John & Anne Wiley

2017/02/27

Christchurch Impressions

Several people suggested we skip or even avoid Christchurch on this trip, yet we felt drawn to spend a night there. So after our blissful small plane ride out of Ardmore, we shuffled back into a jet for the first time since the Sydney jaunt. Takeoff provided yet another perspective on the Auckland area, climbing across the bay toward the West coast.

115444 Jet Again

115444 Jet Again

With all the clouds I thought we might not see much, but happily enjoyed many scenic views through broken clouds. Especially over the South Island, like this glimpse of alpine Lake Tennyson about 20 miles North of Hammer Springs.

123834 Lake Tennyson

123834 Lake Tennyson

Soon we were descending over the great turquoise Waimakariri River with Christchurch Int’l (CHC) just below that red tip of our jet fairing at the upper-left.

125242 Waimakariri River

125242 Waimakariri River

The city sprawled below us on the wide plain as our jet turned “base” toward the airport, giving a sense of the setting next to the East coast with snow-capped peaks beyond.

125420 CHC Approach

125420 CHC Approach

After the familiar process of getting to the city center and checked into our hotel, we set out to explore. There seemed to be lots of public art, more graffiti than we’d seen elsewhere in New Zealand, and it was shocking to see so much destruction from the quakes.

173937 Crushed Cathedral

173937 Crushed Cathedral

Behind a fence stood the remains of this large cathedral being heroically rebuilt. Getting closer and walking to the right we could see inside.

174030 Restoring from Rubble

174030 Restoring from Rubble

From the many damaged buildings still standing, most in varying stages of repair, we got hints of the quakes’ power. From all the bare empty large lots among the few high buildings, we got a sense of how different Christchurch looks to locals. From all the construction cranes we could see how many new (and highly quake-resistant) buildings were going into some of those empty lots.

174052 New Construction

174052 New Construction

A few blocks away we found much more public art, and refuge from the rubble, at placid Victoria Square along the relaxing Avon River.

175055 Avon River Relaxation

175055 Avon River Relaxation

Back on the street, we paused to watch this couple practicing their moves at the Dance O Mat.

182951 Dancing in the Streets

182951 Dancing in the Streets

All the destruction seemed to have brought out creativity everywhere and a palpable mix of hope, fear, courage, despair, and some sort of somber resolve among the survivors, and splashed in bright colors on the surviving buildings.

184308 Survivors

184308 Survivors

The streets close around our hotel were colorful and inviting, yet felt strangely quiet as if awaiting more recovery to blossom into something new arising from a great little city.

185135 Quietly Waiting

185135 Quietly Waiting

We were very glad to have visited, yet also glad to spend only a night of our precious time there. Plus we celebrated having decided to fly rather than stick with our plan to drive between cities. It gave us views like this taking off the next day.

20114524 Sprawling Christchurch

20114524 Sprawling Christchurch

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2017/02/23

Up At Ardmore

Nosing around the aerodrome at Ardmore, I met some friendly pilots who helped me connect with other pilots who introduced me to John McWilliams. This wonderful human being took both of us on an extended aerial tour of the region around Auckland. In minutes we were cruising past downtown.

9807 Auckland Aerial

9807 Auckland Aerial

9819 Flying Low Past Auckland

9819 Flying Low Past Auckland

Soon after the above pic we turned left out to the coast and turned left again to clear AKL and fly along the beaches, before turning left again East across the North Island to Pauanui Airfield on the scenic Coromandel Peninsula.

142458 Approaching Pauanui

142458 Approaching Pauanui

Anne had the advantage of sitting in the back seat where she could snap cellphone pix like the above, out either of the rear side windows of the Cessna 172. The downside is, those windows don’t open so the pix are fuzzy and color-shifted due to the plexiglass. Out my open window the DSLR I lugged on this “Over Under” (OU) big adventure, this rocky beach passed below as we turned crosswind to enter the landing pattern.

0118 Beach Jungle

0118 Beach Jungle

While familiar to our many coastal flights in the U.S., Canada and Bahamas, the jungle has that unique New Zealand look. Turning on the downwind leg, the town sprawling up the hills into forest on the other side of the harbor inlet caught my eye.

0143 Into Forest

0143 Into Forest

While we didn’t take time to walk out and explore those tide pools I’d snapped as we flew over, we did make the short trek to the scenic beach.

0217 Quiet Beach

0217 Quiet Beach

John and I paused for some pilot talk under that distant tree, and Anne took a snap of her happy hubby with our new friend.

152946 John & John

152946 John & John

Soon we were plying the skies that fluctuated between clarity like you see above, haze like the next pic of spiky peaks, and scattered clouds as you’ll see in many pix from this fly day.

0148 Spiky Peaks

0148 Spiky Peaks

Like many C-172’s this one’s front windows can’t be opened more than several inches, so the pic above has added haze from the plexi because I couldn’t shoot through the opening. John kindly raised my wing several times when doing so would enable a clear shot. In clearer air, Anne managed to get this one thru the plexi.

