Sir Paul Holmes' former flying instructor has tackled one of the greatest aviation feats - from South Africa to England in an open cockpit biplane.

British aviatrix Tracey Curtis-Taylor, whose mother and sister live in Auckland, left Cape Town on November 2 on the epic two-month adventure in a restored 1942 Boeing Spearman biplane. She landed in Goodwood, on England's southern coast, on New Year's Eve.

"It took eight weeks and some fairly hair-rasing moments, it must be said," she told the Herald on Sunday.

Despite her intrepid exploits, Curtis-Taylor this week said Holmes, who flew the same type of vintage aircraft, was probably more daring.


Curtis-Taylor said she had fond memories of flying with Holmes while he was training for his private pilot's licence at Ardmore in the mid-1990s. She lived in New Zealand for 14 years.

"I met Paul through a friend who was also a flight instructor," she said. "Paul was a good pilot but absolutely fearless to the point where I would get concerned for his safety. I flew with him many times."

Holmes had several close calls in the air, including a helicopter crash into the sea at Anaura Bay in June 1989, which killed cameraman Jo Von Dinklage.

Holmes had two crash landings in his vintage biplane, on January 14, 2004, southeast of Turangi, and on New Year's Eve 2004 at Bridge Pa Aerodrome near Hastings.

Curtis-Taylor, 51, said she wasn't surprised when she heard that Holmes had flipped on landing near Hastings. He walked away shaken but unhurt.

"Paul was pretty out there and after he assessed a risk he would then dismiss it and simply carry on doing what he liked. But at the same time he was always great fun. I was very sad to hear that he had died."

Holmes died at his Hawke's Bay home last February, aged 62.

Curtis-Taylor lived in New Zealand from 1983 to 1997, which she described as her formative years in aviation.

"I followed my twin sister out there. I had an absolute fixation with Africa and she was obsessed with New Zealand."

She said the blockbuster movie Out of Africa, with a sequence of Tiger Moths flying over the Rift Valley, was her inspiration. The journey re-enacted Lady Mary Heath's flight from South Africa to the UK in an Avro-Avian biplane in 1928.

"It's taken a lot of hard work and a lot of stress, I can tell you," she said

A documentary of the flight from Cape Town to Goodwood is being prepared by Nylon Films.