Fly-in fly-out holidaymaker Alan Butler reckons the setup at Whitianga is “fantastic”.
Stuck at one of the many one-laned bridges in the Coromandel this summer, you might just hear Alan Butler zip overhead.
Butler, 31, who serves in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a mechanic on the venerable C130 Hercules, commutes between his home near Ardmore in Auckland to his family’s bach in Whitianga in his small fleet of recreational aircraft.
In his most nimble craft, he can be away from Auckland’s hustle and bustle all while avoiding the Coromandel’s infamous holiday traffic in under half an hour.
The RV6, assembled from a kit manufactured by American company Van’s, can make the hop across the Firth of the Thames and over the Coromandel range in as little as 16 minutes.
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As for luggage? It’s limited to a holdall or two, Butler says.
He says that flying the 66km to Whitianga is sometimes cheaper than driving depending on the price of petrol.
“It burns 30L an hour, so in 16 minutes or so, plus a bit for taxiing, it works out to be very little.”
His sister Leanne says that occasionally a trip over in the car is necessary.
“Once a year we make a trip in the car to bring the boat over.”
However, she says that flying has definitely become their preferred mode of holiday transport.
“Also, if you forget something small, you can just nip back over to fetch it,” Butler says.
Also parked on the grass apron, which is handily located adjacent to the family summer house, is a Piper Tomahawk, which the Butlers describe as their “truck”. It features enough space to transport the family’s two rescue greyhounds and is pulled along by a 130 horsepower Lycoming engine.
Brook Sabin / Stuff
The Lost Spring’s jungle oasis is set on more than a hectare of lush bush in Whitianga.
The smallest member of Butler’s three-strong fleet is a timber and canvas homebuilt aircraft that started life as the pet project of a freighter captain sailing the West Coast of the North Island between Onehunga and Wellington.
“He would take sticks of wood on to the ship and build components of the plane on board. The seahorse on the aircraft’s rudder reflects its origins at sea,” Butler explains.
Originally constructed in the 1970s, Butler purchased the plane from a pensioner in Manukau who “didn’t really have the time for it any more”.
The aircraft languished before Butler provided it with enough tender love and care to render it airworthy again.
With spruce wing spars, and a patchwork of stickers cataloguing a career of landings at airfields across the motu the aircraft is a “piece of history”, says Butler.
It does have one drawback though, he says: “The only luggage you’d manage to get in there would be a spare pair of underpants.”
“It has the engine of a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle in it,” Butler says, tracing the engine cowl with his finger, “when I flew here a week ago in it, I made sure to stay close to the coast in case the engine encountered issues.”
Several weeks earlier, Butler had been part of the Air Force contingent flying out of Guam to deliver Christmas parcels via parachute to isolated Pacific Islands.
Leanne Butler says that she and the family sometimes fly over jammed traffic just “to have the satisfaction of it – it certainly beats driving”.
With a runway 1426m long, Whitianga’s small airport services the “ten or so households” like the Butlers well. Houses have been built such that back gardens give way to the mowed grass airstrip that on Friday will be the site of the town’s annual summer air show.
“This place is fantastic,” Butler says, grinning.