleton for the Antarctic and the bright pink dress which Scott's wife had worn as she stood beside him on the bridge of the Terra Nova. I found this account very moving indeed. Next: more flying!
I took the rental car back, much to the displeasure of the car rental operation who did not like early returns. After some discussion, they issued me with a credit note but would not refund the extra day I had paid for, so beware! (Car rental in NZ is a funny old business. You can't just rent a car in N Island, drive it across to S Island, do some touring, and come back again. When you get to the Wellington ferry, you have to check the car in, go across as a foot passenger with all your bags, and get another car on the other side. Bizarre!)> Here's the little Cessna parked outside the excellent Canterbury Aero Club. (There was some discussion on here at the time about "the best airfield for Canterbury" and it was difficult to resist the temptation of posting "Here! - just head straight down!")
No trouble identifying the correct set of white marker boards this time and away we go from the grass. To my right as I depart on a Northerly heading are the mountains at Lyttleton, and then swinging around on a right downwind departure the Southern Alps come into view. Between the mountains and the sea is a broad plain, crossed at intervals by the characteristic braided streams.
I head South toward my original destination of Ashburton, out of range due to howling winds a couple of days ago but now lying placidly in this glorious late summer's morning.
VFR Flight plan As with most legs of my flight, I've filed a VFR flight plan with Airways New Zealand, using the iPad and my club's account, which they have generously made available to me. Flight plans cost $4.50 + tax, about £3.00, and are acknowledged with a squawk code that you wear for the entire flight. They are made available to flight information services along your route as well as departure and destination airfields.
SARTIME A flight plan is required for departing Christchurch and unlike the ridiculous UK system, I'm glad to have one. The crucial thing is SARTIME: the latest time before the alarm is raised on your non-arrival. This does mean that you have to be absolutely resolute about closing your plan - especially if routing to unattended fields. Fortunately, NZ FIS are happy to close your plan in the air, so the chance of forgetting due to distraction after landing is much reduced. (Despite this, around 10% of NZ VFR FPLs go overdue unintentionally - but not any of mine, on this trip at least!)
I'm experiencing one of the best flying days of my life, and I savour every moment of it! What a great, what an extraordinary privilege this flying hobby is! And there is no-where better on Earth to enjoy it than in this incredible country of New Zealand. Now, the mountains beckon. I turn away from the coast and approach the first of many ridges that mark the edge of the Southern Alps. On my left is the South Pacific, and my right at 12,346' is Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in Australasia.
What happens next is slightly unexpected. Through a mountain pass dead ahead I glimpse an entirely different type of terrain. The fertile plain and the lush, forested mountain slopes give way to .. a desert! This dry, sandy place could be in Nevada.
At the tip of the glacial lake running down from Mt Cook is my first stop of the day - the tiny desert airstrip of Pukaki. It's quite amazing that this place could be in fertile New Zealand, and not somewhere in the Western US. As I approach Pukaki, I see another plane - a high wing type, maybe a microlight - pass far below me. No radio calls, and no reply to mine. Why would he? On my entire journey, this is the only other aircraft that I will see from the air.
On the ground at Pukaki, I taxi to the automated air BP fuel pump and while away a few minutes in the now familiar game of 'hunt the step ladder'. The kindly folk in the tourist flight hut (the only evidence of life at Pukaki) allow me to borrow their enormous boarding ladder which dwarfs the little Cessna. Soon I have full tanks for my flight to Queenstown and any possible diversion if the weather should close in amongst these high mountains. I'm finding these automated pumps (and my club's generous decision to lend me one of their cards) an absolute boon. Without an air BP card, cross country flying in NZ would be quite difficult. Wow! It's hot here, and it's hard to believe that Las Vegas is not just over that ridge. Instead, it's beautiful Queenstown that beckons...
The route from Pukaki to Queenstown is fairly mountainous and I'm keeping a close eye on the weather. A storm system (lows are clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere!) is moving up from the Arctic Ocean and a front curves gracefully across the Tasman a few hundred miles to SW. For weather information, I am using Metservice, a login to a subscription site kindly provided by my club and of course SkyDemon. It is a genuine view of the future to fly along and see SD update TAF's and METARs in the air, in real time, through the all-pervasive 3G. Whether one is meant to do that is another question, of course...
Note how the route meanders through the gorges close to Queenstown. You can see the VFR arrival proceedures in the NZ AIP and I spent some time studying these. I was also glad to see that the various VRP's are faithfully represented in SkyDemon. On departure from Pukaki, I turn to the SE and leave the desert behind, crossing into a mountainous region. Away to my left is the famous gliding centre of Omarama and I give it a wide berth, constantly scanning the sky for traffic. There isn't any. Higher and higher the little Cessna climbs. On run up at Pukaki, I thought I'd noticed a certain roughness to the engine, but it's running sweetly enough now.
