My friend Michael from
is a paraglider. He and his wife Karen
are the only ones I know personally, and true to form Michael threw himself
into the sport with all the energy of a freight train, persevering after
shredding his glider on a gorse bush (“I could kick my butt for an hour”) and
even after collapsing the glider metres off the ground and ending up in
plaster. Obviously, spending time in his
company while he has these adventures is potentially entertaining, so I was
quick to agree when he suggested a trip up Mt Torlesse, near Springfield, which
he would then fly off (and I would watch from the safety of terra firma). Dunedin
According to the original plan, he would stay with us Friday night in Halswell. However, the plan changed during Friday: we would now meet in
on Saturday morning. I shrugged
and thought “might as well bike then”. Springfield
The drawbacks of my new plan weren’t that apparent until 0530. The prelude to a perfect autumn day was a fog so thick you could lose your hands in it. In fact, I nearly lost Quaifes Rd a few times before reaching the bit where there are a few painted lines to follow while you’re pedalling. Quaifes is a good route to Templeton, and from there SH1 must be followed for a bit to the Cookie Time factory. The first right after that is Kirk Rd; turn left off this near the prisons onto Newton Rd, then take Weedons Ross Rd (where the fog ended, thankfully) to West Melton. Early on Saturday morning you will probably get there without having seen a moving car.
An alternative to
Rd, which would save 8 km on the main West Coast Rd,
would be Railway Rd. However, it isn’t sealed, and by that time I
was falling behind schedule, thanks to the fog.
Some grim determination on the straights to Darfield was warranted in
order to claw back some time. It is 45
km from Halswell to Darfield, which is about 1.5 hrs on a bike with a bit of
gear. Then I realised that Sheffield was 10 km further than I thought – time for
some more grim determination. I
eventually rolled in to
3 minutes late after 70 km. Michael
hadn’t realised I was biking, but he said “I would have bet my salary on
that”. Damn, have I become that
Michael introduced me to his companion (and PhD student) Stefan. It turned out that Stefan had extensive Red Cross experience. “Some paragliders bring a film crew, but I take a paramedic.” Clearly Michael himself was worried about the entertainment potential of his little adventure.
The walk up the
to the old research
huts was very pleasant, particularly from my position of companion-at-leisure, unburdened
by the weight of the paraglider. My own
bag was light by necessity for the bike ride, and although I offered to take a
turn with the sack, I already knew the offer would be refused – so I can’t
really claim to be an altruist. Once
heading up the mountain – about a 1300 m height gain from the road – I could
relax periodically in the gentle autumn sun while waiting for a sweating madman
weighed down with kit. Kowai
We really were lucky with the day. Only the slightest of northeast breezes blew on top; most of my prior visits to Torlesse’s peak were in howling gales, when the weather was too bad to do anything further west. Michael laid out his glider, careful to ensure that none of the strings (I’m using the technical terms here) were tangled or caught on stones. He handed over a two-way radio for contact on landing, had a bite to eat, took off impressively, and proceeded straight down the valley.
I recorded a very budget video on my cell phone (if I’d known how bad the quality would be I would have made the effort to take my proper camera). Nevertheless in this short clip you can see Michael launch, then fly in front of Junction Peak and Red Peak, past the Gap and Castle Hill Peak before escaping the attention of the 1.3 megapixels. It isn’t worth expanding to full screen size, trust me.
Stefan related stories of his Red Cross and SAR career on the way down the hill. These skills wouldn’t be needed that day, which was good news for us but bad for the journalists. It wasn’t long before a crackle came over the radio, with the words “the chicken has landed”. “Looked more like a turkey to me,” I remarked. I learned later that Michael had hit a thermal and flown high enough to get vertigo – hence a quick descent and the reference to poultry. He’s a brave man, putting so much trust in a glorified hanky, though apparently not as brave as a friend-of-a-friend, who flew a paraglider through the Gap itself (by coincidence we saw a helicopter do just that not long after Michael’s departure).
After an hour or two we regained the carpark to find Michael eating, reading, and lying in bed in the back of the van. A seasoned campaigner, obviously. He seemed happy with his flight – a definite improvement over a recent attempt to fly off a mountain near Queenstown. The wind had been so strong that they had carried the gliders back down again.
To get home, I bludged a lift to
Cross. From there, a quick
ride along Wards Rd
took me to Rolleston without many cars at all (on northeasterly days this route
also offers some protection from the wind, although 8 km straight into it at
the end is the penalty). Rolleston to
Templeton is not a nice ride: either you share SH1 with the trucks (I’d like to
see traffic engineers maintain the wide shoulder at passing lanes) or you take Jones Rd (which is
quieter but narrower and the cars can get a bit close). I’m pretty sure the former is safer,
Then I was back on
Rd from Templeton, and home, tuckered out. Hats off to my good friend Michael for getting
out there and doing the flight – and if you’ve made it this far through the
story, hats off to you too!
- Phil N