Hang-glid­ing lands in Cromwell

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - JILL HERRON

Over­seas vis­i­tors are get­ting air­borne over Cromwell, with New Zealand’s only towed hang­g­lid­ing oper­a­tion open­ing in the Cen­tral Otago des­ti­na­tion.

Pilot and co-owner Ian Clark said Aus­tralian, Chi­nese and Amer­i­can clients have been most preva­lent at newly-opened 45 South Tan­dem Hang Glid­ing, with the Chi­nese out­shin­ing the rest in their level of en­thu­si­asm.

Fly­ing off the Su­gar­loaf airstrip at Low­burn, the company plans to run daily flights, ini­tially from book­ings sourced through the Queen­stown of­fices of as­so­ci­ated company, Skytrek.

He hoped an of­fice could be opened in Cromwell ‘‘in a year or two’’ once the busi­ness was es­tab­lished.

‘‘It’s a great spot, close to Wanaka too, and we hope we will be able to cap­ture the through traf­fic com­ing south from here.’’

Clark, who has flown hang­glid­ers for 26 years, said his last four win­ters had been spent fly­ing clients in Glenorchy, as par­towner of Skytrek.

‘‘We’ve come here be­cause it’s drier - not so close to that West Coast weather. And we can fly year round here in Cromwell, we only had ac­cess to the strip in Glenorchy dur­ing win­ter.’’

He en­joyed the quiet launch site and wide, empty skies all around.

‘‘It’s my pas­sion. It’s very quiet up there and it’s as close as you can get to ac­tu­ally hav­ing two wings on your back and fly­ing like a bird. Shar­ing that with oth­ers is amaz­ing. It’s some­thing peo­ple re­mem­ber the rest of their lives.’’

In the wheeled tan­dem glider, client and pilot har­ness in hor­i­zon­tally, one above the other. The glider is at­tached by rope to the pur­pose-built ‘tug boat of the sky’, a Dragon­fly mi­cro­light.

Towed hang-glid­ing was a great op­tion as any­one could do it, in­clud­ing the el­derly and dis­abled, he said.

It also meant if the wind was blow­ing the wrong way you could about-face and take off in the op­po­site di­rec­tion – some­thing you could not do foot-launch­ing off a hill­side.

There were no other com­mer­cial tow op­er­a­tions in this coun­try, but a hand­ful over­seas in places where peo­ple couldn’t ac­cess suit­able moun­tain ar­eas.

As a safety pre­cau­tion, there were five ways the tow rope could be un­hitched, in­clud­ing a ‘‘weak link’’ which would automatically snap if a cer­tain level of ten­sion was reached.

JILL HERRON

Hang-glider pilot Ian Clark, a for­mer na­tional cham­pion who has flown for 26 years.

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