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1 March, 2017 … oh what a week it has been

Looking North along Himatangi Beach at the end of a beautiful day

Most of my week was centred on the RNZAF’s celebration of their 80th year with an airshow at Ohakea. If you have no interest in aviation skip to the end. The last shot is worth it, in my opinion.
Mary and I booked accommodation at Himatangi Beach for three days so as to avoid the peak traffic coming and going. We arrived on Friday evening and Mary persuaded me to walk to the beach to observe the sunset.

As the sun sinks towards the horizon, Taranaki is visible 155 km away to the North

The weather was most promising for a good day for the airshow the next day and Taranaki stood proud and clear in the distance.


I was caught quite unawares by a pair of RAAF F/A-18 Hornets streaking low and fast down the coast, presumably as a rehearsal for the next day. The sun was moving considerably slower and so I caught that without trouble.

Sunrise somewhere near Oroua Downs on the way to the airshow

Next morning, show day, I was up early and on the road in the dark, soon after six. During the 37 km drive, the sun made its first appearance and revealed a ground mist which I feared might disrupt things. It didn’t.

Before the crowd built up – an F-15SG from the Singapore Air Force and a Boeing KC-767J of the Japanese Self Defense Force

Despite my early start, there were several hundred cars in the park ahead of me, and a couple of hundred camper-vans on site. We lined up waiting for the gates to open. The advertised time was 7 am, but they didn’t admit us until 0740. It was good to get access to the aircraft in the static displays with the sun at a low angle and relatively few people around compared with later in the day.

Lines to get inside the big aircraft

There were fighter aircraft from Australia (F/A-18), Singapore (F-15SG) and the USA (F-16). There were transport aircraft from the UK (A400M), France (CASA 235), Australia (C-17) and New Zealand (C-130), Japan (KC-767J) and the USA (KC-135, C-17).

Inside the mighty C-17 of the RAAF

We lined up for a look inside and I was mightily impressed by the vast cavernous fuselage of the C-17, and a little surprised at the exposed ducting in the roof.

RNZAF C-130 taking off, leaving spirals behind the props.

Flying commenced at 10 am and I had missed a trick by not claiming a spot on the flightline. Nevertheless, the planes are big enough to make themselves seen.

100% of the RNZAF’s long-range VIP transport capability

Some of the earlier movements were simply logistics associated with the show. The RNZAF owns two converted Boeing 757 aircraft which are pressed into service as VIP transports. It’s relatively rare, outside of their home base, to see them both together.

An improbable but impressive formation of heavies

Among the morning’s displays were a lot of “heavies” and one such flight was a formation flight involving one B757, one Lockheed P3C Orion and two C130 Hercules. They passed over Ruapehu which was sparking clear in the morning sun and then swung in from the South at which time the two C-130s peeled off.

TBM Avenger restored in the colours of “Plonky”, the aircraft flown by NZ aviation personality, Fred Ladd

Some historic aircraft were involved, and as well as the inevitable Spitfire there was a beautifully restored Grumman TBM Avenger.

Beautifully restored DH104 Devon

One that I remember form my days in the Air Training Corps was the De Havilland DH104 Devon which was used in the RNZAF as a light transport and a Navigation trainer.

USAF F-16 creates some pressure at low altitude

In the afternoon, came the fast movers which, in reality amounted to the USAF’s F-16 and the Australian F/A-18

RAAF F/A-18 puts its wheels away before starting its show routine

The thunderous crackle of a fighter at full throttle is surely as effective as a bowl of prunes for curing certain ailments and I enjoyed the sheer power of the displays. While all this was happening, Mary , who has scant interest in airshows, walked from Himatangi Beach to Foxton Beach and back (a mere 22 km round trip). I got out before the end of the airshow because I have no real interest in formation aerobatics which was the final event.

On the sandbank in the river at Foxton Beach

Next day we spent enjoying the rural quiet apart from the distant thunder of the airshow’s second day in the distance, a mere 20 km away as the crow flies. We drove down to Foxton Beach where there was abundant birdlife on the sandbar. Oystercatchers, pied stilts, bar-tailed godwits, red-billed gulls, black-backed gulls, and lesser knots were all crowded into one small space.

Her majesty, the Queen – Asian Paper Wasp

Later in the day, Mary and I were walking and she spotted the nest of the Asian Paper Wasp, so of course I got up close and personal. I think, from the described behaviour, that this is the queen.

Tararua ranges under morning cloud near Levin

The next day, with all the airshow traffic having dissipated we made the leisurely drive back down SH1 to home, pausing for a shot of the Tararua Range near Levin.

Boat sheds at Pauatahanui

Yesterday, officially the last day of what we have laughingly called “summer”, was perfect. I went for a wander to Pauatahanui and Queen Elizabeth Park.

Dabchick with chicks

The long-sought dabchick chicks were at last visible. As you can see the parents often carry the chicks nestled deep within their own plumage, but as the youngsters get older they become more independent and often branch out on their own.

Herons reflecting

My last shot in this extended edition, is possibly my best shot of the year to date. Two white-faced herons perched on a piece of driftwood, reflected in the mirror-calm waters. I am pleased with this.


Aviation Ohakea

March 31, 2012 … on laughter-silvered wings*

Happy 75th birthday, RNZAF.

Mary attended a conference in Palmerston North yesterday, and I went along for the ride.  While she was busy in the city, I was free to explore. With cameras, of course.

Today there is an airshow at Ohakea, the RNZAF air base just a 20 minute drive to the West of Palmerston North. Since my eldest son (yes, that is grammatically correct) is visiting today, I chose not to go there. However, being so close, and calculating that there would almost certainly be some rehearsals happening, I drove over to see.

Sadly the slip road off SH1 which runs along the North Eastern edge of the airfield has been consumed by the base, and is now inaccessible to the public. I tried coming at it from another angle and drove around Tangimoana Rd on the Southern side of the field.  I stopped on a the entrance to a farm paddock, from where I had an almost reasonable view over grazing cows, ripening grain and a good crop of toetoe to see a variety of interesting tails. Peering coyly over the maize, was a giant C-17A from the USAF. USAF C-17A seen from the Southern side of the airfieldTo be more precise, this was tail number 55147 from the 535th  airlift squadron of the Hawaii Air National Guard, based at Hickam Field, Hawaii.

To my delight, I could hear her mighty engines spooling up, and she then began rolling towards the runway to commence the rehearsal for today’s routines. This is a hugely powerful aircraft, and with no payload in her cavernous fuselage, once she left the ground, she went up “like a homesick angel” as the aviation cliché has it.

For the next ten or fifteen minutes the crew threw her around the sky like a fighter jet. No actual rolls or loops, you understand, but some amazing turns. In a real airshow, the audience would be much closer to the runway than 1.5km I was able to achieve yesterday.  I was reliant on the aircraft straying in my direction to get anything like a full frame image.

Happily they did that, so I was able to catch both the USAF C-17A and the RAAF F-18 Hornet  with some degree of clarity despite the distance.

C-17A in flightRAAF F-18 on approach

As it turns out, it was a mercy we didn’t travel today. There are reports of traffic jams of up to 30km in length as 70,000 people tried to get into the show.

*”High Flight”, by J. G. Magee Jr.