The trip was planned. The pilots organised and the aircraft prepared. On Thursday before the weekend we checked the weather. A large high was to remain over the North Island through the weekend. Visibility on Thursday was 40 km with clear skies.
What a difference two days make! An intense anticyclone still covered us (1025 hPa) but the weather was markedly poorer. Should we go? Yes, was the answer because warming and greater stability was forecast but…
Our first leg was Hamilton to Opotiki via overhead Whakatane and around White Island. It quickly became apparent a direct route was not possible because cloud was on the ranges. But we found a gap over the Kaimai Ranges north of the railway line. A clearance through Tauranga Control zone saw us head eastward along the coast toward Whakatane. Unfortunately, the weather was inconsistent allowing only some of the aircraft the opportunity to get to White Island.
We regrouped at Opotiki for a morning tea stop and a refuel. While we were comparing our flights, we watched a trainee motorised paraglider learning to land.
We made our departure east via Te Kaha, Cape Runaway, Te Araroa, East Cape, Ruatoria and finally to Gisborne. There we were met by flying friends, Jacob and Olivia, who marshalled us to our fuel and onward to our parking areas. Lunch was welcome! We had phoned ahead, and the kindly staff kept the café open for us.
Jacob told us the vintage steam train had crossed the runway shortly before we landed and if we waited and talked with the controller we might be able to line our aircraft on the runway for a photo shoot as the train crossed the runway on its return. Gisborne airport is the only place in the world where planes give way to trains. Was it possible? Yes, said the controller! So as the train approached, the controller lined us up on the runway with the rail tracks in between the aircraft. As the train approached, the passengers could see us photographing them - just as they were photographing us.
Departing south we flew by the site where a slip severs the Gisborne - Napier rail line. The rail line and the sleepers are just hanging in the air some hundred metres above the sea. Little wonder the rail line in its present route is uneconomic to repair.
Our route southward took us down the coast to the Mahia Peninsula. The base was well defined with reasonable visibility underneath. We passed the space port at the southern tip of the peninsula. The tracking radars and the launch platform were obvious. A rocket was attached to the launch tower but both were stowed horizontally awaiting launch. A launch will occur before the end of the year. The security guard could be seen in high visibility clothing patrolling the site.
We then headed inland to Nuhaka and, once clear of the coastal cloud, climbed to 3500’ to Lake Waikaremoana. This is a truly spectacular lake surrounded by deep bush and spectacular cliffs.
We then headed south to the Mohaka River and flew up river surrounded by steep erodible landscapes and sheer cliffs dropping into the river. This was sustained valley flying where terrain and weather awareness training was well practiced. Some took the one of the several opportunities to exit the valley to the lowlands to the east and some flew the entire length of the valley to emerge further south and nearer Hastings.
The approach and landing at Hastings was uneventful. The airfield was full of picketed aircraft used in the Eastern Regional aero club competitions that had been held earlier in the day. We managed to find some space and tied the aircraft down.
We settled into our accommodation in Hastings and headed to the local tavern and eatery. A wonderful meal and time to share the stories of the day. At one point the local band was drowned out by Tongan rugby league fans who were commiserating their close loss to England. A convey of cars with flags flying and car horns honking totally passed by the tavern. Tongans love their sport no matter what the outcome!
We held our briefing early at 0700. Several bleary eyes looked deeply into their coffee cups. Again, the weather was broken cloud at 2000’. Another day of careful flying to transit to the coast and, later, back inland.
Our planned trip to Cape Palliser was not possible because of low cloud and fog south of Masterton. So we headed east from Hastings over Te Mata peak and out to the coast. Some went further east to Cape Kidnappers to view the Gannett colony before heading south.
We all headed for Porangahau. We had called the farmer to ask whether a landing was possible but he advised that stock were grazing and that the grass was fairly long. A low pass and overshoot would be possible. One by one each aircraft made their approach and overshot before heading over the inland ranges to Dannevirke and on to Whanganui.
Heading west, we had to work our way through the harsh the terrain of eastern Wairarapa. We agreed many farms were just eking out an existence. Further west the weather improved with cloud bases at 2000’.
Whanganui airport was quiet with only a few aircraft operating. A special thanks to the Whanganui Aeroclub for hosting us. There we had a food and fuel stop and spent some time planning our trip through to New Plymouth. The weather forecasts suggested the Stratford saddle would be closed so a coastal route was preferred. However, as we approached Hawera it was much clearer inland. We crossed the Stratford Saddle at 2000’and headed to New Plymouth. We descended as we approached because, yet again, the weather was broken at 1500’. Another fuel stop, a lunch at Jim’s place, and shared stories filled the early afternoon.
Finally, it was time to depart for Hamilton. Some aircraft took the inland route: others took the scenic coastal route. For the first time the sky was clear with a high overcast. The west coast is wild and rugged with little access. It is spectacular with many interesting points along the way: Urenui, Mokau, Awakino, Waikawau Bay, Taharoa ironsands, Kawhia, Aotea and the windfarms; all special in their own way.
Trip by numbers
Route length 700 nm, six landings, 25 turn points, eight aircraft, 20 pilots and passengers, five taxis and many new friends made.
Participants, Dion and Teresa, Patrick, Mandy, Euan and Susan, Steven, Tony, Peter, Phil and Helen, Ross, Jake, Evan, Simon, Richard and Moira, Viv, Anatoly and Eddie.