EAA Chapter 25

A Community of Aviation Enthusiasts in the Twin Cities

Part Two: Discovering New Zealand

Filed under: Member Stories — admin at 2:47 am on Monday, April 11, 2005

Article and photos by Dan Carroll

from On Final April 2005

In last month’s newsletter, I wrote about the beginning of my trip with some friends to New Zealand and of my excitement and anticipation of flying a Cessna 206 in this small island country. Based out of Matt and Jo McCaughan’s Geordie Hill Station, we covered a lot of the South Island’s geography by air, and by the end of the trip all of us came home with great memories and lots of photos.


There were many parts of the trip that left indelible impressions, but one particular segment of the trip stands out from all the others. It was without question, one of the more challenging flying experiences of the trip that I’d like to share with you, particularly a visit to the Croydon Aircraft Co. restoration facility located on a small grass airstrip in Mandeville and our flight from Stewart Island to Milford Sound.

At the beginning of the second week of our adventure, we were scheduled out early one morning for an over night trip to Stewart Island, which is just off the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. The itinerary was uncomplicated. The planned routing for the first day was simply to leave Geordie Hill, head south down the Lindis Valley toward Cromwell and then along the Garvy Mountain Range, pick up the Mataura River and then southeast to our first stop, Old Mandeville Airfield. From there we would make a short hop to Gore for fuel and then head south to Invercargill and then cross the Foveau Straits to Stewart Island.

During breakfast that morning there was some chatter about the weather and the routing through the mountains down to Mandeville. After the first week of flying I was beginning to feel fairly comfortable with the airplane and flying the narrow valleys and the mountain contours. But calling the local Flight Service Station (FSS) for a weather and route briefing wasn’t an option. Weather services in New Zealand are a subscription service that can only be accessed by computer. Since Matt had the only computer, I had to rely on his evaluation of the weather and trust his judgment.

The launch this particular morning looked like a “go”, and Matt said that the weather for the next two days didn’t seem to be a problem. He wasn’t sure if we could make it through the valleys along the Garvy Mountain Range, but there was an alternative route to the east. Now all we had to do is preflight and get in the air.

The flight down to Mandeville was uneventful and the winds were light, which gave me a chance to really take in the spectacular scenery. We made an approach to the west at the Old Mandeville Airfield and landed on one highly m a n i c u r e d grass strip. We had the field to ourselves and taxied right up t o wh a t looked like a small cluster of World War I vintage hangars, replete with rose bushes in full bloom along the side of the hangar. The setting could easily have been used for shooting the Errol Flynn movie, “The Dawn Patrol”.

The Croydon Aircraft Co. is a small operation owned and operated by Colin Smith. Croydon is apparently well known for its restoration of DeHavilland Moths and other DeHavilland aircraft models of an early vintage. To our delight, the hangars were filled with a variety of DeHavilland airframes, Gypsy engines and props and tooling to match.

Some of the airplanes were at various stages of restoration, but the bulk of the inventories were completely restored and airworthy. There were Chipmunks (DHC1), a Puss Moth (DH80A), several Tiger Moths (DH82A), a Fox Moth (DH83), a Leopard Moth (DH85), a Horn et Mo t h (DH87B), a Dragon Rapide (DH89B), a D r a g o n f l y (DH90), a Moth Minor (DH94), an original all wood 1934 Comet (DH88) used in the London to Sydney Air Race. There was a Simmonds Spartan and the real odd duck amongst them, a nearly completed restoration of a Beech D17 Staggerwing. (The latter is being restored for its U.S. owner who apparently plans on flying it home to Reno, the long way home, i.e., around the world.) Colin was also close to finishing a replica of a Pither 1910 Monoplane (it looks something like a Bleriot).

The few hours that we spent at the Croydon facility were a pure delight. Unfortunately we had places to go and had to make Stewart Island before nightfall.

The winds had kicked up by the time we departed Old Mandeville Airfield and I was grateful to have an extremely wide grass strip for takeoff in a strong crosswind. We made a short stop at Gore, another grass strip about 15 miles from Old Mandeville, for fuel. Our next stop for the night was Ryan Creek Aerodrome on Stewart Island.

By the time we got down to Stewart Island the winds were really blowing hard. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like landing at Ryan Creek, which was a narrow paved strip located on top of a ridge above the small fishing community of Halfmoon Bay. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a pretty landing, but the only damage done was to my pride. The cheers of joy from my passengers when we got on the ground made it seem worthwhile. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to have a well-deserved libation.

The night and the next morning came and went without too much excitement. Although I will say that the fishing around the island was terrific. The rest of the day would be spent in the air, snaking our way through the Fiordlands and the Southern Alps with stops in Te Anau and Milford Sound. It was a breathtaking flight covering 250 nautical miles of mostly mountain flying. For the uninitiated, mountain flying can provide some of the most exhilarating and challenging flying you’ll ever do. Flying the narrow valleys and crossing the high mountain saddles into the next valley, sometimes with nominal clearance between clouds and terrain can be a true test of nerve and conviction. Some might say that it was more excitement than they bargained for.

This last leg was the highlight of the two-day trip, particularly seeing the high elevation waterfalls and the approach to landing and departure at Milford Sound. We didn’t experience the fierce winds that this area is known for when we arrived at Milford Sound, but we were told that after a heavy rainfall and high winds, the waterfalls fall up on the lea side of the mountains. Imagine that if you can. The approach to Milford Sound Airport is spectacular. The sight of the mountains rising from the sea vertically to heights of 6000 feet is absolutely magnificent. I can live without the windshear part of the approach to landing though.

The end of daylight was approaching and after a short break on the ground at Milford Sound, we headed for home. With the help of the strong westerly winds coming through the Sound, our rate of climb got us up to 8,000 feet within minutes after takeoff and from there it was a short flight to Wanaka for fuel and then home to Geordie Hill. In reflection, those two days of flying were fantastic.

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