174610 Approaching Claris

174610 Approaching Claris

I wish we could share pix that captured the beauty we were seeing! The haze, reduced light from clouds, and plexi all conspired with the human eye’s superiority to cameras. But maybe you still get a sense from pix like this.

0179 Scenic Thrills

0179 Scenic Thrills

I’d love to fly this whole nation in an amphibian aircraft landing on grass strips, lakes, ocean and of course airports. Anne got this view on short final to Great Barrier Aerodrome

165142 Another Landing

165142 Another Landing

We loved the short walk John led us on, taking this path through the jungle.

171012 Garden Path

171012 Garden Path

It opens out to a little village where we bought a couple of mementos at the quirky gift shop.

0441 Aotea GBI Arts

0441 Aotea GBI Arts

On our takeoff roll I snapped this view of the jaunty terrain.

0464 Terrain Slice

0464 Terrain Slice

We saw so many wonders on this flight, and of course have countless pix. Here’s another one I like, snapped through the clear air below the open window’s plexi as we passed over a small craggy island.

0482 Castaway Island

0482 Castaway Island

As we descended on approach back to Ardmore, the green hills of New Zealand seemed to reach up and embrace us with a soft welcome.

0664 Ardmore Green

0664 Ardmore Green

After fond farewells and appreciation to John McWilliams we were ready to begin another phase of our romance with this charmed land and her warm people, on the South Island.

2017/02/19

Rotorua

We woke for a leisurely morning exploring beautiful Tauranga. Our plan after that was to detour through Rotorua on a relaxed day driving back to Auckland and continue on from there the next day. Then a kind native Kiwi mentioned that his favorite thing ever was the Rotorua zip line, but when we called for details they said only two reservations remained for the next few days. Suddenly we were blindly racing the clock through some spectacular countryside to get there! In what seemed a moment, we went from frenzy to stillness high in an ancient forest beyond time.

131941 Time Travel

131941 Time Travel

We’d joined a wonderful Kiwi group from a small company, with each of whom we’d have enjoyed a lengthy conversation. Most of the zip groups are random strangers, but our good fortune was to be among these friends who’d spent years together. I breathed deeply typing that just now, recalling the delights of that brief time with them. Added to the majestic canopy, quiet and often playful moments with this welcoming group followed our progress between forest giants on seven different zip lines. Between the lines, our guides introduced forest wonders.

134110 Anne Finally Zips

134110 Anne Finally Zips

Anne has wanted to zip line since before we met. What a perfect introduction this was! We were sad to leave our new “family” but now faced a long drive and wanted to pace the slowest traffic on the highway, after having joined the fastest to make our zip appointment. Still, we had to drive around the lake for a quick stop at famed Kere Falls.

9753 Kere Falls Follies

9753 Kere Falls Follies

Not only do crazy Kiwis ride the white water in kayaks but some go over on inflatable rafts, pool toys – we even saw some guy riding an inflatable shark. Just down the river we found this quiet spot where mossy crags shelter water-carved rocks inviting a day of silent meditation.

9790 Meditation

9790 Meditation

But time tickled and we eased past this iconic green Hobbit hillside back toward the highway.

9777 NZ Archetype

9777 NZ Archetype

This is the archetypal image of New Zealand we’d heard of decades ago, that while still soul soothing we’d happily expanded already with so many more facets and memories of this enchanted land. Now mid-afternoon with only a snack, Anne wisely insisted we pause at Eat Street before hitting the highway to Auckland.

160141 Eat Street

160141 Eat Street

Somehow among all the places there, nothing caught our fancy and we wound up with takeout at colorful nearby Fat Dog.

155933 Delicious Fat Dog

155933 Delicious Fat Dog

We still managed a moderate pace and arrived before dark, greeted at the end of our longest NZ automobile exploration by the ever more familiar skyline and a big sign prophetically asking, “Where To Next?”

9699 Where To?

9699 Where To?

2017/02/12

Bay Of Islands

One name came up with everyone Anne talked to about NZ before and during our trip: Bay Of Islands. That’s actually why we rented a car and drove the hour and some from Auckland to Whangarei, where I got to fly GA. So after a tasty breakfast at the Dickens Inn, the extra hour drive to Paihia helped her feel better about not having flown GA yet. It is, as predicted, beautiful.

9567 Paihia

9567 Paihia

For anyone who likes boating or water sports of any kind, it’s The place to be. We enjoyed an especially romantic moonrise dinner at a place called Alongside, on a short pier out over the water.

210734 Moonrise

210734 Moonrise

With the great weather compared with most of our trip so far, of course we wanted to fly GA over the Bay! So the next day we made the short drive inland to Kerikeri, and went to the B.O.I. airport there. After much driving around and talking to everyone we could find, we finally got Swan Air on the phone only to discover that GA would be impossible during our time there. So after checking out the town we went back to Paihia, and hiked around the area.

