Alan & Donna Clarke, New Zealand

A beautiful report about gliding at Omarama and some musings about the gliding characteristics of the Sinus.

As readers may know Omarama is a world famous gliding venue and so it is like a magnet to the gliding fraternity in NZ , including the writer Alan Clarke and his wife Donna, NZ Pipistrel agents. We are based in Kerikeri, the top end of NZ and some 800 miles from Omarama.

In mid 2008 we decided to spend two months in the South Island starting with a visit to our daughter in Dunedin, and then Wanaka, Queenstown (for Xmas) and then January 2009 in Omarama.

Lots of planning mid 2008 and we left Kerikeri late November on a perfect day with a good forecast. Liftoff Kerikeri about 11 am and lunch at Raglan at 1 pm - an excellent place to fly into with all facilities with a 10 minute walk of the airfield.

Then down the west side of Lake Taupo to Turangi to overnite with friends who are building a bach there.

Next morning, a big high over NZ and clear and calm day at Turangi. However we ran into low, but fast lifting overcast at Waiouru , but some Air force helicopters kindly gave us the en route weather to Paraparaumu.

I broke my own rules at Paraparaumu and did not ring ahead for an actual weather at Omaka. Cook St. was fine & clear till we got to the East Bay and then a moderate SE wind was pushing onto the hills and down and down went the cloud. Got an actual at Blenheim from Wellington Control of 800 ft and 5 to 10 mile viz so thought that is OK - kept on and down and down we went, but turning back looked worse - eventually cleared up as we got clear of the hills near Blenheim. Have a look at:

1st moral of the story - never break your own rules - mine being always ring ahead for actual weather !!

2nd moral - never trust Cook Straight

We overnighted at Blenheim and then flew on the next day destination Dunedin . Perfect weather all the way and my wife wanting me to fly low past each river mouth so she could see if the salmon fishermen were catching anything.

Stopped at Rangiora where the microlight club is one of the friendliest in NZ. Then over a very ugly grain fed cattle farm near Ashburton - horrible - and stopped at Timaru to visit my 99 year old father (his memory is not great but he remembered I have something to do with aeroplanes) .

Arrived in Dunedin about 4.30 pm . Stayed with my daughter and took a local keen pilot for a demo flight the next day - what a beautiful area Dunedin is from the air, and we even soared at Saddle hill engine off for a short while. Lots of hills around Dunedin for a Pipistrel owner get out of the office and go soaring.

I went flat hunting in Dunedin with my daughter, and even saw a block of modern flats with toilets in the showers - what a place but that’s another story.

Spent most of December in Wanaka and Queenstown and somehow got busy “as you do” with family and Xmas and flying didn’t happen. However picnicking by the lakeside with a bottle of Wither Hills is not all bad !


Eventually got to Omarama on December 28 and found our caravan booking had failed but was not a problem - the camp on the airfield is fully equipped and so a $300 tent and a $100 airbed did the job perfectly.

Omarama seemed to have a 20 kt westerly daily but the camp is so sheltered that the tent didn’t flap even once - in many ways it is the best campground in NZ.

The foresight of the man from Queenstown (can’t remember his name - apologies Ed.) who built the camp, airfield, irrigation systems and so on - what a great job he did for gliding and NZ tourism alike.


At first sight Omarama looks like a “one horse” town but in fact it has everything.

Dozens of hangars, a great camp, two commercial gliding operators, a smart main building with wireless internet, enough shops to have all you need, a Four Square grocer with fair prices, and a pub with the best blue cod ever.

But the gliding is amazing !!

It’s all there - thermals to 9000 feet, ridge lift and of course, wave !!

And some amazing people with up to 30,000 flying hours, a mixed group of instructors who instruct in the northern hemisphere in their summer, or fly the big jets in Europe 6 months a year and come to Omarama for the summer.

The day starts with a weather briefing very day at 10 am and then glider and tow planes are everywhere.
For non flyers there is a Lake 7 mins away, with water skiing, and fishing, and there are 4WD possibilities everywhere too.
I am an ex ag pilot with around 6,000 hrs fixed wing and 4,000 helicopter but I had a break from flying for 18 years before taking up gliding in 2004. So I came to Omarama with a healthy respect for the Southern Alps and no experience of wave flying at all.

Day one I found a nice thermal at Twizel to 9,000 ft . Day 2 I took Don from Canterbury with me and learned a lot. Day 3 I motored up to wave at 9000 ft. Day 4 I found Grant - who used to be a gliding instructor and got a lot more local guidance from him, over several flights. And so it went, gently feeling my way around a new area, so very different to gliding in Northland, where thermals and ridge lift stops at 5,000 ft.

Eventually I found I could motor up to 4,000 ft and shut down, and work my way into wave at about 9,000 ft, sometimes taking up to an hour to get into it. Grant taught me a lot, including patience and perseverance .

No Oxygen

We have no oxygen fitted at this stage so my wave heights were limited but none the less it was overall a great experience.

How did the Pipistrel do at Omarama at 30:1

I have no experience at competition flying or in a 45:1 glider but these are some of my observations.


Pipistrel Sinus 30:1


45:1 glider



Fly 800 miles to Omarama at 100 knots cruise at 40 mpg







Take off under own power




Tow plane needed







Very good



Ridge soar




Very good



Glide x country




Very good



Suit Competitive gliding


Probably not





Suitable for extreme mountain ridge soaring


Probably not





Get home from anywhere


Yes - just start the Rotax


Land out sometimes



Cheap to run







Two seats







Suitable for fun gliding







Suitable for flight training









150 to 200k





So it is not a matter of which is best
it is more of a question
“what kind of flying do you want to do ?”

Great Plains 6-8 February 2009

On the way home we went to The Great Plains Bi-annual Microlight Fly-in at Ashburton.
It attracted 150 odd microlights and a huge crowd. A great show all round !

Flew home from Rangiora to Kerikeri 9 to 5

Left Sunday 7th February at 9 am - very very hot with 30 degrees at 4000ft. and a light SW tailwind.
Clear all the way except for cloud at 900 ft around Paraparaumu.
Two stops at Omaka and Taupo and was home in Kerikeri at 5 pm.


The first Pipistrel Taurus is now flying in NZ

The first Taurus is now flying in NZ - side by side two seater 41:1 retractable engine.
All new and we want to give the new owner his space so we don’t have much to report as yet.


Wishing you safe flying.


Alan & Donna Clarke

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