Flying A Tiger Moth
The freedom to do your own thing away from the crowds, with breathtaking lakes and mountains as your playground. A year-round destination set against the pristine alpine backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park, you can still discover that totally relaxed Kiwi way of life at Lake Wanaka.
Wanaka is concidered to be 'Queenstown lite' for its location similarity to the activities capital of New Zealand featuring a more relaxed atmosphere of a smaller town. It is also on the way from Queenstown to the west coast so it was a no-brainer to make a stop there. Negotiating the Arthur pass with Andi and Fishy (the couple from Borneo that rode with me from Te Anau to Queenstown), we were surprised to see many bikers doing the same in the opposite direction. The road was quite a steep one and it seemed that everyone we saw on the bike was 70 years old or older. I can only hope to be able to do something like that when I am that age.
Warbirds And Wheels Museum
After checking in at Matterhorn South Lodge, I headed out to Wanaka airport, excited to check out the local museum. I have heard about it from my couchsurfing host in Sydney and after seeing advertisements for Warbirds Over Wanaka bi-annual fly-in in April (the Oshkosh of the Southern Hemisphere), I was itching to see some cool airplanes there.
Boy, was I in for a surprise!
The entrance fee was steep at $20, but I gladly paid it, expecting to see lots of World War II era airplanes inside. Instead, I was treated to a replica SE5a World War I biplane, another Skyhawk, a Vampire, and a Soviet Yak 3. That was it! Yes, there were a couple dozen vintage cars on display and a completely irrelevant paintings gallery, but that was not what I went there for. With a glimpse of hope, I asked to see if I could check out the other hangar that had the Mustang, Polikarpov, and Hurricane written on the doors, but it turns out that those airplanes have been let go.
Sadly, this was the worst airplane museum I have been to. The ones in Christchurch, Ashburton, and Madelville were so much better at a fraction of the cost…
Hiking Around Lake Wanaka
In the evening, Andi and Fishy joined me for a hike around lake Wanaka for some picturesque views of the surroundings.
Flying a Moth
Tiger Moth used to be the most popular trainer aircraft 'down under' and I just happened to see an advertisement for a flight in an original 1940 Moth while I was checking out the museum at the airport. When I stopped by to check it out, Peter at Classic Flights offered me a 'pilot special' - he would let me fly from the back seat (where the pilot would normally sit) and I could log it. And they would only bill me training rate rather than the higher sightseeing rate.
Next morning, once the weather cleared up a bit, I met Peter at the hangar, picked a flight jacket that fit me (sort of), and off we went for an awesome ride. He was foolish enough to trust me with the aircraft after the takeoff and I was able to get us over the town and towards the lake, where we did a few clearing turns, a stall, and a spin before coming back for a couple touch-and-go's on a grass runway near the airport.
It was an awesome experience! The air rushing in my face. The simple (and just a handful of) cockpit instruments. A very responsive airplane. A radio that cracked and wasn't of much help because there was so much noise in the open-air cockpit. Landing on a strip in-between the rows of trees. Seeing the beautiful scenery around me… I could not have asked for a better ride!
Come to think of it, there were a lot of 'firsts' for me on this ride:
- First time flying in an open air cockpit.
- First time flying in a tandem cockpit.
- First time flying a vintage aircraft (I have flown IN a 1927 Ford TriMotor, but this time I actually flew the airplane).
- First time flying a biplane.
- First time flying a tail wheel airplane (the TriMotor was a tailwheel airplane, but I was not the one flying it).
- First time landing on actual grass.
- First time experiencing a spin.
- Last, but not least, first time flying with the googles on. Heck yea!