New Zealand By Cessna Cardinal (A fairly religious experience)

A late publicity of a fabulous trip around New Zealand.

I had obtained my New Zealand PPL 2 years ago in February 1998. This was a case of an extra hour’s instrument flying and some form filling. The latter I did before leaving the UK. The licence itself is a very neat credit card size and comes in its own blue wallet. It had arrived within a week.

I was keen to visit the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ again and put this new acquisition to use. Another reason to go out again was the famous Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow. I had missed it 1998 as I went out in February. The air show is held every 2 years around Easter. I therefore booked my flight out for teh year 2000 show in August 1999 for a visit in April. I worked in flight operations near to Gatwick Airport and so had contacts at ground handling agencies around the world.  I enquired with our agents in New Zealnd (SkyCare) if they knew of available aircraft to hire for the duration of my stay. I was fortunate to be found an available aircraft, even this early, as most light aircraft in New Zealand tend to be already booked, for the trip to Wanaka.

Thursday 13th April


On arrival in New Zealand via japan Airlines, I stayed in a hotel in downtown Auckland. I had made contact with someone who’s sn lived and worked near by and who kindly offered to drive me to the airfield to meet my ‘travelling companion’!I had been allocated a 1969 model Cessna C177 Cardinal. This had a fixed pitch prop and fixed gear – less to go wrong in the wilds of this land of mountains and forests. My usual ‘hacks’ are Cessna 150/152s, C172s and Piper PA28s. Therefore not too much trouble to expect on my check flight. The aircraft – ZK-CTC is based at Ardmore aerodrome, 30kms to the south east of Auckland and is looked after by Future Flight Ltd. Ardmore is the Auckland base for the northern branch of the New Zealand Warbirds organisation. The aircraft types resident here are just incredible and included: a Mustang, Catalina, Harvard and even a newly restored ex-Republic of Singapore Air Force Hunter.
On the check flight, the practice false landing was interesting because the surrounding land was barely flat, so we used a farm strip located on the crown of a hill. Thankfully all went wellan dI was cleared to fly alone. Such a fabulous feeling. My own aircraft for nearly 3 weeks! Heaven!

Friday 14th

The start of my ‘tour of exploration’. I elected to head north to the beautiful Bay of Islands. Each VFR flight is expected to be filed with ATC. Thep rocedure have a feeling of a mix between US and UK, so fairly straightforward in some respects but a little niggly too! I left Ardmore and headed out over the Hauraki Gulf (where Auckland is situated), under blue skies with high clouds and warm temperatures. After obtaining clearance from the tower at the RNZAF Whenuapai airfield (north of Auckland), my first landing was at Whangarei. This airport is situated on a headland and has a road skirting its perimeter about 30ft below.
I paid my landing fee at Whangarei and fuelled the aircraft for the trip further north. Fuelling is under the self-service scheme, where you slide the appropriate fuel companies’ card in the slider attached to the pump. BP is the most common and this is the one I had. It is similar to filling up your car but with the addition of remembering the anti-static line. The drawback to the Cardinal (although minor) is that due to the lack of struts, you must remember to bring a set of steps with you to reach the over wing fuel points. This Cardinal had some in the luggage compartment. Remembering the steps when you depart the airfield is also a good idea!
I had ordered the VFG (the New Zealand airfield guide) and all the charts, prior to leaving the UK. This gave me an opportunity to become familiar with the features of both as they differ from our books and charts in various ways. The VFG in particular is extremely informative and helpful. The maps are however not laminated so bright tape was required to mark the route, or you rope in your sister to assit with covering it with sticky back plastic (Blue Peter would be proud).
Departing Whangarei, I headed north towards Kerikeri. This is also known as the Bay of Islands airport. It is not the most northerly of airports. This honour goes to Kaitaia, over to the northwest, which I did not visit. Kerikeri was not as easy an airport to locate like Whangarei, situated inland amongst some high ground.
I landed after following another aircraft into the circuit, parked the aircraft at a flying club and tied down ‘CTC’. This is a practice that goes on almost everywhere in New Zealand, despite there being days or weeks without a strong wind blowing or even forecast. I enquired about landing fees and was told not to worry. If landing fees weren’t paid on the day of the flight, the operator will be invoiced later by the airfield operator/owners. I ended up paying any outstanding landing fees when I returned the aircraft at the end of my holiday.
The flying club kindly booked a taxi to take me to Paihia. This is a pleasant coastal town and popular backpacker resort. It is close to Waitangi, home of the treaty house where the treaty between the Maoris and early Europeans was signed in the 19th Century. Just across the water is Russell, New Zealand’s first capital and an ex-whaling village. Unfortunately, time was against me for visiting. My accommodation for the entire trip was backpacker hostels or a local YHA. It helped to keep the costs down.

