Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

I have no interest in planes. How, therefore, did I find myself at the 2014 Tauranga City Airshow, ‘Classics of the Sky’? It was all for you, dear reader, and for my plane (and train)-obsessed father.

The day was set to be perfectly miserable. There wasn’t a patch of blue in the sky. It was raining when we got there, and the wind was so ferocious it was all I could do to keep my camera steady. For a while we worried we wouldn’t see the Spitfire fly at all.

skullcroppedThen something miraculous happened: the wind died down and the rain stopped. The skies didn’t clear, but despite the greyness of the light, the day turned into a very pleasant one indeed.

As I walked along the rows of old planes, taking pictures and forgetting their names as quickly as my dad informed me of them, I saw what looked like the set of M*A*S*H – war recreationists were in our midst: Americans, New Zealanders, Soviets and Germans. It was wonderfully done and they all seemed to be having a ball – especially the Soviets, for some reason.

hitlercroppedI also noticed that there were an absolute shedload of campervans around – this event was obviously extremely popular with tourists, and I could see why, for, as I have stated, I have no interest in planes, but even I was having a good time.

I couldn’t stop quoting Blackadder Goes Forth.

Because of the uncertainty of the weather, the display schedule was randomised, meaning the entire spectacle didn’t flow as well as it should have done, but this barely mattered. There were some absolutely outstanding moments, such as the police demonstration of how they use dogs to help catch criminals – the ‘criminals’ in question having ‘hijacked’ a plane – and the breathtaking show of pyrotechnics at the end.

pyrotechnicscroppedThe pyrotechnics were supposed to accompany the airshow’s main event, which I’ll tell you about in a minute, but that had come earlier because of the weather. Instead, they accompanied a just-as-fun, Top Gear-inspired race between a super-fast Audi and a beat-up old car dropped from a helicopter. The dropped car won, but the Audi had suffered a false start.

displaycroppedThere were quite a few different stalls at the show, mostly selling chips, drinks and doughnuts, but there was one that sold fossils and crystals, which seemed to me a little out of place. However, my mum and grandpa got a couple of presents for my sister, who’s into that sort of thing, but hadn’t come with us to the airshow.

My dad’s present was far greater: Les Munro, the last surviving member of the Dam Busters, signed his programme.

soldierscroppedThe best part of the day for me – and, no doubt, for the majority of the people present – was the airshow’s main event, a choreographed dogfight between ‘Roy Brown’ in a Sopwith Camel and ‘the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen’ in a Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker. (Cue the Blackadder quotes.) There were even soldiers on the ground shooting up at them. It was fantastic.

The Tauranga City Airshow happens every two years, so if you’re travelling around New Zealand in 2016, there’s a fun day out for you – even if you have no interest in planes.


New Zealand New Year Cruise

New Zealand is the first country in the world to celebrate the New Year, and my family is preparing to as we speak. The potatoes are being peeled for the salad, the mushrooms are being chopped for the barbecue, and I should be helping instead of sitting quietly in a corner.

There’ll be fireworks later, and champagne, and karaoke by a crackling fire, and, because we’re English, we’ll be waving the Cross of Saint George and the Union Flag to the rousing music of Land of Hope and Glory and the 1812 Overture – not that we ever did this to celebrate the New Year in England, but being homesick makes you far more patriotic than actually being at home does.

Yes, New Year is always a treat, but, this year, the real treat for us came on the night before New Year’s Eve: we went on an evening cruise out into the Hauraki Gulf, and, let me tell you, if you’re travelling around New Zealand, this is something you should put on your itinerary. It was wonderful.

New Year 2013-14 023cropped

We set out from the Auckland Viaduct Harbour at 6.30pm, when it was still sunny and bustling with life. It was a balmy evening; a little chilly at the front of the boat, but putting a light jacket on took care of that. All around the Viaduct Harbour are posh restaurants and fashionable bars – most of them new, as the whole area was renovated for the 2011 Rugby World Cup – and it was nice watching the people sitting outside under the big umbrellas, catching the last of the sun’s rays.

As the boat made its way gently out of the harbour, we passed Silo Park and The Cloud, the former being an erstwhile industrial sector full of towering metal and concrete silos, the latter a long, white functions centre built as a temporary structure for the Rugby World Cup, but the decision was made to keep it standing for the time being. We passed luxury yachts and apartment buildings, skeletal cranes and shipping containers, and then we were treated to the vista of the Auckland skyline.

New Year 2013-14 020cropped

We also passed the Royal New Zealand Navy Devonport Dockyard and saw the green tops of many of Auckland’s volcanoes gleaming in the dying sunlight, but the best sight was of Rangitoto, Auckland’s beautiful island volcano, rising from the blue-grey water. I am used to seeing Rangitoto from afar, as a black silhouette, but now I saw that it was covered in forest and utterly lovely.

The cruise was great for getting a sense of Auckland’s intricate layout, and a sense of just how much goes on in the city. We even saw, quite far out, a tiny kayak with a couple of blokes fishing in it. Soon after that, the boat’s barbecue was fired up. This attracted a lot of seagulls – they were obviously used to evening cruises having barbecues! It reminded me a little of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, but they didn’t try to mob us.


Then the sun set. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy, so we didn’t get a spectacular show. We didn’t even notice the sun go, to be honest, as we having too much fun. With the loss of the light, though, the cruise just got better. We could see the odd few stars in the velvety black sky, but more beautiful were the city lights, thousands upon thousands of them twinkling in the darkness. I love looking out over a city at night, and doing so whilst cruising upon that city’s harbour is the ultimate way to do it!

Sometimes the boat sped up, which was fun, but most of the journey was peaceful, as the sea was so calm. Our journey was nearly at an end, but we had one more treat in store, and that was passing under the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which was all lit-up in a breathtaking fashion. The underside of the magnificent structure was filled with golden illumination – the perfect conclusion to our cruise. Oh, it was such a nice evening and the cruise was the perfect length. Seriously, make an Auckland Harbour cruise part of your New Zealand holiday.

New Year 2013-14 007cropped