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A stunning trip to Kaikoura and back!

David Costello recounts his recent trip to Kaikoura

I went on my first fly away with the club a few weeks ago and it was an amazing trip!

I flew down in one of the tomahawks with our new instructor, Jared. Lawrence, enjoying the fruits of his PPL, bought a tomahawk down by himself, while Iain flew down in MBG with Xingtao and his family.

That morning Wellington put on a clear blue sky for us but threw in a nice north-westerly. This presented us with lots of bumps and updrafts as we plodded our way down over Island Bay while trying to stay at 1500ft. Shortly after making our way around the south coast and past Karori Rock we began our climb up to 5500ft.

With just a week away from doing my last exam, Air Nav for my PPL, it was a great opportunity to see what cross countries will be like and the work involved in doing up a flight plan. We spent some time that morning working out our flight plan while bringing a few extra bits - my new map for the South Island, a few quarts of oil and a life jacket each.

As we began our climb up to 5500ft something remarkable happened, the shaking stopped! Surely this couldn't be what flying was really like as we cruised slowly and steadily upwards. It was a new experience to be had, away from the unpredictable life experiences provided by the Wellington hills.

As the Wellington coast slipped away behind us the coast line of the Marlborough Sounds began to come into view. The majestic view of the sounds was only partially unveiled from above due to some cloud obscuring the rest, but the part I did see was an amazing sight. Below us was the ferry making its way to the Tory Channel as we made our way to Perano Head.

Meanwhile Lawrence, and his tomahawk, wasn't taking the scenic approach and was making his way across the void that is the Cook Strait on his way direct to Cape Campbell.

As we got closer to Perano Head we started to follow the coast around to Cape Campbell. On our way around we could see Blenheim in the distance and not too long later the pink salt fields of Lake Grassmere. Shortly we were greeted by the cliffs of Cape Campbell and then we started to follow the coast down to Kaikoura. A few bumps were had down the coast but only gentle nudges compared to leaving Wellington. With my advanced dual lessons still fresh in my mind I was on the look out for suitable landing strips in the event of an engine failure. Thankfully there were no real or imaginary engine failures to contend with on the trip and I could leave my practicing for another day.

As the Kaikoura Peninsula began to come into view, the mountains retreated slightly inland and the rugged coast line became a flat open expanse, consisting of the Kaikoura township and plenty of green fields. At the southern end of this picturesque view was the Kaikoura airport, nestled at the foot of the Kaikoura Ranges. From doing my circuits around Wellington it felt like I was required to land the plane on someone's drive way, not to mention the downwind approach meant getting up close and personal to the Kaikoura foothills before turning onto finals. So this was where Jared took over and brought us in to land.

When we parked up Lawrence was already there sorting out his gear in the Kaikoura sunshine. We had a chat about the trip down when we realised Iain hadn't arrived yet and found out he hadn't yet left Wellington due to a flat battery!

The three of us, feeling rather thirsty, decided to have a coffee in Wings over Whales Kaikoura, while discussing the busy whale viewing season with one of the pilots. After our coffee we still had plenty of time before Iain was due to arrive so we all took the opportunity to do some circuits around Kaikoura. Again Lawrence flew by himself and Jared and I flew together. After a couple of circuits I began to get the handle of things. It was a great experience to practice circuits at a smaller airport as it felt like a much more confined space compared to Wellington.

After we were all flown out Lawrence and I began picketing the planes for extreme weather conditions, not in the weather forecast, but just to be sure! By the time we had finished our picketing Iain and Xingtao arrived in MBG so we busily began picketing his plane too so when all was done we were ready for our shuttle into Kaikoura.

We stayed in the Top 10 Holiday Park just a few minutes walk from town, we all had our own cabins dotted around the campsite. We didn't spend too much time relaxing as Iain, Jared, Lawrence and I were ready to explore the town. Xingtao took the more laid back approach for the afternoon and stayed behind with family.

Our first stop off was at one of the local bars for a much needed pint and some nibbles. The conversations ranged from various flying stories, to Jared's previous adventures with flying and mountain biking prior to joining the Wellington Aero Club. We also discussed Iain's flat battery dramas, but he bought a charger with him just in case!

Later on we dined in one of Kaikoura's fine establishments, good food and drinks were enjoyed by all before we later met up with one of the flying instructors from the Kaikoura Aero Club that Iain knew.

When we were ready to call it a night we strolled back to our cabins at the Top 10 Holiday Park, wished each other a good night and off to bed for ourselves.

The following morning Xingtao and his family were off whale watching so the rest of us went for a good hearty breakfast fit for kings. Over breakfast Lawrence was getting familiar with the iPad from his tomahawk and how to use the maps so he could try it out on the way back. After breakfast we strolled back into town and caught a shuttle back out to the airport. On pulling into the airport we could see all 3 planes were still there, no doubt thanks to our awesome picketing skills. We got to work getting all untied and refuelled ready for the trip home.

By the time all that was done Xingtao and his family were back from their whale watch adventure and we all took a walk over to the Kaikoura Aero Club where we each logged a flight plan for our return trip back to Wellington.

We returned to our various aircraft and got ready for take off. One by one we took our last spin down the runway, getting up close and personal to the Kaikoura foothills that still seem to loom not far off the runway, before slowly turning out to sea and around.

On our flight back up to Cape Campbell we could hear each others announcements and intentions over the radio, we were all pretty close together but no one was in sight. Further up the coast Jared and I followed a valley that went slightly inland before going back out to sea. Despite our altitude on the way back the ridge at the top of the valley on both sides of us was still higher and made for a spectacular sight.

At Cape Campbell I took the scenic route back while Iain and Lawrence headed straight for Wellington. The weather over the Wellington south coast was hazy so we had flown quite a bit around towards Perano Head before the details of the Wellington south coast were visible.

Within a few minutes of each other we were back on home turf, parked up outside the club and removing all our items from the aircraft. We talked a bit to each other about the trip back before we parted ways. Iain and Jared were now back to work and Lawrence and I went off for a coffee. While I sipped away on my coffee I was still thinking about the amazing scenery along the way. Now that I was more comfortable with the Kaikoura air strip maybe next time I will venture further inland over the Kaikoura Ranges and admire the stunning scenery especially when the snow caps return for the winter.

- David Costello