Mount 'best spot' to try out paragliding


Paragliders are a familiar sight soaring high in the skies above Mt Maunganui and their numbers are on the increase.

The sport's popularity is being fuelled by Mauao's status as one of the best locations in New Zealand for thrill seekers to try it out.

Running off a mountainside suspended in a harness below a hollow fabric wing 300m above the ground might seem like madness to many but it's safer than it looks says instructor Wayne Roberts.

"The worst injury any of my students have had is spraining an ankle on the walk up the Mount," said Roberts, a safety officer with the Bay of Plenty Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club, who has been paragliding for 15 years. "It's only really dangerous if you push the boundaries and start taking things like the conditions for granted."

Paragliding has been a long-term passion for Mr Roberts.

"I always wanted to fly and this was a cheap and easy form of flying," said Mr Roberts, an instructor who gained seven years' experience in Europe, including flying in the Alps.

The Mount frequently provides the perfect wind conditions for the sport.

"It's smooth air. It hasn't hit any obstacles until it gets to the Mount. And air is like water, it follows the easiest route, so it just hits the Mount and pushes up.

"This is one of the best spots in New Zealand in that you can fly from the Mount with virtually any wind direction. We're so lucky to have it on our doorstep."

Mr Roberts said there were few sensations like the peace and solitude of being up in the air.

"Sunset is the best time to fly ... It's the ultimate three-dimensional freedom."

Flights last around an hour and paragliders often reach heights of over 120m above the Mount (350m above ground level).

The Bay of Plenty Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club has about 40 members and Mr Roberts said numbers were rising each year.

Steve Hopper is one of Mr Roberts' students. The web designer has been learning to paraglide for the past 12 months.

"I just have the exam to sit now and then I'll be licensed," he said.

"It's so relaxing, and being up there is a great chill out spot. When you come down you're totally mellow, all your stresses are gone."

For those wanting to try paragliding an Introduction Day is available for $190. It lasts around four hours, depending on weather, and includes a 'first flight' taking off from the sand dunes.

Those interested in paragliding should visit the Tourism Bay of Plenty website at www.bayofplentynz.com, call Wayne Roberts on 021 668 852, or contact president David Shaw on (07) 575 9560.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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