Waitangi Treaty House

Saturday 15th

Now for the journey back south. The weather was glorious sunshine, scattered high clouds and warm – early 20s. I ordered an airport taxi and prepared for my flight. Next to ‘CTC’ was parked an ex RNZAF Airtourer owned by a middle aged couple. It still had the original air force colours and had been obtained from the air force at Wigram, near Christchurch (now home of the RNZAF museum). The owner’s intention (or at least the husband’s) was to fly it to Wanaka from their home airfield near Hamilton.  Such friendly people in New Zealand. I love it.
I packed the aircraft and fuelled her ready for my trip south. After takeoff, I headed due east to fly over the actual Bay of Islands. What a view! When the land ran out at Cape Brett, I turned right and headed towards Great Barrier Island. This took me past a cluster of rocks quaintly named the Hen and Chicken Islands.
About a mile off Great Barrier Island, I called up on the ‘unattended’ frequency to give my intentions. This was to fly down over the Coromandel Peninsular and on to Rotorua. The low cloud put paid to most of the master plan. Just at the southern tip of Great Barrier Island, the cloud was down to 1500’. I had been flying at 4000’ up till now. Over Whitianga (on the Coromandel), I tried to get above the clouds but they were too thick and not being IMC rated, played safe and retreated back down, careful to mind the surrounding high ground. I was however able to reach 2000’ and opted to fly along the coast. Looking ahead, the cloud seemed closer to the ground and so decided to stop off at Tauranga. Here I could obtain updated weather information and fill up with fuel. There was also a rare experience – a full ATC facility.
On my way to Tauranga, I over flew the township of Pauanui. This has an airfield that divides the town in half! As I entered the port of Tauranga, the weather was clear towards Rotorua. I was by now committed to land and so continued. The landing fee here is on an honesty policy. You place your money in and envelope and mark it with your name and aircraft registration or call sign and then ‘post it’ in the box provided. There is no other record, apart from ATC that you had landed and paid. I also took the opportunity to fill the tanks. I then left for Rotorua, only 30 minutes away.
Rotorua, like Tauranga is also ATC operated and has strict joining instructions. This particular airport can take the larger aircraft types though, such as B737s, Dash 8s and ATR42 & 72s. Vigilance was very much required.
Over the mountains from Tauranga, I was met by a vast expanse of hills, mainly extinct volcanoes. Rotorua is on the eastern shore of a large lake of the same, which bears the same name and proved not too difficult to locate. I felt immediately at home, as it was here I obtained my NZ PPL in ’98. The main landmarks being, Mokoia Island in the centre of the lake and Mt Ngongotaha on the western shore.
The tarmac runways at New Zealand airfields are termed ‘seal’. If the airfield you are flying to or from has parallel grass and tarmac, you must specify which runway – ‘Grass’ or ‘Seal’. I opted for grass at Rotorua. Simultaneous operations are usually not allowed.

Monday 17th

After a day’s rest and seeing friends that live here, plus some rugby (that was being played at the International Stadium – but I had to watch it on TV at my friend’s house!!), it was time to continue south. I routed my flight to pass the mountains named respectively: Tongarirro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapahu (an active volcano and the tallest mountain in the North Island). These are situated to the south of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. I flew across this lake, which like Lake Rotorua is approximately 1000’ above sea level. I was flying at 5000’ and yet the lake seemed only 2000’ below. Unlike Rotorua, it is also an active volcano (dormant at present), albeit with water filled crater.

Lake Taupo

Most of New Zealand VFR airspace is under the auspices of Christchurch Information. However, there are areas that come under military control. Just to the south of Mt Ruapahu is an example. I contacted Ohakea control (an RNZAF base), for information regarding the military flying zones on either side of me and to the southwest, as this was where I was heading. Under the radar tracking of Ohakea, I flew at 2500’ to the coast at Wanganui. This was an experience, as the ground rose to at least 2200’. At the coast I asked for clearance through the southern military zone that extends over the coastline by at least 10nm. Once obtained I followed the coastline all the way to the windy capital city of Wellington.
I called up Wellington control, opted for the coastal approach and was given a hold just to the southwest at 1500’. Due to the wind, this was no easy task, especially keeping my height. I found myself at 2000’ plus in less than 10 seconds. Finally I was cleared to land and the final leg was to be no less bumpy than in the hold off the coast. I got my landing speed down and as I touched down, a gust of wind got under my wing and I took off momentarily. I was relieved to stop, shut down and rest. I had broken into a near sweat because of this experience and vowed never to land here again! A friend of mine who is working in New Zealand is being trained to solo standard at Wellington Aero Club. He will be far better trained to cope with the Wellington approach than someone like me. I wish him well. I met up with him for a drink wonce parked and my hostel had been sorted. Rumours abound that Wellington Airport is trying to move all GA aircraft up the coast to Paraparaumu (Paraparam as it is known locally and in the aviation fraternity). Nothing definite.

