The joys of fly­ing

A sur­prise flight on Taupo's float­plane was the per­fect birth­day present for a for­mer USAF pi­lot.

Go Travel New Zealand - - Taupo -

"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.

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