Sunday, January 15, 2012

December 10th: Arrowtown and Queenstown

After a good night's sleep and breakfast at a nice cafe in Arrowtown, it was time for something I'd been looking forward to for weeks. We hopped in the car, drove to Queenstown Airport, and arrived at Air Wakatipu. It was time for some mountain flying!

I met my instructor, Julianne, and after reviewing some mountain flying procedures we came up with a plan to fly to Milford Sound and back. I got to fly a C172SP, just like the ones I've been teaching in back home! The mountain range in the background is the Remarkables. They're about 7000' high and so close they're almost in the traffic pattern.

At first, Julianne suggested I do the radio work, especially since I'm an air traffic controller. I gave myself away as an American almost immediately; turns out instead of clearing you for takeoff on runway 5, it's runway ZERO 5. Oops. :)

We took off, turned crosswind...

...and started to head to the west.

Along the way Julianne had me do some contour flying. That certainly took some getting used to, but it was a lot of fun! The goal is to stay right up against the edge of the terrain, following it as it weaves around.

I felt a little bad for Mark in the backseat; we did some fairly steep turns and I know that wasn't too comfortable. He did a great job of taking pictures (and video, which will be in a later post), though!

Before we knew it, we were coming up on Milford Sound! You can just make out the airport on the little piece of land that juts out into the water. Julianne gave me the option of landing there, but since it was a $50 landing fee to land on a 3000' runway, I decided I'd be happy enough flying over it.

There was a layer of clouds sitting in the middle of the fjord, so we looped around to lose some altitude and dropped below the clouds.

Coming back in to the fjord from the ocean. We dropped down to 1000'; the mountains loomed over us!

One of the valleys branching off the fjord. After flying through Milford Sound, we climbed back up and started to work our way back to Queenstown.

There were glaciers and small mountain lakes everywhere. Some of them branched out into waterfalls.

We came upon Lake Wakatipu...

...and followed it back to Queenstown. The tower kept us high for a passing helicopter, then eventually let us descend and land.

I wish we could have spent more time in the air! The flight was great and the scenery was amazing. I made sure to get Julianne to sign my logbook, so I do have 1.5 hours of NZ mountain flying in there now. :)

One of the local controllers was hanging out in the flight school when we got back and he offered to give us a tower tour! Mark and I jumped at the offer and before we knew it, we were standing in Queenstown's tower.

Certainly a much better view than the dark radar room I'm used to! The controllers were all really nice and told us all about what it's like to be a controller in NZ. When you get hired, you start out at their radar facility in Christchurch, then if you decide you want to transfer somewhere else you simply put your name on a list. When the next spot opens, the next person on the list goes - none of the politicking that we have here in the US. They work 4 days on, two days off, and at Queenstown, at least, don't have to work mids. Altimeter settings are given in Qnh, and most pilots check on with that rather than the latest ATIS code. Altitudes are in feet, but runway length is in meters and visibility is in kilometers.

We hung out in the tower for a little while, then drove back to the hostel in Arrowtown. We popped some clothes in the washer, then walked into town to find some lunch and wander through a few shops.

Since Queenstown was only a short drive away, we spent some time checking out their shops, too.

Despite Queenstown's variety of restaurants, we had such a good meal the night before that we drove back to Arrowtown and went back to The Stables for dinner again. This time I had pumpkin salad and dessert...and it was all fantastic. Again. :)

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