The joys of flying
A surprise flight on Taupo's floatplane was the perfect birthday present for a former USAF pilot.
"It was a great privilege to see from the air, landscapes that would otherwise be inaccessible"
O na recent wonderful road trip around the North Island, my dear Dad was due to have his 65th birthday, and I resolved to give him the best birthday present of his life. Dad is a US Air Force retiree and madly enthusiastic about aircraft. Over the course of his 35-year military service, he has flown in myriad military planes and helicopters, both landing and taking off at times from aircraft carriers and even the ice at Antarctica. Despite all his exciting airborne adventures, I knew that in his heart he had always wanted to experience taking off from water in a floatplane. I remember watching an old black and white Hollywood movie and Dad being enthralled by the unusual aircraft. I had secretly arranged for a flight in Taupo on the second to last day of our road trip. When I revealed my plan to Neil at Taupo's Floatplane,he was immediately on board and wanted to help make the experience a unique and memorable one. When I told Neil that we were spending the night before at accommodation on the waterfront, he generously offered to pick us up from there. I could hardly wait to see the look on Dad's face when the plane would swoop down onto Lake Taupo to collect us. The next day dawned clear and calm with a few white clouds moving slowly across the sky. I had arranged for an early breakfast to start the birthday celebrations, and as Dad tucked into a cooked breakfast, he was none the wiser about our impending adventure. Neil had told me to keep a look-out for him around 9am so I invited Dad to bring his coffee out onto the deck to enjoy the morning sunshine. Dad's ears pricked up instantly when he heard the drone of the incoming floatplane, and he intently watched as it circled before gently descending to touchdown on the lake. His smile was broad as he continued to watch the plane as it was expertly maneuvered to the dock closest to us. Neil disembarked and quickly tethered the craft before waving at us. "Happy birthday," I announced as I gestured toward the floatplane. Dad looked at me in stunned disbelief. I just nodded affirmatively and taking Dad by his arm, led him over to meet Neil. Minutes later, we were seated and excitedly anticipating the take-off. What a unique experience it was to go from the sensation of floating like a boat to roaring along skimming the surface of the water before gently ascending into the sky. I had chosen the Mt Ruapehu Vista flight that Neil told me was the most popular of the scenic flights on offer. It is a special way to take in the beauty of Tongariro National Park and the volcanoes. We flew south covering the full length of Lake Taupo: A bird's eye view is the only way to really get a perspective on the size of the great lake. Neil pointed out the Horomatangi Reef (which can only be seen from above), and told us how it was formed from Lava domes and is located in the area of the last volcanic eruption from Lake Taupo. Once south of the lake, we entered the Tongariro National Park. Below were the vibrant blues and greens of the crater lakes dotted amongst the moonscape of the volcanic mountains. Neil pointed out the famous Tongariro crossing and seeing it from above really put into perspective the scale of this walk. We passed Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom of Lord of the Rings fame). It was a thrill to see the fiercely wild mountain slopes of Mordor. As we continued to climb towards the summit of Mt Ruapehu (at 2800m above sea-level it is New Zealand's highest volcano), below us was the milky aquamarine of the steamshrouded Crater Lake. Neil informed us that the temperature of the lake varies from 15 to 55 degrees Celsius. I suspect it would take a week of hard-core tramping to see all we got to see in our 60-minute adventure. It was a great privilege to see from the air landscapes that would otherwise be inaccessible for my father. Neil was a fantastic pilot and guide, and his local knowledge was apparent as he talked about Maori folklore and historical facts relating to the landscapes below us. We had been so engrossed by the experience as it unfolded that my dad and I looked at each other in surprise when Neil announced that
it was time to head back to Taupo. As he steered us back towards our accommodation, Neil talked enthusiastically of his passion for sharing the beauty of New Zealand's scenery with everyone he encounters. There is a particular pleasure for Neil in being present when those from different cultures (who may have grown up in "concrete jungles") first experience the vast space and pristine waters of the North Island. Neil enjoys the hands-on style of flying that floatplanes give; they confirm for him that the romance of flying still exists. Neil helped us to disembark, and my dad and I then remained on the jetty and watched as the floatplane effortlessly ascended once again into the sky over Taupo, tipping a wing at us in goodbye. I caught Dad's eye, and we did not need to speak. What an exceptional way to create vivid visual memories of some of New Zealand's most stunning scenery.