My birthday weekend started with a mid morning drive to Wanaka on Wednesday (driven by my chauffer Bex of course), where we first parked up and had lunch at a place CJ will remember fondly...Cafe Gusto. A fave drink that we discovered there was a cream topped Ice Coffee - we were to return for another the next day!!!
Then we checked in to the Oakridge Retreat. This is a beautiful spa retreat surrounded by the mountains of Lake Wanaka, which was home for the next 2 nights. The first thing to do was to head to the heated outdoor pool and 7 spa's. After a very relaxing swim, we headed in to Wanaka for dinner - this was to be a feat....again (CJ will appreciate the difficulties of dining in Wanaka!). Bex had thoughtfully booked us a table at Bombay Palace so that I could have my first Indian in many moons. Firstly it was Wednesday night - CURRY NIGHT! The place was humming, and when we got there they had no booking for us! Well they did find us a table, but after 15mins of sitting there like dummies without even a glance from the 2 waiters, we walked out. So then came the long hunt for somewhere to dine. Anyway, rather than traipse the dark streets we headed straight for Thai Siam - and it was a lovely and I think Bex was a little relieved not to have to struggle to find something she liked at the Indian restaurant!
Unfortunately my first pressie from Bex - my first helicopter flying lesson was postponed due to unpredictable weather. So it was on Thursday that we were up and out early and headed for Wanaka Airport. There I was introduced to my instructor, Dave from Wanaka Helicopters. I first had a 10min briefing on the basic instruments and controls inside the 2-seater Robinson R22. Then we headed straight to the 2-seater machine where we had another briefing inside the cockpit. Dave flew us to the other side of the airfield where he steadied us at a 100ft hover. This is by far the hardest part of flying to achieve - but of course the first that has to be learnt. Dave would constantly talk me through everything and then say, "Paul, you have control". It was pretty darn scary and nerve racking. This was followed by some flying at about 2,000ft where I would learn the collective pitch lever (altitude) and stick (direction) movements. What astounded me was the sensitivity of the controls, its all very small movements. Once Dave was happy with my progress, we did some lower level flying and he took me down to a canyon, and I honestly couldn't believe that he left me take control at this point. It is fair to say that it was a job good my boxer shorts were black!! I was relieved when Dave would now and again command control with a "I have control" command, just so that I could breathe again for a few moments.
The whole experience was fantastic and I hope to have my 2nd lesson before we leave New Zealand - that would only leave 48 further hours for my private pilots licence! Never say never, it has become my personal goal to achieve.
From there we had a lovely lunch and went back to the Oakridge for a swim before our champagne dinner for 2 where I opened all my cards and packages and spilt lots of shiny things on the immaculately vacuumed carpets!! hahahaha. The meal was gorgeous and the bubbles went straight to our heads. And, we rounded dinner off with local cheeses and more drinkies...boy were we full! A really nice evening - thoroughly recommend the restaurant - fab!!