In our new column, Thomas Bywater looks at the month’s noteworthy events that helped shape our country and its tourism industry
February is for flying boats
For lovers of travel, February has some lofty anniversaries. On February 5, 1911, brothers Leo and Vivian “Vee” Walsh took off on New Zealand’s first controlled powered flight.
The Manurewa No. 1 took off from a park in Papakura, South Auckland. A short hop from the runway of today’s airport, father Austin Walsh logged a flight distance of around 300m at an altitude just shy of a double-decker bus.
The Walsh family were a long way from chartering a flight for their next holiday. This didn’t stop them establishing New Zealand’s first flying school four years later. Nor did the fact that New Zealand was still without a runway. They set up the New Zealand Flying School Kohimarama from Mission Bay. With five Curtiss flying boats, they trained 1000 pilots over the Waitematā Harbour.
At the other end of the harbour, at MOTAT (the Museum of Transport and Technology), you can still see images of their craft and the trainee pilots. The slings and casts worn by the trainee pilots are testimony to the fact that the flying boats didn’t have brakes. (motat.org.nz, admission $10–19)
In the MOTAT Walsh library and Aviation Hall you’ll meet the last flying boat in New Zealand, the TEAL Solent RMA Aranui. In the 1950s it flew the Coral Route to Fiji and the Cook Islands. A distance 10,000 times greater than the Walshes’ original flight, though it did take more than 30 hours to get there.
For a taste of the seaplane experience and what those early pilots would have seen from Kohimarama, Auckland Seaplanes fly transfers and scenic flights over the Hauraki Gulf. (aucklandseaplanes.com, from $225)
Where to be this Waitangi
February is the month that made New Zealand.
Kicking off with Waitangi Day, it’s the closest thing the country has to a birthday.
Crossing the bridge from Paihia to the Treaty Grounds is something of a pilgrimage for Kiwis, to visit the place the Treaty was agreed upon 180 years ago. (waitangi.org.nz, $30). For Kiwi history buffs, the Bay of Islands is a place steeped in events – ones not always true to the principles of Te Tiriti.
It’s a great place to start. But in the spirit of “doing something new” to rediscover something old, where are the places to be this month?
February is full of things that unify us – taking English wickets, the beginnings of national pastimes and brave attempts to bridge the North and South Islands, in nothing but a bathing suit.
Kicking around a track in the Fiordland National Park is as good a place as any. On February 23, 1904, a million hectares of Southland were set aside as the country’s largest area for conservation and recreation. All the way from Milford Sound and Mitre Peak to the lighthouse at Puysegur Point, the park is home to three of New Zealand’s Great Walks – The Kepler, Routeburn and Milford tracks. However – off the beaten track – the best way to fully immerse yourself in the sounds is on an overnight sailing. (fiordland.org.nz)
Happy Birthday Te Papa Tongarewa. On Valentine’s Day – February 14 – The National Museum turns a youthful 24. It’s a relatively new addition to the Wellington waterfront, especially compared to the collection of 2.4 million national taonga it contains – including a 137 million-year-old tooth of an iguanodon, the oldest object in the collections. (tepapa.govt.nz, free)
On the subject of places and events that unite Aotearoa. It’s a short bowl down Kent Terrace to Wellington’s Basin Reserve, site of New Zealand’s first test cricket victory over England, on February 15, 1978. Future great Richard Hadlee took six English wickets for just 26 runs.
On sporting achievements that link our islands, February 4, 1975, saw Lynne Cox swim Cook Strait. It took the US swimmer a marathon 12 hours to make the crossing. On the anniversary of the historic swim, Fit & Abel are running a six-day swimming adventure into Fiordland, with transfers and accommodation aboard the PureSalt. For those just looking to “dip their toe” into open water swimming, E-ko Tours runs a dolphin swimming tour from Picton. (fitandabel.com from $5000pp; e-ko.nz from $180pp).
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com
Check traffic light settings, vaccine requirements and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz