Travel light? How about flying in a microlight?
'How should we celebrate your big birthday, Mr PetMan?'
'Let's go to New Zealand and fly in a microlight,' he responded - and that's what we did!
In mid-January this year, we boarded the direct Singapore Airlines flight from Canberra to Wellington. This is an easy two or so hours spin across the Tasman. The new Canberra International departures is a useful addition for Canberrans who don't want to travel through Sydney or Melbourne for an overseas break. Now you can hop over to New Zealand or Singapore almost every day of the week - and continue elsewhere if you so wish.
In New Zealand we spent our first night in Wellington, then caught the Interislander Ferry to Picton on the South Island. It takes about three hours to cross the picturesque straits and there's plenty of food, coffee and entertainment on board. I sketched Mr PetMan to commemorate his birthday.
Mr PetMan had booked us into accommodation at Mapua Wharf. This wharf was previously an apple cold storage facility for shipping apples to Nelson. Now the old apple storage shed is a series of cafes, shops and a pub, where we enjoyed a few cold ones.
For the big birthday celebration, we drove half-an-hour out of Mapua Wharf to an airstrip in Motueka. The hangar contained a few hangliders, one microlight, a desk and a lounge. Pretty relaxed. For those who don't know, a microlight - or ultralight - is a small, one or two-seater flying machine, powered by an engine, with a fixed wing like a glider.
Trevor, the pilot, and his trainee pilot team kitted us out in a flying suit, gloves, helmet and made sure we could talk to the pilot through the audio system. As it was his birthday, Mr PetMan was first up so I watched him and Trevor bounce over the lawn, onto the runway - and lift up! I got my turn half-an-hour later - plenty of time to consider whether I really wanted to fly in this bike in the sky.
Sitting on the microlight behind Trevor was indeed like being on the back of a bike. If I wanted to, I could hold on to Trevor, but I was jammed in so tight, I didn't need to.
We waited for a few other aircraft on the runway. 'Where's the control tower? I shouted at Trevor. 'Oh, we don't have one,' he shouted back. 'We just talk amongst ourselves.' Hmm, I wondered. Was that sensible?
Before I knew it, we were up and motoring higher. It was at that moment that I realised quite how vulnerable I was: there was nothing between me and the beautiful apple orchard below. We were literally motoring through fresh air.
I noticed that Trevor had his hands on the cross bar attached to the wings. 'Is there a pull on that for you?' I asked him. 'Yes, but I do my best to keep the craft flying evenly. I want you to feel comfortable,' he responded. I had visions of us swooping and gliding with the wind, but I thought better than to ask Trevor to go with the breezes. As it was, I felt a little queasy; I'm not sure I was brave enough to go full throttle.
Our trip was spectacular. Trevor flew us over the farmlands and out to sea. He apologised that the water wasn't clear. 'We've had a couple of storms that have made the water murky. If it was clean, you'd be able to see the stingrays.' Sadly I wasn't allowed to take along my phone so I have no pictures of the flight, but Thomas filmed our landing, which you can see in the video below. But I have in my mind's eye a memory of our brief trip, which was literally uplifting and spectacular.
Trevor continued with a commentary all the way through the flight: he did this to make sure I was awake and engaged. I sat back and marvelled at the scenery: mountains and sea with apple orchards in-between - and us flying over all this beauty. It's a crazy feeling: just the two of us, up in the air, motoring as we please.
Sadly our time was up and Trevor touched down with the lightest of landings. We rolled into the hangar where the team helped me out of my suit - and that was it! Our microlight flight and experience was over, but what an experience it was. I highly recommend you try it.