Descendants of 'first flying Kiwi' celebrate Wellington Gliding Club's move from Kapiti to Wairarapa

Glider pilot Mike Till banks the Wellington Gliding Club's two-seater over Paraparaumu. The club is moving to Wairarapa ...
Andrew Gorrie

Glider pilot Mike Till banks the Wellington Gliding Club's two-seater over Paraparaumu. The club is moving to Wairarapa after 51 years on the Kapiti coast.

Greytown's credentials to be the new home of Wellington gliding have been backed by local Maori, who say a warrior ancestor was the first flying Kiwi.

After 51 years based at Paraparaumu Airport, the club will move to a new, state-of-the-art gliding centre of excellence in Greytown at the end of the month.

With its Paraparaumu lease running out and the costs and restrictions of flying from a commercial airport becoming untenable, the club found the perfect new base in Gliding Wairarapa's airfield at Papawai, east of Greytown, club president Brian Sharpe said.

"It's a huge move, and it will open up a lot of new opportunities," he said.

The Wellington club has marked the move by joining with Gliding Wairarapa to form the Greytown Soaring Centre.

It will focus on training young people and other novices, as its two-kilometre landing strip and rural setting allow winch-powered launches, which are much cheaper and easier to organise than being towed up by a plane.

"This is definitely the most exciting gliding development going on in New Zealand at the moment," Sharpe said.

Wairarapa also counts on direct access to the North Island's best thermals, plenty of clear landing areas, and almost unlimited airspace.

The club has nearly finished building a new hangar on the site, and is fundraising toward a new clubhouse and training facility.

It has ordered a high-tech "Skylaunch" winch, the only one if its kind in the country, which will be shipped from England next week. 

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The chairman of the marae which borders the new centre's airstrip said the location was apt, because a Greytown ancestor pioneered the art of gliding from nearby cliffs.

During the Musket Wars, Ngati Kahungunu ancestor Nuku Pewapewa​ and his warriors used glider-like kites to surprise an invading enemy force, said Papawai marae chairman Paora Ammunson​.

"I've asked other Iwi if they have a history of their ancestors flying and none of them have, so I think Ngati Kahungunu and Wairarapa can lay claim to having the first New Zealander to fly."

The marae would provide catering and accommodation to the centre during competitions, plus offer scholarships so young people from the marae could follow their ancestor's example, he said.

Sharpe said the historic link had "tied everything together".

"It's certainly something that appeals to us, we're keen to be part of the community."

The new centre will be launched with an opening ceremony on April 2.

 - Stuff

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