Tuesday 18th

The weather was at first not conducive to flying. I did however take a taxi from the hostel to the airport and took a chance at possible improvements. The main cloud was high but there was low-lying scattered cloud and of course the wind.
I planned my trip to the South Island, filed it with the authorities, fuelled the aircraft and waited for departure clearance. When it came, I took off and drifted right as per ATC instructions until I was at 1000’. I was then told to turn left over Mt Victoria (the peak was covered in cloud) and head out over the Cook Strait. This entire procedure was carried out whilst being bounced around and keeping an eye on the high ground – not an easy task.
Once over the Cooks Strait and clear of Wellington and the cloud, I was permitted to climb to 2500’. The sun was shining and the view, breathtaking. I switched to Christchurch Information until overhead Kaikoura Peninsular (famous for its whale watching trips). I called up Kaikoura Airport on the unattended frequency, and told them of my position and intention to land. There was unfortunately no time to go aerial whale watching. I landed, had a coffee and prepared the aircraft for the flight further south to Oamaru. Immediately after departure from Kaikoura, I turned to port to avoid the mountain ahead and continued down along the spectacular and rugged coastline till I entered the Christchurch TMA at Motunau Island and called up Christchurch Control.
At various places, more detailed charts are required giving frequencies and limits of zones. It may seem like cluttering up the cockpit, but it worked out well. If I had a right-hand seat passenger, they would have been my chart holder!
I was flying comfortably at 3500’ when Christchurch brought me down to 1500’ over the bay and Lyttleton Harbour. This harbour had high ground on both sides (between 1000’ and 2000’), so I had to be careful. The weather was now closing in, especially to the south. Having cleared the harbour and Lake Ellesmere (on the other side), I was cleared to 2000’+. I went for 2500’. No sooner had I gained height that I was forced down to between 1000’ and 1500’ due to the low cloud and drizzle. I stayed over the coast and followed it on my charts, planning possible diversion routes. As I flew on, the rain became harder, but I could still see the ground clearly. Approaching Oamaru, I had to switch to Dunedin control. They covered me to Oamaru where I called on the unattended frequency but heard nothing.
The airport is over 10km from town and when I landed, it was all but deserted. The terminal building was in good condition and so was the clubhouse of the ‘North Otago Aero Club’. The airfield is obviously still used, just not at the moment. The first thing I needed to do was terminate my flight plan. The airfield felt like a ghost town. There appeared to be no one around. However, behind some trees I noticed a row of houses. I ventured off to see if anyone was there. 2 men who run an aviation merchandise distribution company occupied one of the 3 bungalows. They kindly allowed me to use their phone to cancel my flight plan and order a taxi (local calls and 0800 numbers are free!). They also knew about the set up with the airport and fuelling. I was to call them later when I wanted to leave.
Oamaru is situated north of Dunedin, and is famous for it’s stone (used in many buildings around New Zealand) and penguin colonies – the yellow-eyed and the smallest of all – the blue penguin.

Wednesday 19th

I phoned the people I had spoken to at Oamaru Airport to clarify the procedure for refuelling. There was only a Shell pump, useless to me. I was therefore to contact the chairman of the flying club. I duly did this but he was unavailable. The weather was not favourable for flying anyway. Plan B was now put into operation.

Thursday 20th

Fortunately, my parents had come out here, and they had hired a motor home. I met up with them, and we went off to Wanaka by road. Four hours later we arrived. Oh to have flown, had the weather been better. Accomdation becuase of teh air show was a cricket ground.

Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd

Warbirds Over Wanaka poster

The weather on Friday was blue skies with smatterings of high cloud. Saturday started well but deteriorated to low cloud and rain mid-late afternoon. Sunday had rain from the start. Some aircraft had braved the weather and hills to fly here. I wish I could have joined them – c’est la vie.
Friday was practice and Expo’ day. A Me108 and 2 x P51s performed a mock dogfight and we had the first public flight of the newly restored Hawker Hurricane (P3351), flown with the Spitfire XVI (TB863, piloted by Ray Hanna). The PBY Catalina made numerous flights throughout both days, as did the C47 Dakota.
Unique to Wanaka are the Polikarpov I-16 and I-153. The latter being a biplane designed later and more technically more advanced than the monoplaned I-16. It had pneumatically operated undercarriage instead of hand crank mechanism on its stable mate. Another unique attraction this year was the ‘Swedish Pair’. An original Bleriot XI (built in 1918), this is the aircraft flew the Channel in 1999 and a Tummalisa (A Le Rhone powered biplane). The Bleriot represented the first official military aircraft owned by New Zealand, dubbed ‘Britannia’. The Tummalisa is representative of Sweden’s early aircraft. First being produced in 1919 and retired in 1935.
A Hawker Hunter and Sea Fury were to make an appearance, but technical reasons prevented this. There was however a Mig-15 that flew. The large New Zealand agricultural industry was not forgotten. The Wanganui Aero Work Display Team flew a formation aerobatic display using 3 Cresco top-dressing aircraft. A very manoeuvrable machine for its size. On Sunday we lefft Wanaka and made our way to Lake Tekapo, a fresh water lake near the foot of Mount Cook.

Cresco Top Dressers

Monday 24th

Now back at Oamaru to pick up ‘CTC’, for the start of my return north. The fuelling would have to wait until I reached Timaru, 30mins to the north. At Timaru, they had an honesty box for landing fees – NZ$3.00. After tying down the aircraft, I was offered a coffee and a meat pie at the flying club. Most welcome. I stayed the night with my parents, which at least saved on taxis and hostels. Here I heard the tragic news about the Cessna 206 that crashed in the Lindus Pass due to inclement weather whilst returning from the airshow. All 6 people on board died. God rest their souls.

Tuesday 25th – ANZAC Day.

Another public holiday over Easter. New Zealanders also wear poppies on this day as well as November 11th. I prepared the aircraft for the next big sector north. My route again was to take me over Lake Ellesmere and Lyttleton Harbour. This section was again bathed in showers and low cloud so my concentration was tested. I was at 1500’. To the north of Christchurch I was cleared to 2000’ and was told to expect traffic from my 1 o’clock,  flying in formation at 1000’. The traffic – 4 Royal New Zealand Air Force A4 Skyhawks (no political talk from me about what the aircraft should be!).
The weather for the time being was dry but overcast. My destination was Blenheim (Omaka), in the north of the South Island. I flew along the coast and asked for weather at Kaikoura. It did not sound too good, but I flew on and broke the flight at Kaikoura. The weather was clearer further north, Blenheim apparently, basking in sunshine. I therefore refuelled both myself and the aircraft and continued north.
The flight took 45mins and Blenheim was bathing in sunshine as expected. I had to contact Woodbourne (another RNZAF base), nearby for area and traffic control. Omaka is an all grass airfield, surrounded by vineyards. One vineyard actually encroaches on to the airfield and edges one of the runways. If you overshoot, it is termed as ‘going on the wine trail’. I booked myself a bed at a hostel and would return tomorrow for the trip bacl across the Cook’s Strait.

Wednesday 26th

Took off and headed slightly northwest over the expanse of water. Before I left the landmass of the South Island, I could see the equally rugged coastline of the southern North Island. My destination, Paraparaumu (as mentioned earlier), was to the west of this peninsular and up along the coast. I landed, secured the aircraft, ordered a taxi to the station and caught a train into Wellington. An hour later and I was in a sun baked Capital city, completely different to my visit just over a week ago. I walked around the city and the museum and sat on the harbour wall reading and soaking in the atmosphere of the city – fantastic. I spent the night here, having met up with my friend again.

