Pilot group glides over to HanmerJONATHAN MCKEOWN
Four Nelson paragliding pilots have achieved a New Zealand first, all soaring more than 100 kilometres, non-stop, in one scenic trip from Wakefield to Hanmer Springs.
The last maiden 100km flight, which is a difficult task in New Zealand's mountainous countryside, was completed by Dean Straker in 2006. The first New Zealand pilot to fly more than 100km was Stew Karstens, along the same route in 1996. Both men were part of the flight last Thursday.
Completing the cross-country paragliding quad were Lyn Watkins and Nick Taber, who became the 10th and 11th pilots, respectively, to surpass the impressive mark. All are members of the Tasman Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club, and all learnt to fly in Nelson.
Using thermal drafts to climb, the flight took more than six hours as they flew into a high westerly wind.
Starting from the Inwood fire lookout up the Wai-iti Valley, Nelson paragliding instructor Karstens was first to land in Hanmer for a personal best of 107km, beating his personal best by 1km. Karstens was closely followed by Watkins who also hit the 107 mark.
Straker flew 111.6km, the distance covered by one degree of longitude on Earth's surface, beating his old personal best by 500m. Remarkably, this was Straker's third 100km flight.
Taber made the milestone, making 100.4km and landing at Jacks Pass.
All the "foot-launched flyers" credit their skills to the great terrain and conditions around the region, especially the Barnicoat and Richmond range, which they believed provided the most consistent flying in the country.
Karstens said that because Nelson was surrounded on nearly every side by mountains, the sheltered climate and spring specific conditions were the envy of pilots around the country.
"We are very protected here from any major winds, that makes Nelson one of the best paragliding areas in New Zealand by far, because we get such good consistent flying. It's quite funny, when I first did the 100km it was on November 23, this time it was the 22nd.
"The reason why November is good is it is the last of the spring so we still have snow on the back of the mountains. On the western side you have sun on rock and it's warm and on the eastern side its cold, so the temperature difference. The lapse rate, the rate that air cools as it rises, is very good this time of year - it makes for lots of fast times."
Karstens said this would be the first time four people have broken the milestone in one flight.
"Nationally, only 11 pilots have now flown 100km so for four to do this in one day was exceptional.
The pilots gave special thanks and recognition to their dedicated retrieve driver, John Henderson.
"It is so much more fun flying through the mountains when you know you've got a ride home," Karstens said.