New Zealand & Australia (2017)
In February/March 2017 a group of 4Aviation enthusiasts visited New Zealand and Australia for, among others, the Ohakea and Avalon air shows.
On Monday 20 February 2017 the nine people of the group of 10, that would join on the New Zealand part of the 2017 New Zealand & Australia tour, gathered at Schiphol. Cathay Pacific took the group from Schiphol to Hong Kong. After arrival at Hong Kong, early morning on Tuesday 21 February, there was plenty of time for some aircraft photography or to visit the city. The group therefore split up, with a couple heading for the city (only to find The Peak covered in heavy fog…). In the afternoon all met again at the gate where the Cathay flight to Auckland was scheduled to depart from. The Airbus A350 took to the air in time.
It was therefore already Wednesday (22 February) when we arrived at Auckland Airport. The procedures (customs, cars, cash) were pretty smooth and we were driving towards Whenuapai, aka RNZAF Base Auckland, soon after. We saw some SeaSprites, C-130s, a Boeing 757 and an Orion. Since we were pretty certain we would see the majority of these at Ohakea as well, we didn’t spend a huge amount of time here. After visiting the Museum of Transport and Technology (interesting collection) and capturing a MiG-21 on a roof we drove to Ardmore. There we visited the new hangar of the NZ Warbirds Association. Impressive to see how large the collection of the aircraft in the hangar was! They were willing to take us across the field to several other hangars as well were more gems were hidden! After saying goodbye it was time to head for our first hotel. Since we are welcome at Ohakea on Thursday already we had to make sure that we would there in time so we planned our night in Turangi. By the time we arrived there all were really looking forward to getting some sleep.
On Thursday 23 February, after a good night’s sleep, we woke up to bright skies! After a decent breakfast we took to the road. Since we were expected to report at the gate at 1 PM we were not really in a hurry. The road towards Ohakea was beautiful and the scenery breath-taking every now and then. We passed Mount Ruapehu, a large active volcano, and Mount Ngauruhoe. After a lunch stop we arrive at Ohakea in time and were met by representatives of the New Zealand Defence Force. The afternoon was spent on base while the RNZAF practiced their display for upcoming Air Tattoo 2017 show in the weekend, celebrating the 80th anniversary of the air force. Besides the various ‘local’ aircraft we were treated to the two RSiAF F-15SGs that arrived the day before and the two RAAF Hornets that came in. All in all an afternoon very well spent! At the end of the day we checked in at our hotel for the next 3 nights in Palmerston North.
For Friday (24 February) we had another day at Ohakea in mind. Today we were also able to visit the base and the sky was as bright as a sky can be! The day kicked off with the Japanese KC-767 arriving. A C-17 from Hickam AFB and a French CN-235 based in New Caledonia had also arrived since last night and both took to the air for a display. Many items rehearsed during the day and the atmosphere was extremely relaxed. The fine weather, the great staff and the almost perfect photography conditions all helped with that! The day ended with the arrival of an RAF A400M.
The actual air show was scheduled for the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). The weather forecast for Saturday (25 February) was as good as it gets and we got up early. Traffic was still flowing well at that time and access was easy (thanks to the media passes we were given). This meant that we could capture the Kadena based KC-135 when the first rays of light from the sun hit the aircraft. The tanker was supporting the two F-16s from Misawa AB that had finally arrived. What followed was a full day of air show. The RNZAF managed to show off almost everything that was able to fly. This included a formation of 9 T-6s, a formation flyby of all their larger aircraft types and C-130s displaying airdrops. Again the atmosphere was great. Getting food was easy, didn’t take much time and it was cheap. Plenty of options to take great photos. This all added up to a great experience, very worthwhile! We celebrated the outcome during a nice dinner in the evening.
For Sunday 26 February we decided not to return to the air show. The weather forecast was a bit worse than the previous days and we had seen and captured it all already. Instead we drove towards Wellington in the morning. A stop was scheduled at the Southward Car Museum. That museum contains a couple of aircraft, next to a huge amount of cars. Actually quite interesting to see car models of which only a few have been built. Since many in the group were also interested in civil aviation we ended up at Wellington airport in the afternoon. There we also met the participant that would join us for the Australia part of the tour. We spent a couple of hours at the airport (while some took the time to see the environment) before checking into our hotel for the short night. Our departure from the airport (and New Zealand) was early in the morning.