Thursday 27th

I caught the train back to Paraparam and then prepared the aircraft for a flight to the art-deco city of Napier, in the North East on the coast of Hawkes Bay.
I departed Paraparam and sought assistance from Palmerston North control. I stayed at 1500’. If I ventured higher, I would come have come under Ohakea control. I had to pass through the Henamau Gorge. This separates the Taramu Range from the Ruahine Range. The gorge was quite something to fly over, especially in cloud that had a base of 1700’. The wind was buffeting me even when I cleared the gorge and routed over Woodville.
I called up Napier tower and they advised me the way to route for joining the circuit. I flew over the city and harbour and joined left base. When I landed, I secured the aircraft and ordered a taxi. The taxi driver was not impressed with the art-deco buildings or the tourists who would stand outside them discussing their designs. I found the city very clean and pleasant and it all quite fscinating. I stayed in a backpacker’s hostel and whilst sitting down relaxing, a party of tourists on a tour ventured in and talked about the design of the interior.
I met a young lady at the hostel who was going by bus from Napier to Taupo, then would go to Thames. That was going to take at least 2 hours. I offered her a flight to Taupo (despite the fact that I was actually planning on going straight to Rotorua!) that would take approximately 45 minutes. She duly accepted, depending on the weather.

Friday 28th

DC3 as part of McDonald’s – Taupo

I awoke to find a cloudless sky, and phoned Napier airport for the latest weather report there, Taupo and Rotorua. All were clear. My new and only passenger (for the holiday) duly left for the airport. I departed Napier and was immediately cleared to 5000’+. I settled at 5500’ as the highest ground was at 4500’. We arrived 50 minutes later at Taupo, much to the appreciation of my new friend.  In time for lunch in Taupo. Taupo airport is situated on the northeast side of the lake and about 5km from town. The airport is also where they carry out parachute jumps, which with it being ‘unattended’ can make for an interesting arrival procedure!
Three hours after arrival I departed to the north and Rotorua for the second time. The flight took just over 40 minutes. After arrival I was kindly given a lift into town for the night. I went to the same hostel I had stayed in on my outward trip. I also met up with my friends again.

Saturday 29th

I went to the Polynesian Spa baths and had a relaxing soak in the naturally heated pools. I also met my parent’s again and stayed with them. I introduced my parent’s to my friends, as my parent’s certainly intend to be out here again.

Sunday 30th


The day I return the aircraft to Ardmore. Before I went to the airport I took my parents to Whakawerawera, the thermal reserve, where there are bubbling mud pools and geysers. As a side attraction, there was a Kiwi House that actually contained this nocturnal national symbol. At the airport I had a ‘see-me off’ crowd. Quite emotional in some respects knowing I would not be seeing my friends for ages and my parents would be over 4 hours behind me. I opted for a grass runway and took off out over the lake and headed northwest towards Ardmore. This took over an hour and a half. I landed and paid the outstanding dues. This amounted to just under £1000. I had to wait for my parents as I was staying with them tonight before I caught the flight home. This was a very sad occasion. I had a great time had just less than 20 hours total flying within this fascinating country and so nearly 20 hours on a different aircraft type.

I’m now planning my next trip. Here again, Australia or the USA, we will have to see.

Flying Times:
1.     Ardmore – Ardmore        – 1h (check flight)
2.    Ardmore – Whangarei      – 1h 05mins
3.    Whangarei – Kerikeri        – 35mins
4.     Kerikeri – Tauranga        – 2h 15mins
5.     Tauranga – Rotorua        – 30mins
6.     Rotorua – Wellington        – 2h 30mins
7.     Wellington – Kaikoura     – 1h 20mins
8.      Kaikoura – Oamaru         – 1h 50mins
9.      Oamaru – Timaru           – 30mins
10.    Timaru – Kaikoura           – 1h 40mins
11.    Kaikoura – Omaka          – 40mins
12.    Omaka – Paraparamumu     – 50mins
13.    Paraparam – Paraparamumu     – 20mins (weather check)
14.    Paraparam – Napier          – 1h 40mins
15.    Napier – Taupo             – 50mins
16.    Taupo – Rotorua            – 45mins
17.    Rotorua – Ardmore         – 1h 15mins

Auckland – Sky Care (AKL airport) for the information about available aircraft
Joff Shaw for the lift to Ardmore – greatly appreciated.
Ardmore – Future Flight Ltd – Debby Sanders and co for the loan of the aircraft, check flight and subsequent information on
flying in New Zealand.
Kerikeri – Bay of Islands Flying Club – for the booking of the taxi and general helpfulness
Rotorua – Rotorua Aero Club – assistance with flight planning and general hospitality (on both occasions).
Wellington – Wellington Flying Club – assistance with next stage of flight.
Wellington Air Traffic Control – showing such patience!
Kaikoura –   The warm soup at the Aerial Whale Watching building.
Christchurch – TMA – patience and assistance
Oamaru – The blokes in the bungalow – prevented me from being ‘rescued’ by SAR
Timaru – for the Steak and Kidney pie and generally great hospitality

My hack for the holiday

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