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