The Monday (27 February) started early. With a take-off time of 06.20 (of our Qantas flight from Wellington to Sydney) we didn’t have time to sleep in. All procedures went according to plan and we said goodbye to New Zealand. Around 8 in the morning we touched down in Australia. Arrival procedures (including car rental) always seem to take more time than needed, but eventually we were able to steer our vehicles towards NAS Nowra/HMAS Albatross. We arrived there noon-ish and were able to capture some of the active choppers on the platform from the museum. The museum itself was open as well of course and apart from the grumpy dude at the entrance it was enjoyable stay. Since we wanted to visit the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) in the afternoon as well we didn’t wait too long for things to happen. We ended up at HARS just when they were closing down, but (as so often happens) some volunteers were still willing to show us around. A massive collection of aircraft was present and many of them are airworthy. They recently acquired an Orion which the plan to fly in the future as well. After this visit it was time to drive towards Gosford to spend the night.
On Tuesday morning 28 February we continued our journey towards RAAF Williamtown. We spent the rest of the day near the base. While hanging around at the museum parking lot, the viewing platform of the museum and the nearby cafeteria we were able to capture almost all activity during the day. We must admit that the level of activity was a bit disappointing though. The Hawks flew as they should, but we didn’t get as many Hornets as we had hoped for. It turned out that quite a lot of them were not a home. Despite that it was an enjoyable day that ended with a beer and good food at a Club in Newcastle.
On Wednesday (1 March) we returned for a second visit to RAAF Williamtown. The weather had improved and we ended up with more variety than the day before. By noon we were happy with the result and drove towards RAAF Richmond for a quick peek. At Richmond not a lot was happening, which is actually quite normal for a transport base. A visit to Sydney is not complete without visiting the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge area. So, we ended up that later in the afternoon and mingled among the thousands of tourists there. Our hotel for the night was located very very close to Sydney airport and some took the opportunity to do some spotting in the evening before turning in for the night.
On Thursday 2 March we had planned to fly from Sydney to Melbourne and so we did. A Qantas A330 took us to Melbourne in the morning and after our arrival there we visited the RAAF museum at Point Cook. The museum offers an interesting range of aircraft types, but the lay-out does not offer a lot of options for photography. We were lucky that there was quite some activity outside with a Sopwith Snipe, Harvards, CT/4s and Winjeels. Before heading for our hotel for rest of the tour we visited the hangar in which they are restoring a B-24 Liberator and took a group picture in front of a Vampire in the city.
While one of the group chose to head for Avalon on Friday (3 March) already the rest headed for Sale. Since this was 200 kilometre drive we stopped along the way to get some refreshments. During the stop unfortunately one of the cars decided to lock itself with the keys inside. This didn’t lead to a lot of stress, but to some delays though. At RAAF East Sale not a lot was going on so we quickly moved on to West Sale. At West Sale we found a number of preserved aircraft, inside and outside, and were able to visit the hangar that contains a number of withdrawn S-2 Trackers. The aircraft have been in that hangar for over 20 years already and it shows. On the way back to Melbourne we stopped for more wrecks & relics (MB-326, UH-1) and pictured the outside collection of the Australian National Aviation Museum at Moorabbin.
On Saturday 4 March we visited Avalon Airshow. Knowing it would be very busy we made sure that we go there early and were able to park almost front row. Getting in was easy (accepting the huge entrance fee though) and we were able to position ourselves where we wanted to be. Since the runway is in an almost North-South direction a major part of the show itself is backlit. But, the first hours are fine and by being a little creative and aiming for alternative shots the afternoon is not too bad either. All in all the show delivered a lot of interesting aircraft types and a lot of very very new RAAF aircraft (the first E/A-18G Growlers, the first PC-21s and they flew in two of their F-35s for the event). The Super Hornet demo was very impressive, blasting flares from the beginning to almost the end of the display. Getting back to the hotel in the evening was more difficult than getting to the airport in the morning due to the heavy traffic. This was solved a exiting the highway and stopping for dinner underway.
Nobody really needed to go back to Avalon on the Sunday (5 March) so it was time for an alternative programme. The group was split up today. Part of the group headed for Melbourne airport to capture civil aircraft (and some military as a matter of fact) and the rest took a car to venture out to find wildlife. The second group managed to find koala’s but not the kangaroos. For all it was a relaxed day.
After a final night in the hotel it was time to pack our stuff for the flight(s) home on Monday 6 March. Before travelling to Tullamarine we visited Essendon Airport for some more aircraft. Just before handing in the cars we finally found a group of real kangaroos in the approach of Melbourne airport. That was a good way to end the tour! We were still a long way from home and it took two long flights (Melbourne – Hong Kong and Hong Kong – Amsterdam) to get us back to the Netherlands. The tour had been great again, with the New Zealand part of the tour really exceeding our expectations!