New Zealand has fantastic flying sites and something to offer every pilot. From black-sand beach soaring to flatland thermalling to snow-clad mountain XC, New Zealand has the lot. Whether you are coming to fly in New Zealand as a student, free-flyer or professional pilot, you will find the local community very welcoming.
The Queenstown Lakes area has some world class scenery and consistently records the longest flights in NZ. The current straight-line record is 235km set from Sugar Loaf pass, an hour’s drive from Queenstown.
The flying here is intermediate to advanced mountain flying, with easy access to the main sites. There is a large amount of hike-and-fly or vol-biv adventure on offer, and many areas are still unexplored by paraglider. A car or van is recommended to get around, but getting rides with local pilots or schools and tandem operators is also possible. Pilots need a recognised international license and NZHGPA visitor membership to fly legally in NZ.
If you are not experienced in backcountry travel and mountain flying then it’s best to stick to the main sites, where you will meet other pilots. Be warned there are no roads, people or phone reception in many of the backcountry areas! If this doesn’t put you off, Red Bull X-Alps pilot Nick Neynens has some good blog write-ups for routes he has done in the South Island (see sharemyjoys.wordpress.com)
Skyline overlooks Queenstown and is a morning site, often coming on before 10am with a tendency to get blown out in the afternoon by the sea breeze. Access is by gondola, and you need to be accredited by a local instructor to fly here. The flying is limited by proximity to Queenstown Airport, but its 600m height difference and ease of access make it popular as the centre of commercial tandem activity.
Fifteen minutes from Queenstown, there are two launches. One with 700m of height for spring and summer use, and one with 1,600m for winter – you launch from the very top of the ski field. Includes a flight park and huge landing field. Good for XC in spring, more stable in autumn and winter. An afternoon site it can get windy in the evening but usually stays flyable.
Fifteen minutes from Wanaka with a 700m top to bottom. Quiet compared with sites closer to Queenstown, but beautiful scenery towards Mount Aspiring (3,033m). Jan and Feb offer best conditions for XC.
All the sites are accessible for hang gliders, with Coronet Peak offering ‘the highest commercial launch in the country’ for tandem pilots. Tandem HG flights in winter boat tow in Lake Wakatipu.
Must be flown
Classic flights from Treble Cone include north into the Matuki Valley towards Mt Aspiring. The Matuki valley option rates highly as one of the more accessible and scenic options without committing deep into the backcountry. The route south east from Treble Cone back to Wanaka is also a popular route.
Secondly, up the valley towards Mt Aspiring and back. 20km takes you to glacier country – simply outrageous flying in big country, with a road along the valley for easy retrieves. If you don’t mind a bit of walking you can fly a whole lot further though!
Dangers and annoyances
The sea breeze / valley breeze system is quite complex, but the lakes give you good warning of what’s going on. There is limited cellphone coverage in some of the valleys. And not all valleys have roads in them, so have a look at the map before you fly into the distance. Hitching is good though, so you can generally get back pretty quick if you do land by a road.
Every taste and budget is catered for in Queenstown: from backpacker hostels to luxury private retreats. AirBnB is also increasingly popular. The Flying Kiwi Backpackers in Wanaka is run by a pilot and is paraglider-friendly.
Guides and course
Four schools operate in the Queenstown Southern Lakes area and are competitively priced by international standards. Courses available range from beginner training, refresher courses, guiding, XC skills, SIV and acro. They include: extremeair.co.nz; paraventures.co.nz; infinityparagliding.co.nz; freeflyparagliding.com.
Family activities and rainy days
Your kids will love you forever if you take them to New Zealand. There are literally hundreds of activities for adults and children, from bungy jumping to river rafting. Check: kidzgo.co.nz.
NZ has a variable maritime climate and you can sometimes expect summer and winter in the same day. It pays to come prepared for all seasons no matter what time of year you decide to visit. Louis Tapper, who helped compile this entry, has a very good list of weather links on his website at kiwiparagliding.co.nz/weather. Live weather sites used by pilots (select Otago region for Queenstown weather stations): howwindy.com.
Fly to Queenstown International Airport (ZQN), just 10 minutes’ drive from central Queenstown. For those travelling through other areas of New Zealand, renting or buying a car or van is the best option.
Try juicy.co.nz or escaperentals.co.nz.