Crossing the ridge ahead at around 6,500', I see a long river valley leading away to the South. On my right is another famous gliding and skydiving centre, Wanaka and I stay well clear, listening to the constant chatter on their frequency. A direct track would take me close to their dropzone, and I don't fancy that.
Ahead is a place called Cromwell where I have to make a sharp right turn into the gorge that leads to Queenstown. This takes me back to my mountain training in Canada in pre-gps days long ago, when the only way to choose the right valley to turn into was by counting them off on the map against a stopwatch. Pretty intimidating, especially as some of the 'wrong' valleys were too narrow to turn back in. Now, with SkyDemon on the passenger seat beside me, nothing could be simpler. So far, it hasn't missed a beat, but anyone who thinks that they can rely on these things is sadly deluded, as I will discover in the weeks to come. At Cromwell Racecourse i make my turn and descend to remain below the tops of the ridges.
Following a sharp left turn in the valley, the first reporting point, Victoria Bridge, comes into view. It's amazing how little space the 152 needs to turn at 70 kt with a little flap and I make an orbit here before being called forward to the next VRP, Bungy Bridge.
The Valley is wider here and I am put into a hold for no less than 5 Orbits. I don't mind this one bit as I drink in the gorgeous scenery all around me with the comfort of knowing that if the engine did stop here, there's plenty of level-ish ground below.
At last, Queenstown calls me forward through the narrow defile that is the exit from the Valley and at last the airfield comes into view.
As I approach the airport, I'm given no less than three runway changes as they shoe horn traffic in front of me, no doubt as the little Cessna is soo slow in the strong headwind. I really don't mind any of this additional sightseeing!
And so at last I'm on the ground in a place that I've known of for most of my life but never imagined visiting, far less flying to. At 45 deg South, I'm further South than any part of Australia and only 2000 miles from Antarctica.
I tie the little Cessna down at the deserted Aero club and make my way around the street to the terminal. Taxying in, I had stopped by the run up area and found I have a significant mag drop. So here I am half a world away from home in one of the wildest places on Earth, and not a plug spanner to my name - that's aviation!
"By Dawn's early light". TSS Earnslaw awakens on the morning of her final departure before the winter refit. Back at the airport, I taxied out to the run up area and found that my engine was mis-firing just as before, and that no amount of aggressive leaning would clear it. The aero club had already suggested a course of action if the fault would not clear and so I taxied to a maintenance hangar for help. Fortunately for me, I found an engineer familiar with Lycomings who was prepared to have a look and so my back up plan - find a hardware shop and buy some tools - wasn't needed. He told me to give him 2 or 3 hours. (Once long ago my PA-28 carb heat fell apart over Ireland, and with no maintenance at Galway, and in close telephone consultation with my engineer I fixed the problem with tools purchased in town. When I got back to UK my engineer said it was a perfectly good repair and would last until the next 50, which it did!) Back in Queenstown, the Earnslaw's crew had told me it was a shame that I had to leave that morning, because they were preparing to winch the ship out of the water for her annual inspection. Now I had time to seek out the slipway and watch proceedings.
Hauling the ship out of the water is a tricky business and divers were working underneath positioning the blocks on which she sits. Most interesting of all is the winch that pulls her up the slip way - built from the paddle engines of a long scrapped 1869 steamer!
Back at the airport, my new best friend had removed and checked the plugs and found one of them (bottom row) badly fouled. Now, she was running sweetly and the weather had lifted slightly, giving me a clear run out of Queenstown to the North. With a pang of remorse at leaving this exquisitely beautiful place so soon, I called for taxi and headed for the runway,
I gunned the engine and headed North. Reassuringly, all four cylinders seemed to be functional as we climbed away, retracing my steps through the narrow valleys past Bungee Bridge (something else you can do in Queenstown!)>.
Very soon I began to glimpse patches of blue sky through the overcast and soon I was in the clear. Ahead, snow capped mountains crossed my route and the little Cessna climbed very, very slowly toward them. One high ridge stubbornly blocked my way and I had to turn parallel to it while we slowly climbed.
Mount Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand, lies beyond the glaciers at the head of this lake.
The Southern Alps lay to the west in all their glory but now I have to turn away and back to the coastal plain and tonight's objective, Ashburton.
Soon I'm on the ground at this beautiful grass field and being welcomed by the inhabitants. They have a magnificent air museum here, containing almost entirely British types and even a Harrier!
Christchurch are extremely accomodating and I'm able to route along the edge of their CTR, inland of the city and clear of the high ground that rises rapidly to the West.
Soon I join the coast, following exquisitely beautiful inland valleys that lie just behind the coastal hills, sometimes down to low level to drink in the glorious scenery. (Who knows when I might pass this way again?) Here is a continuation of the flight up from Christchurch to Masterton in the N. Island. I mentioned the beautiful inland valleys just North of Christchurch These run parallel to the coast with the mountains on one side and the vast expanse of the South Pacific on the other. If ever there was a promised land, this is it!
