Thursday, 22 August 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Such a great experience

Another brilliant day dawned clear and calm on Saturday last week as my husband, Mark, and I were scheduled to enjoy a scenic flight from Whitianga Airport in a beautifully restored DC3. The aeroplane is based at Ardmore Airport, south of Auckland.

Chrissie Reilly, the winner of an Informer “volunteer competition,” was to join us for the flight.

I knew our plane had arrived in Whitianga as I was hanging laundry outside and our backyard darkened with the shadow of the DC3 making its final approach into Whitianga Airport. It was time to make our way to the airport to meet Chrissie.

Chrissie arrived just after us and was as excited as we were. Nominated for the volunteer competition by Mike Brown, chairman of the Whitianga Sea Scouts, Chrissie is not only an active Scouts leader and deputy chair of the Whitianga Sea Scouts, she has also taken on even more responsibility to start a Scouts Venturer’s group in Whitianga this year. She is doing all this while managing a busy Whitianga business, Pacific Coast Marine, with her husband, John Booker. 

We joked about what inflight entertainment the flight might have and whether Chrissie should have boned up on her DC3 flying skills in case she might be needed in an emergency. Meanwhile I was a little pensive about the age of the aeroplane.   Technically the DC3 we were about to board was 15 years older than me, and I am pushing 60 this year. She was manufactured in Oklahoma City and delivered to the United States Air Force in October 1944. During World War II she served with various units and squadrons in continental America before being transferred to Japan and the Philippines for service in the Korean War.

The plane had been procured from Australia and lovingly restored 31 years ago by a private group of individuals as part of the New Zealand Warbirds Association. She is these days owned by a group of aviation professionals called “Fly DC3.” Her professional airline pilots and experienced airline cabin crew are all volunteers. She is one of only a few DC3s in the world to hold a full Airline Operating Certificate.

In addition to Chrissie, six volunteers or staff members from St John Whitianga, the Whitianga Police and the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade were sponsored by Fly DC3 to enjoy one of the three scenic flights the plane undertook from Whitianga Airport on Saturday.

When I asked about the use of cell phones to take photos, Captain Jolon Marshall said that none of the flight instruments would recognise such modern technology, so we were in the clear.

We were welcomed onto the plane by cabin attendants Lynn Wightwick and Linda Boyens. We were warned that while the engines started it might be a bit steamy inside (air conditioning was not a feature in the mid-1940s), but that we were all equipped with personal fans, which were called Passenger Safety Cards. We all made use of them smartly. 

The take-off was amazingly smooth considering the size of the aeroplane, although it also seemed like it took us a while to get airborne. Once in the air, we were treated to magnificent views. We passed the Whitianga River and headed out towards Great Mercury Island with Shakespeare Cliff and Cooks Beach on our right. On our left, Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach sparkled in the sun. The water of Mercury Bay was a translucent colour. All along the flight we were low enough in altitude to see swimmers, boaties and kayakers. It was almost surreal.  

The flight path took us towards Matarangi, so we were able to fly low over Kuaotunu, which was Chrissie’s long-term home, as well as Rings Beach, where Mark’s family have been going since 1977. Our friends and family at Rings Beach said that they heard the DC3 way before they saw it. 

While Linda offered us lollies, we were treated to 1940s music by Vera Lynn. While we were looking at all the stunning scenery, Chrissie struck up an avid conversation with the passenger in the seat next to her, long-term Hahei resident Ian Russell. They found that they had some incredibly interesting connections and chatted away about the Mercury Bay community. 

At Matarangi, we banked back out to sea and came back along the coast which once again allowed all of us amazing views of Rings Beach and Kuaotunu, as well as Otama Beach and Opito Bay. Otama looked particularly spectacular with its crystal clear water, white sand and bucolic pastures.

Arriving back in Whitianga, we flew over the Whitianga River Estuary and the Whitianga Waterways to make our final approach. The landing was, like the takeoff, surprisingly smooth and the passengers were commenting on how lovely the interior of the plane was with its ample leg room and cushy seats. Take note Air New Zealand.

On arrival, our flight attendants apologised in their obligatory arrival announcement that they wished there had been time enough for them to make us a martini, but alas that was not to be.

Getting off the aeroplane and making our goodbyes, the passengers for the second flight was getting ready to board. I was pleased to see that two of the six emergency services passengers being treated to a scenic flight by Fly DC3 were Sandra Holliday of St John and Constable Bernie Deadman of the Whitianga Police, who helped a few months ago to get me out of the bush behind the Whitianga Golf Course with a broken ankle. It was exciting that that they were also going to have such a great experience.

Picture: Informer contributor Suzanne Hansen (on the right) getting ready to board a DC3 scenic flight from Whitianga Airport on Saturday last week with, from the left, First Officer Yongxi He, Captain Jolon Marshall, Cabin Attendant Lynn Wightwick (top of the stairs), Whitianga Sea Scouts volunteer Chrissie Reilly (bottom of the stairs) and Mark Hansen (Suzanne’s husband).

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.