9625 Waterfront Trail

9625 Waterfront Trail

We found a quiet spot where this tree was struggling to hold onto a crumbing bluff over the beach.

9665 Desperate Grip

9665 Desperate Grip

I’m no botanist, but those red flowers look like the “Bottlebrush” tree we park our car under at the SB Airport. There are many of them along Paihia Beach.

9638 Gentle Paihia Beach

9638 Gentle Paihia Beach

We explored several long stretches of beach, each offering different views along the coast…

9572 Coast View

9572 Coast View

…out to the assorted tiny fantasy islands…

9578 Fantasy Island

9578 Fantasy Island

…and beyond them out across the Bay.

9612 Islands to Bay

9612 Islands to Bay

Oh how we longed to fly GA low and slow over this area! Both of us used to enjoy water sports, but that interest has waned over the years and all but vanished since we started flying GA. So rather than invest hours and dollars on the water, after the second night we drove back toward Auckland and paused atop a hill for this look back across the Bay.

9675 Almost Aerial

9675 Almost Aerial

This was the closest to that yearned-for aerial perspective we were able to get. Along the highway we passed through an enchanted marsh that had us wondering if it was some sort of mangrove swamp.

104828 Mangrove Swamp?

104828 Mangrove Swamp?

We didn’t try to find out, instead keeping up a steady pace to get through Auckland before rush hour on our way to another place highly recommended to us: Tauranga. Along that drive was this beautiful river (I guess the Ohinemuri), where we took a brief stop to soak in the sights and sounds.

9736 River Roadside

9736 River Roadside

The river “energy” was familiar to all we’ve known, yet the palm ferns and other unfamiliar plants made it all the more magical. After this refreshing pause from the long drive, we arrived at a Tauranga beach hotel before dark.

194414 Beach & Tree

194414 Beach & Tree

After so much driving, it was simply glorious to be rooted again! I sighed deeply typing that just now, recalling how welcome this spot was to weary travelers.

2017/02/06

Funga Rye

We spent another night in downtown Auckland, then picked up a rental car and tried not to break any laws. Especially by driving on the right (wrong) side of the road. We enjoyed a new angle on the city from the “left” side of the highway bridge, and my new cellphone easily captured this quite sharp pic.

170637 First Drive

170637 First Drive

As the only authorized driver in the rental, I got the hang of driving on the left fairly quickly – except for the “turn signal,” which turned on the wipers and thus reminded me to think opposite. Having not yet flown GA “down under” I was eager to find a friendly pilot as we rolled into Whangarei and drove out to the aerodrome (airport). I went door to door until finding one open at the Whangarei Flying Club, and we went in to meet the cheerful friendly Penny who set us up with her also gregarious pilot hubby Rusty.

9549 Penny & Rusty at Tecnam P92 G5

9549 Penny & Rusty at Tecnam P92 G5

Though she wanted to come along Anne was less disappointed to not join us in this 2-seat Tecnam “light sport” plane, than I was excited to get airborne with Rusty. I’d been itching to meet NZ pilots and see it from small planes.

151812 Up At Last

151812 Up At Last

For U.S. pilots lucky enough to visit this part of New Zealand, we highly recommend the club as a very inexpensive alternative to getting a N.Z. license and checkride for any rental plane you can find. Rusty mostly flew out across the shallow bay to those jagged peaks not far from the airport, while I tried to get good pix through the windows that don’t open.

9360 Ancient Stone

9360 Ancient Stone

The wizened rocks riddled with caves speak of eons and beg the question of whether ancient peoples once slept there dreaming of flying nearby.

9412 Geological Reduction

9412 Geological Reduction

The process that created these rocks has long since given way to the gradual erosion taking them back down into the sea. But after a few minutes along the coast and cruising past more rock sculptures, we headed back for a look at Whangarei where we’d booked the Cell Block (a former jail converted to a hostel) for a night. By the way, have you tried to pronounce the name of this lovely small city on a river by the sea?

9522 Whangarei

9522 Whangarei

If you’re curious how the locals say the Maori name of their town, the title of this post is an approximation. We had fun learning and practicing it. Here’s another pic of the city, looking back past the airport as we approached to land.

9548 Whangarei Airport

9548 Whangarei Airport

They have commercial airline service, yet the field is friendly to small planes including excellent carefully home built aircraft. It turns out Rusty also keeps an AutoGyro Europe MT03 Eagle there, and he happily agreed to take me for a quick flight before his students arrived from Auckland for training in it. What an absolute thrill that was!

9563 AutoGyro MT-03

9563 AutoGyro MT-03

The performance is very similar to a light helicopter, but at an order of magnitude less operating expense. I couldn’t take pix, not having prepared a camera for such an exhilarating open-air experience, but the view was spectacular and much akin to simply levitating off the ground unaided. Great way to begin my quest to fly GA in NZ! 🙂

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