Great mountains reach down to the sea ahead of me and I transition over the low hills to the coast and toward my first destination, Kaikoura. The runway runs parallel to the beach in a beautiful little bay, sandwiched between high mountains and the vast ocean. Kaikoura has the by now ubiquitous automated petrol pump and lacks the equally non-ubiquitous step ladder. It also has a superb terminal building, dedicated to the whale watching flights for which this place is famous all around the world. While in the terminal I meet another pilot who is passing through, but in a state of mild panic having misplaced his aeroplane key. Oh boy! do I know that feeling! I did it once in Big Bear, California and spent the entire evening re-visiting numerous scenic landmarks, etc., where I had stopped earlier. Only later in the hotel, contemplating the 16 hour drive to Arizona to get the spare set, did I think of the supermarket I had visited. Oh yes! they said, some keys with a tail number on the fob? Yes, they had them and I could get them back if I got there in 5 minutes. Did I just.
In the terminal at Kaikoura I spoke to a tour pilot who gave me the low down on local operations. Whale spotting flights operate at 500' and use a series of local landmarks for positioning. Armed with this and some idea of where to look, I set off with high hopes. I've tried whale spotting before, along the N. California coast, but without success.
I turn out to sea by about 3 mi as suggested and notice a tourist boat further out, turning toward me. I can hear other aircraft calling out the local identifiers I've been briefed with and stick resolutely to 1500', despite the almost irresistible urge to go much, much lower. The tourist boat is coming right at me, making a huge bow wave at pitching strongly in the swell. Right below where I'm circling, he slew broadside on and stops.
Just for a second, I fancy I can see three dark grey shapes in the water beside the boat. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the skipper thought I had seen something and charged over to share in it. I'll never know, because idly circling above the Pacific Ocean in this little 152 with it's very restricted endurance is not an option. I have to move on. Away to the North, the coastline stretches ever onwards, a series of glorious crescent beaches, braided streams and low mountains tumbling down to the sea. Just calling this "the most beautiful place on Earth" is insufficient praise.
An hour passes and at last the north-eastern extremity of South Island, Cape Campbell, comes into sight. Beyond it, lies the expanse of Cook Strait. Cape Campbell has an NDB, but I'm oblivious to it in this un-equipped 152. Today is perfect VFR weather, but flying out here with no installed navaids at all in anything apart from CAVOK puts a lot of trust in GPS, (or in the local Flight Information Service). Now it's time to launch off again, putting faith in the still packed (and not wearable) life-jacket somewhere in the back of the plane. Back home, I never cross the sea without a) wearing a life-jacket and b) having the life raft on the seat behind me. But I do have my trusty 406 EPIRB, brought all the way from UK. I wonder how cold this water is? Across the Strait the Southern tip of N. Island is clearly visible and I cheerfully ask for a clearance through Wellington's CTA at 5000'. They don't exactly say no, but I'm vectored along the edge of their airspace and eventually lowered to 1500', still far out across the cold, blue sea. Landfall, when it comes is welcome. Not far now to my destination of the day, Masterton. I make my way along a broad valley, tuning my course to avoid glider fields of which there seem to be several in New Zealand. The town of Masterton creeps into view and with it the airport, the Old Warden of new Zealand.
I land and taxy to the pumps. Out on the airfield, an old flat bed truck (maybe a model T) is acting as a test stand for a huge aero engine which is running continuously at full power. Masterton is the home of film director Peter Jackson's replica aircraft business and I later learn that this engine is a replica, or maybe a rebuild, of a WW1 Daimler that will power an Albatross. I park at the flying club (clubs in NZ have a sort of reciprocal arrangement where visiting aircraft can park without charge) and meet the local CFI, who turns out to be a world record holder for glider altitude.
By now I'm really conscious that this wonderful expedition is coming to a close. My host, an Octogenarian who once Soared to 37,300' over these very hills, chucks my bag in the back of his pick-up and drives me to the hotel. In the evening, I take the 2 mile stroll into town and marvel at the tidiness and order of the New Zealand streets. I keep saying to myself "this is New Zealand" as if the whole thing is a dream from which I will shortly awake. Happily, it isn't.
Some of you will have seen a photograph purporting to show a full-size Lancaster parked at what is obviously this airfield. There's no sign of a Lancaster now and standing in the spot where the alleged pic was taken, I seem to have a problem of scale with the idea. The hangars here just don't seem big enough for a Lanc. I wonder if the photo was a fake! (perish the thought) They are all very tight lipped about Mr Jackson around here.
