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Pacific Adventure - Part III - New Zealand

by Sue Ramsey 

Flying in from altitude gives quite a view of how long, jagged and narrow the north end of the North Island actually is. Upon arriving in New Zealand for the second time in three weeks, it was interesting to note how the brown of our initial passage had changed to green in just a scant three weeks.

Since we were to stay for only a brief two days in Auckland, I felt that the best way to get an overview of the country was to see it from the air. Prior to our departure from Canada, and after undertaking some research on the Internet, I located Christian Aviation, a Charter company with a considerable fleet of aircraft. Cheyenne 400LS’ to C-172’s, who, over and above their other available air services from air ambulance to freight transportation, offer sightseeing flights for tourists such as ourselves. Their CFI, David Brown, was most accommodating.

Though our newly acquired Australian Pilot Licences would have allowed us flying privileges for New Zealand registered aircraft, we took into consideration the shortness of our stay, our unfamiliarity with New Zealand’s weather patterns and our lack of knowledge of the region and its generally hilly to mountainous terrain, and deemed it more practical for our sightseeing goals to opt for a C-172 with pilot.

We had rented a car, and though Christian Aviation has their main Charter Office at the Auckland Airport, the morning following our arrival, we drove to their other facility located about three quarters of an hour south of Auckland, at the Ardmore Aerodrome.

Though the weather that day proved not quite as clement as might be desired, it was nonetheless flyable as we took off from Ardmore. Without any imposed time constraints, we commenced our tour eastbound out over the Firth of Thames and across the Coromandel ranges, toward the Bay of Plenty.

Proceeding southbound once east of the ranges, we joined the coastline of the Bay of Plenty, where the weather obligingly improved, revealing a vista of a spectacular coastline with magnificent beaches as far as the eye could see.

Though most are now dormant, New Zealand’s volcanoes are quite recognizable. They are unmistakable reminders of the land’s turbulent past. We continued down the coast, in the distance, out to sea, lazy drifts of steam could be seen emanating from the live volcano on White Island, a quite amazing place well worth a visit. If only we had had more time!

Near Whakatane, we turned inland from the coast, passing close to Mt. Edgecumbe, at the base of which is the city of Kawerau, a mainly pulp and paper town, with forestry being the source of important industry in the region.

My main objective had been to obtain a bird’s eye view of Mount Tongariro, one of three snow capped volcanic mountains in the Tongariro National Park. This is a World Heritage site offering outstanding volcanic features, as well as important Maori cultural history. A must for an extensive ground visit. However, the day of our flight, this was not to be as persistent low cloud preventing us from entering the southern part of the North Island where the park is located.

Nonetheless, there was still plenty to see, what with lakes, tree covered ranges, spectacular waterfalls, lush green farmlands and extinct volcano craters.

We managed to fly as far as Lake Taupo before the ranges to the south were completely obliterated in IMC, effectively preventing any further hope of seeing Mt. Tongariro this trip.

Turning back toward Rotorua, we could see geothermal steam rising from cracks, crevices and culverts in parks, gardens, pathways and even residential streets, and the unmistakable smell of sulphur let us know that we were over an active thermal area.

Arriving at Rotorua, we were directed to land on the grass strip that parallels the paved runway, right alongside an inbound sked flight that touched down just ahead of us on the adjacent paved runway.

At 290 m above sea level, Rotorua is situated on a volcanic plateau, geological records showing ceaseless activity in the area for millennia, ranging from minor hot springs through to huge prehistoric ignimbrite flows that smothered the entire landscape. Most ‘recent’ eruptions were those of Taupo around 1800 and Tarawera in 1886.

Whilst Matt obligingly waited for us at the Rotorua Airport, we took a cab to the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley to view a few of New Zealand’s thermal wonders up close. A beautifully manicured “preservation” of natural phenomena, it was well worthy of a visit, even though I saw only a very small part of the overall valley.

Perfectly groomed pathways lead the viewer through dense vegetation, with footbridges and cross flowing streams, and here and there small and larger pools of bubbling mud that the Maori liken to “laughing children.”

Arriving upon the Pohutu Geyser itself, the close up view is especially impressive, with hissing, steaming, scalding water roaring skyward in a constant stream from deep within the earth’s crust, the smell of sulphur permeating everything.

The ever-flowing runoff from the Geyser remains hot as it returns to the river, coursing over rocks that have become delicately coloured over time by the minerals in the spray that is constantly hurled to the surface from deep underground.

Departing Rotorua, we flew essentially overland, northward toward Auckland, our bird’s eye view along this whole tour making it hard to miss the notable efficiency of the stewardship of the country’s managed forests, pristine waters and well sustained farmlands, all showing New Zealand’s remarkable grasp of the importance for environmental preservation.

Despite increasingly lowering ceilings, we all agreed that our tour would not be complete without a “fly-by” of Auckland City itself. So we picked up the VFR routing along the shoreline in front of the harbour, with the view leaving no shred of doubt as to why Auckland is dubbed “The City of Sails.”

From Auckland, we reluctantly returned to Ardmore, landing there on the grass strip, thus ending a short but not-to-be-missed, most interesting tour that revealed in a very short time just how much there is to be experienced in this land of incredible beauty and variety. It certainly warrants more time than we were able to allot.

We departed the following evening for the long flight home, once again with Air New Zealand. An airline that we shall doubtless fly with again. A fitting end to an amazing travel experience “Down Under!”

WEB RESOURCES

Christian Aviation: www.chn.co.nz 

Ardmore Aerodrome: www.nzar.co.nz

White Island Volcano: www.geonet.org.nz/whiteisland.html 

Tongariro National Park:

www.doc.govt.nz/Explore/001~National-Parks/Tongariro-National-Park/index.asp 

Ruapehunz Mountain: www.ruapehunz.co.nz 

Rotorua: www.rotoruanz.com/activities/geothermal.asp 

Auckland, City of Sail: www.aucklandtourism.co.nz 

NZ Civil Aviation Authority: www.caa.govt.nz