I’ll probably be cursed as a novice paraglider pilot forever… I shy away from aggressive flying, I have hardly any good cross country flights to brag about, and I hate seeing my wing trying to get beneath my feet… But after a month and a half of sitting in the cold of Antarctica, the opportunity to fly my paraglider in the early summer conditions of Wanaka, New Zealand was hard to pass up…
When the Northbound C-17 from McMurdo landed in Christchurch, I spent a quick night in town – no aftershocks to arrest one’s sleep – and rented a car from options car rental before driving 5 hours to a camping spot in a shipping container at my friend’s place behind Mount Iron.
Apparently Wanaka is known by paraglider pilots for its fickle weather, blown out conditions, strong afternoon winds. When I arrived, 6 weeks of bad weather had just ended, and the sky started to fill with pilots anxious to get out and take advantage of good, lifty conditions. That weather window would end the day I left NZ.
We flew from Treble Cone almost every day that week. Treble Cone (aka “TC”) is the standard Wanaka launch for anyone who doesn’t want to carry their glider very far uphill. It’s a popular launch for the local tandem company – Wanaka Paragliding – owned and operated by Richard van Nieuwkoop. Richard’s business van – the “Tandem Van” – drives laps up and down the steep and winding TC road on busy days, and Paraglider pilots can catch a lift up the hill for a cool $5 bucks.
My most frequent flying companion was Mal Haskins, of “speedfly 8000” fame… Mal flies tandems for Richard when things get busy, so he always seems to know what the conditions are going to be like… He’s also brutally honest, and doesn’t hesitate to tell me when I look like I am doing something poorly – a welcome addition of feedback in a sport that doesn’t offer many second chances…
A few local pilots were hitting TC hard that week too, and using it as a launch pad for much longer cross country missions. Flights from TC to the park at Wanaka were happening almost daily. One pilot made it to Cook Village over a 2-day 140km vol-bivouac flight. Another group of pilots made it over 120km to Omarama at the end of the week.
My longest XC flight? I think I made it 12km to Glendhu bay, landing in a fallow field 10 meters from the lake Wanaka road. Oh well… Perfect practice makes perfect!