In the morning I get a very brief glimpse inside one of the hangars where they are building a colossal FE2 replica, complete with original refurbished Beardmore engine. Apparently they have all the skills needed to disassemble an original engine, copy all the parts, and make a brand new replica. Now, I have to be on my way again.
Seemingly another beautiful day and my plan is to route along what is called 'The Desert Road' between two vast volcanoes and on the the lakeside airport at Taupo. However, I am aware that I am leaving high pressure behind at that my route involves some high elevations.
Before long, the build-up convinces me that the Desert Road is not going to happen and I swing West, skirting the high ground and heading for my refuelling alternate of Tamarunui. Ahead, a letter box of blue sky confirms my met reports of good weather on the West side of the Island and the vast bulk of the shield Volcanoes slide by, unseen in the weather.
After more and ever more of this most glorious scenery, the little grass strip at Tamarunui drifts into view. Of all the superlatives I've used to describe my journey, none even come close to describing Tamarunui! This is quite simply the most lovely airfield in the world!
Nestled in a valley and flanked by extinct volcanoes, This place exceeds anything I'd ever imagined about New Zealand. Landing with only unanswered calls, I taxi to the ever present automated pump and am taken aback to find - a stepladder!
I'm not quite on my own. Past the deserted but excellent clubhouse, a chap is working on a microlight beside his hangar. He tells me he came here from Rhodesia about 40 years and has raised a family in this fabulous spot. Now in retirement he tinkers with aeroplanes and flies occasionally. His sons, both born here, are airline pilots. Interesting the life choices we all make - I suspect his was one of the better. And now I climb aboard and taxi away, my new friend waving as I go by. With a heavy heart I wave back, knowing that I am unlikely to come this way again. During the climbout I drink in the scenery, trying to freeze it my mind. I'm glad I have these photos, just to remind me of what it was like...
Now, I have to start thinking about the serious business of getting back into Ardmore. For days on end I have flown at will without hardly seeing another plane and now, quite suddenly, I'm heading directly into NZ's aviation honeypot!
The sky ahead still presents a 'letter box' appearance, but with fewer large rocks in it that the one I am leaving behind. One rock encroaches right down into the edge of Hamilton's CTA, but with my all-pervasive squawk they seem to have no problem routing me right beside the zone. (The VFR flightplan in New Zealand includes a squawk that you wear throughout the trip, right up to the latest SAR alert time that you notified, SARTIME. When I landed at Tamarunui I didn't have to cancel or delay the plan, because it was still valid. In fact, I did notify FIS of my landing).
Soon the low hills below Ardmore creep into view and I start the process of picking up the VRP's that I have been trained on. For the first time in 1800 miles, I am seeing familiar landmarks. And thanks to SD, I can confirm that they are the correct ones!
Auckland harbour on the horizon, Ardmore in the valley ahead, centre.
The Ardmore traffic lives up to expectations, with a fast twin calling up behind me as I join 'non-traffic side', and other aircraft already in the circuit. I go downwind, and land. Suddenly, as I taxi up to the flying club, It dawns on me that it's all over. Now it's time to surprise the club members by returning their aircraft, intact, with a few more miles on the clock.
The wheels stop, and I close down. Willing hands emerge from the clubhouse to help me push the little 152 into it's parking spot and tie it down to the rather substantial concrete bollards. That's it. I'm back.
The hubbub in the flying club carried on as before and I looked around anxiously to see where this surprising proposition was coming from. "Come on, I'll take you" said the unfamiliar voice. I glanced at my host, who had generously promised to drive me to my Hotel (There is absolutely no, none, public transport at Ardmore) and he nodded in agreement. So, perplexed, off I went.
Knowing what we all know now, you might find it a little hard to believe that I had absolutely no idea at all what this was about. Perhaps this stranger wanted to show me a model, or perhaps some Kiwi homebuilt graced with the famous name. Never in a lifetime did I expect to see what confronted me when he opened a back door to the most remote hangar on the airfield. There, in the final stages of assembly, was a DeHavilland Mosquito.
I had once lived with a couple of miles of Hatfield and the Mossie had been a familiar sight above my garden on summer weekends. News of the crash had caused me as sharp a pain, I suppose, as anyone not actually involved in the aircraft. I had never expected to see another flying example and yet now I was looking at one. Today, you can read about the exploits of the Ardmore Mosquito all over the Internet, but when I saw this aircraft it was still very 'hush hush'.
Next day, my route from my client's offices to the airport took me past Mt. Eden, one of the many extinct Volcanoes that dot Auckland's landscape. In the gathering dusk of my last evening, I climbed the steep path to the summit and drank in the extraordinary scenery all around me.
At the top is a benchmark, surrounded by a brass ring engraved with the direction and distance to places all around the world - LA, New York, Moscow, and ... London. "London, 18,000 km" it said. 18,000 km! Wow, that really is a long way.