Every 2 years Warbirds Over Wanaka is on in the South Island of New Zealand 1 hour north of the very popular Queenstown. This year the Royal Australian Air Force was asked if any aircraft would be available to come over the “ditch” and entertain the crowds at what was the biggest Show for the year in New Zealand.
79SQN from RAAF Pearce Western Australia is the home of the lead in fighter for the RAAF ” The BAE Hawk ” and they were ready for what be one very long flight to get to Queenstown NZ. The 1st leg was from RAAF Pearce WA to RAAF Edinburgh SA for a total of 2,119km, the next day from RAAF Edinburgh to Hobart Airport for a total of only 1,186km and the last leg to Queenstown NZ 1,718km for a total of 5,023km in 3 days.
One of the great things about Queenstown is that it’s more south then Hobart so the light is very clear and golden hour is really on another level which made the timings for the landings awesome. Leigh and myself found a very sweet spot outside the fence which even had some very nice mounds of dirt to get some extra height over the fence for the shots but when you have a back drop as we did all week it didn’t matter where you went New Zealand is just a place made for spotting.
The team had a rest day after 3 days of flying but even with the weather putting on a wet and windy day one of the pilot’s showed me around the aircraft . There is one thing pilots and photographers have in common and it’s a dislike to cold rain so we called it a day as there was 3 big days a head.
After seeing the Friday practice display I spoke with the team about their path to Wanaka from Queenstown to see if there was any spots where I could climb up a ridge to look down on them. Their direct line to Wanaka went over a pass in the mountains on the “Crown Range” , I could see that I could climb around 300m above the pass to try and get a shot looking either down or at least straight across at them.
This is the view from the high point on the ridge looking straight down at Queenstown Airport from 14km away. Bottom right you can see an aircraft on approach.
A 45min climb up the ridge for 4 hawks to come past in under 35 seconds but the good thing was they would be back in under 30min which gave me time to move back down the ridge as I ended up maybe 100-125m to high but I wanted to be higher than looking up as they went past. I close to fell back down the ridge to a knoll I saw on the way up but by the time I got the gear out and ready the hawks were back.
A quick video of the return pass.
As luck would have it I thought everything was done and the guys had landed but as I was walking down I looked left and boom straight over me they went over again ! All my gear was packed up but hey some days its good just to enjoy the moment. Next up was a quick trip back down to Wanaka to check out the last 2 hours of the Air Show then turn around and get back to Queenstown as the Hawks had some PR work to do around Queenstown. Since the team doesn’t get to fly too often in locations like the South Island of New Zealand they thought they had better do a “NAV” flight and at the end do a few fly bys for the locals. The Nav flight would take them all round the South Island for 1.5 hours then back over the lake to show the locals just how nice there jets look up close.
I took the family up the cable car to the look out over the township and just made it in time but a good crowd was ready to see the Jets come past , yes it was only 2 passes but hey how often in New Zealand do you get to see Fast Jets ?
All Photos shot with a Nikon D800 and Nikkor 600mm f/4. Massive thanks to the team at Nikon Australia and their NPS department for the help .
The team did an awesome job for the time that they were there and ASO thanks them and the RAAF for the access while they were over in New Zealand. The display photo’s will be in our next article on Warbirds Over Wanaka.- Mark .