Masterton Hokatika Millford Wanaka

Trip Start Mar 06, 2013
Trip End Apr 04, 2013

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, March 22, 2013

We had a glorious flying day yesterday. Weather was still a bit unsettled in Masterton with showers around but the visibility was good enough and we were able to depart. The first leg was a 'competition' leg which involved identifying and answering questions about specific points along the planned track. 

The Safari organizers had the idea of starting the slowest aircraft first so that this long day of flying would not leave all of us waiting for the slowest planes to arrive. Perhaps this is sound logic on the surface but having participated in some other events we questioned this approach since the faster aircraft will then overtake the slower ones. Indeed they did send the slowest ones off first and it immediately lead to some interesting times as the first identification point for the competition was under a shower with low ceiling and visibility. Several planes just gave up and went their own course but there was some high density traffic for a while

As we moved towards the straight the weather improved and so we were able to get a better perspective on the now loosely organized group of planes. At one point we had 9 other planes in view, and were probably missing some still. But it was good to have company crossing the straight since we were restricted to at or below 1500' above the water in order to stay out of Wellington's air space. Jon got some great shots as we continued passing slower aircraft over the straight.

Many checkpoints later we arrived in Hokitika on the West coast of the South Island which served as our lunch stop. Being our first day, and a long flight, we did not depart Hokitika at the expected hour of 2 pm. By the time everyone had arrived, fueled, had lunch and been briefed for the next leg it was going on 4 pm. This was the premier scenic leg for the entire Safari, featuring Mt Cook and the range that runs down the west spine of the South Island. The destination for the evening was Wanaka in the central south area.

We, however, had bigger goals. At the risk of missing dinner we decided to use the exceptionally fine weather and see if we could get to Milford Sound. Mt. Cook was largely obscured by clouds so the glaciers around it and its neighboring peaks were not at their best. However, the further south we went, the better the conditions became. We entered Milford Sound about 5:30 on an immaculate  cloudless afternoon. After the full tour we exited and made our way toward Wanaka amid fabulous peaks capped with ice fields and glaciers.

We were by far the last plane into Wanaka, arriving at 6:40, dinner at 7. Several people at the field pitched in and helped us tie down in record time. We sprinted to waiting cars and just made the bus for dinner. It was a great day!
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