The South Canterbury Gliding Club was founded in 1954, under the presidency of P. J. Cummins. It took 6 months of fund raising before the club had enough money the buy their first glider, a Slingsby Tutor that was second hand from Hastings, costing £240. In 1960 the club was fortunate to obtain the consent of Dick Wardell from Omarama Station to use their airstrip for gliding operations at New Years and Easter. This was a major benefit to the SCGC, and still provides club members the opportunity to experience mountain and ‘wave’ flying at New Zealand’s premiere gliding site.
Since that time, the SCGC has progressed with the replacement of the old wooden gliders to a modern glass-fibre fleet, and a sturdy tow plane that is professionally maintained to the stringent standards laid down by CAA while still being affordable/economical to run.
Bases of Operation:
Richard Pearse Timaru Airport
For most of the year, the SCGC is located at the Richard Pearse airport, 6 km north of Timaru, just off State Highway 1. The club operates in close partnership with the South Canterbury Aero Club, which allows us to share club and flight briefing rooms, as well as a bar for social activities after the days flying has ended. We operate out on the grass runway in front of the airport terminal, or at the other end of the runway next to the Levels golf course, depending on the prevailing wind (see map). The club caravan is the base of operations while at Timaru, and can be easily seen anywhere on the airfield.
Flying currently only on Sundays & public holidays, we intend to operate on Saturdays as well, once membership numbers increase. Flight training at Timaru airport is beneficial as we have large open runways without obstructions, and there is little other air-traffic to cause congestion. Autumn, winter and spring bring very good training conditions with little turbulence, helping to maximise training time in each flight and build pilot confidence. When the conditions are just right, strong lift can be found over the land surrounding the airport and closer towards the mountains. Standing lee-waves created by wind flowing up over the mountains are not uncommon, and pilots try to get into this ‘wave’ lift for long soaring flights. Club members have been known to soar from Timaru airport down to Alexandra and back in 5-6 hours when the conditions are right!
While at Omarama, the SCGC operates from the main strip down next to the town. There is a newly renovated clubroom with electricity and fridge/freezers, as well as two blocks of toilets and gas-heated showers. The camp is by no means luxury, but the communal environment and common interest of soaring and relaxing makes for a pleasant camp, with some wild evening tales of the days flying over a drink or two around the barbeque or campfire. Of course, alcohol and flying don’t mix and a close eye is kept to keep the pleasure of a beer or two and the pleasure of flying very much apart. Club members call the Wardell camps and the surrounding Omarama area ‘Paradise’, but it is something you have to be experience to believe.
Omarama provides unsurpassed gliding conditions for the pilots, and the surrounding Omarama area has a lot to offer for the entire family. There are still current club members who have spent time at the airfield in their younger years, enjoying what’s on offer. Televisions, Playstation, are nowhere to be found at Wardell Airfield. Life is at a much slower pace in Omarama, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Camping is the usual form of accommodation at Wardell’s, although there is a club hut that is available for use. Parents can take some time-out to read a book, catch up on lost sleep, or do absolutely nothing at all; taking in the peace and tranquillity of the camp while enjoying what some would call a million dolllar view.
Evenings can bring a stunning night sky with no streetlights making satellite spotting a regular feature as we sit out in the dusk. The odd time mother nature has entertained us with spectacular lighting displays of the southern lights (the aurora) or wild fire around the hills, or a lightening display from a distant thunder storm in the distant mountains.
There are things for the kids to do for example swimming in the near by rivers or lakes, go on bike rides or mountain biking.
They are also allowed to go riding in the ‘Airport Buggy’ (see photo) with supervision. There is always the opportunity for a flight in the back of the glider (Mike Yankee), if a pilot can be persuaded by some sweet talking or maybe a ride in the tow plane while it goes on it's warm up flight before towing each day from the main strip down at the township.
The social atmosphere of the camp is unsurpassed, both during the day and at night. Breakfasts are usually a communal affair, accompanied by hash browns, eggs, bacon, toast and what ever else can be found. It is the ideal start to the day after a sociable night! During the day, the non-flying members and partners of the pilots have been known to sit back and relax while having a sociable wine together over lunch. The social aspect of the SCGC is just as big is the flying aspect in every way.
There is a growing number of club members that bring their families to Wardell airfield for a New Years holiday, and as you can imagine there ends up being a regular gang of new friends meeting up and having plain-old good fun. The children make new friends and they get together making forts, huts and playing games away from flying operations in a area that is safe and just far enough away for them to watched over, now that's got to be a bonus for you parents
Other activities include visiting the Clay Cliff winery, visiting the surrounding lakes and towns (only 20 minutes to Twizel, 1 1/2 hours to Queenstown), playing golf, the Omarama rodeo just prior to New Years, and much more. There is as much to do in Omarama and the surrounding area as you can be bothered to find. Many of the club members have found great places to visit, so just ask them and they will be happy to make some suggestions.
Gliding is both rewarding and challenging. The airfield is suitable and safe for training beginners, it has long runways called strips and has plenty of space, ideal for sending students on there very first solo flight.
Flying at Omarama airfield is the ultimate as far as soaring sites in New Zealand (and the world) are concerned. Gliding doesn’t get better than this, and the SCGC has it all in our backyard!