Note to reader: Don’t miss the video at the end of this post. It documents the most ridiculous, fear-inducing and totally insane thing I’ve ever done!
My trip to New Zealand was all about conquering my fears. As anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of sitting next to me on a commercial jet will testify, my biggest fear is heights. I do not deal well with being up in the air, especially in a metal cage that defies gravity.
So, you can imagine how I felt when I discovered it was possible to learn to fly a stunt plane in Abel Tasman.
I read and re-read the website, disbelieving that there was actually a company out there willing to take a nervous flyer with absolutely no previous piloting experience up to 5000 feet and then hand over control of the joystick! I hadn’t been seeing things. With a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I realised I was going to have to add flying a stunt plane to my #ScaredBritless itinerary.
MEETING MY RIDE
I was feeling sleep deprived and petrified when Vincent from U-Fly Extreme came to pick me up from my hostel. As we approached Motueka airfield, I had to swallow hard to force the nausea back down my gut. Was I really about to do this?
When we entered the hangar, Vincent set about giving me a brief training session.
A BRIEF LESSON IN FLYING
Vincent used a small, wooden toy plane to demonstrate the twists and turns we’d be doing, and made me feel at ease by explaining that it’s a lot easier and safer to teach someone to fly a plane than to drive a car. ‘Think of how a boat still floats when you stop steering it,’ he said. ‘A plane will still fly if you let go of the joystick.’
Feeling a little more relaxed, I followed him over to the shiny red Pitts Special S2A. He showed me the controls and, trying not to think about what the next 20 minutes would entail, I climbed into the front seat!
Vincent started up the plane, checked our microphones and harnesses were functioning and then hit the runway! Minutes later we were airborne and the dreaded moment was upon me.
‘You have control,’ he said. ‘Pull the joystick left and right a bit to get a feel for how the plane flies.’
FLYING AN ACTUAL PLANE!
I gave it a go and, sure enough, it wasn’t difficult at all. I might even have relaxed if Vincent hadn’t told me it was time to start the aerobatics!
During the course of a 15-minute flight, he had me rolling, looping and flying figure 8s. I kid you not, I did more loops than the world’s loopiest rollercoaster, and he was ‘so impressed’ (his words, not mine), that he let me do a reverse figure 8 as well!
Then, after a brief spin with Vincent back in control, he landed the plane.
You can definitely tell from my post-flight photo that I was totally buzzing following the experience. Unlike some high-adrenaline activities that leave me feeling shaken up and tired, this was an absolute thrill from start to finish.
If it weren’t enough to have the experience to remember for the rest of my life, I also came away with an award to prove to all the doubters that I had actually flown a plane.
Of course, there’s also the video evidence! —>
If you’re in New Zealand and looking to try something totally unique and exhilarating, you can’t beat U-Fly Extreme. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one you can definitely feel proud writing home about.
Intercity Buses provide services to Nelson from Picton (just over 2 hours). For travel from the north island, you can book the InterIslander Ferry (3.5 hours from Wellington to Picton). If you’re coming from the south, there are buses from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Kaikoura (4 hours); Christchurch (7 hours); Westport (4 hours); Greymouth (6 hours). Use the tool below to search for specific journeys or click through to Intercity’s main page for more information on multi-journey discounts and activities.
You might decide to base yourself in Nelson for the whole of your stay in the region, but if you plan to do a few activities further west, you’ll save time and money by spending a night or two in Motueka. A single journey between Nelson and Motueka typically costs about NZ$15. The public bus options are limited, generally heading west early in the morning and east in the late afternoon. Book your buses in advance at the tourist centre in Nelson or ask your accommodation for advice. Alternatively, you might be able to wangle a transfer with one of the local tour operators. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Once in Motueka, U-Fly Extreme will pick you up from your accommodation and take you to the airfield. If you’re feeling doubly brave, the Abel Tasman Skydive office is right next door!
WHERE TO STAY
I spent a few wonderfully cosy nights at Tasman Bay Backpackers and it was one of my favourite hostels in New Zealand. The social area has a roaring fire to keep you warm in the winter evenings and there were hot water bottles scattered around too. The hairdryer in one of the bathrooms was a welcome extra, but the biggest bonus was the free chocolate pudding and ice cream every evening! Tasman Bay really goes out of its way to welcome guests and I can’t imagine there’s a better place to stay in Nelson.
The Laughing Kiwi hostel has a great reputation. I spent two nights there. The kitchen and social areas are huge and comfortable, and the rooms spacious. They have free internet and even a heated spa pool!
My flight with U-Fly Extreme was sponsored by Nelson Tasman Tourism. They did not request that I write a favourable review and any opinions expressed here are my own.