By Jodi Bryant
When April Nicole set out from South Carolina with a temporary working holiday visa, the yoga instructor had no idea she would settle in the Far North of New Zealand with a local man and change her career path to become a pilot.
But she credits the courageous Far North women and their 'can-do' attitudes for the latter – something that had only been a dream until she set foot on our soil.
"I really wish I had started flying when I was younger," says the 30-year-old. "But I never had the courage to get up and do it. It seemed so out of reach.
"But when I moved to Northland, I saw a culture of women who could do anything – women on motor cross bikes, catching big marlin, driving tractors, dairy and beef farming … Moving here and starting a new lifestyle inspired me."
April arrived in New Zealand three years ago after traveling around South East Asia and Australia. After working her way up the country bungee jumping and in search of penguins, she arrived in the Far North and carried out work in exchange for board before finding a job growing produce at Masters Bros and where she met her partner Tim Masters.
"I only planned to be here just long enough to make money and then move onto the next place," she recalls. "But I love the Far North and how the wide open spaces give you a sense of freedom and it was here I met my best adventure buddy!
"Some of my first memories of the Far North are going horse riding and deep-sea fishing. Also, eating lamb meat for the first time and driving on the beach. I have always loved trying new things and being adventurous. Flying seemed like a dream job but how could I ever afford it? Would I be smart enough? Would I be brave enough?"
With the encouragement of Tim, April contacted the Kaitaia Aeroclub. As a result, she carried out her first half-hour flight and was hooked.
"I love the views and the hands-on learning style. It took me about 10 hours of flight training before my first solo flight in the Technam Microlight. I was both terrified and excited."
After three hours of solo flying spread over several days, April has moved onto advanced training in a Cessna 150 with the aim of obtaining her private pilot's licence while studying for Civil Aviation Authority exams.
She currently has around 25 hours solo flying under her belt and she and fellow flying students were recently honoured at a Wings ceremony.
Deciding to go all the way through to commercial training, April has been encouraged and inspired by her new friends and adoptive family in the Far North.
"My 'adopted' kiwi nana, Lesley Rogers was the first female pilot to fly solo at the KAC (Kaitaia Aeroclub), which I imagine would have taken a lot of guts back then. I look up to her for that.
"With the help of my instructor, Jim Summerfield, my confidence has grown and I am on my way to reaching my goals."
Not only has she become part of the community, but April is throwing herself into supporting the KAC – a club she is clearly proud of – with fundraising towards purchasing a new aeroplane.
While April is heading home this month with Tim to meet her family, she has no plans to return there permanently. She is hoping to gain New Zealand residency this year – another stepping stone towards fulfilling her dream of becoming a scenic tour pilot.
"I love showing tourists this beautiful gem I now call home."