About Our Club

Situated at the northern tip of the Southern Alps near the beautiful Nelson Lakes National Park, Nelson Lakes Gliding Club is one of NZ’s best soaring sites.

As a winch launching club, there are few clubs anywhere in the country with a cost structure as low as ours. Not having expensive tow planes allows the club to reinvest in facilities and aircraft so we have great glider availability and can launch quickly. Another benefit is that the cost per flight is one of the cheapest in the country.

Our hangar houses the clubs fleet of 4 aircraft and the twin-drum launching 300hp 5.7L V8 Tost winch. Also parked on the airstrip are 6 or so privately owned gliders in their trailers.

Flying Area

The winch launch gets us some 1600-1700 feet above the valley floor and level with the two low ridges on either side. These nursery ridges give us ridge or thermal lift and from them we normally progress onto the Southern Alps. The local mountain peaks of the Southern Alps range from 5000 to over 7000 feet above sea level and are often snow-capped.

Much of this flying is over the Nelson Lakes & Kahurangi National Parks and Molesworth Station.

Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa are the main side-by-side twin lakes with numerous other smaller lakes and tarns here and there. To the Northwest is the accessible bush-clad Kahurangi National park. The closest mountain to the west is Mount Owen whose limestone scenery was used in the Lord of the Rings movie. To the East of us are the wide dry grasslands of Molesworth country. We have few airspace limitations from our site. Land-out options are limited but defined and our cross country flying is done within safe gliding range of them.


Lake Station Airfield, 10km NW of St Arnaud (1hr 10min drive south of Nelson, South Island, New Zealand).

Lake Station is a large sheep and beef farm who allow our club to use their 1540 metre long airstrip, 1700 feet above sea level.


The Nelson Gliding Club was founded in 1960 and based at Nelson Airport with its first two-seat training glider 'BW', a Ka4 Rhonlerche II, and first towplane an Auster hired from the Nelson Aero Club.

From 1972 to 1987 the club owned Schempp-Hirth SHK-1 'FJ', the V-tailed glider that set the still-standing national altitude record of 37,288ft flown by Doug Yarrall over Masterton in 1968.

To escape the growing activity at Nelson Airport, in March 1989 the club moved to the airstrip on the McConochie family-owned Lake Station with their generous support and moved to winch launching.

In 1990 the Club's first fibreglass-reinforced plastic glider Twin Astir 'MZ' was purchased, followed by single-seat Club Astir 'NH' in 2004 and Twin Astir 'AJ' in 2007. The registration letters for 'AJ' were chosen to honour long-time club member Arthur Jordan in recognition of his role as founding President and for years of providing engineering expertise and service to the club.

The Rhonlerche 'BW' is now on display at the Classic Boat Museum in St. Arnaud after being sold to club members in 2012 after 52 years of club service.

An article from former club member Errol Shirtliff describing a 1000km flight made from Nelson Airport in 1989

1000 km a Different Way…

By Errol Shirtliff

The weather map on the TV evening news of 24 February 1989 looked very good for an attempt at a 1000 km flight from Nelson. The isobars indicated that there would be a SW to W airstream west of the Main Divide becoming W to NW east of the Main Divide. This was important as a NW in the Nelson Area produces so much cloud that it is impossible to get out. The pressure wave that develops from French Pass to Wakefield does not go high enough to allow flight over the top.

Warwick Marshall happened to ring me on Saturday evening, so I arranged to call him about 6 in the morning if conditions looked good. Over the past 4 years Warwick has been of tremendous help getting Ivan Evans or myself airborne before 8 o’clock in the morning.

I rose about 0550 hours and had a good look at the weather conditions. It was very calm but still a little dark to see clearly any cloud formations. I rang Warwick and arranged to ring again about 7 o’clock. By then a nice WSW wind was blowing on the ground as well as being indicated by the cloud flowing over the Twins and Mount Arthur. It was all go from then.

The glider was already rigged at Nelson Airport but I needed to top up the oxygen and put 90 litres of water in the DG300 as well as the usual barograph, camera and film, and task declaration. All being ready the glider was towed to the start of Two Zero, the western grass runway. Take-off was about 0835 to a release over Fringed Hill at 3250 feet.

Wooded Peak about 3 kms from the release point is the best chance of climbing enough to get away. The ridge run to it was good and the subsequent climb took me to 4500 feet. At this point I set off carefully for the ridge that runs from the north to Mount Starveall. This was reached with the loss of just over 1000 feet. The SW face of Starveall was working gently up to 5500 feet. This allowed me to push into wind over the ridge by Bishops Cap where were rotor clouds. After considerable fiddling about a climb in rotor thermal to 7000 feet produced the height required to step forward into wave. This started at 8 knots and only went to 13,000 feet but meant the flight was on as this wave leads to another in the lee of the St Arnaud Range. Ath this stage I had to reach back and drag forward the heavy Lammie coat wrapped around the barograph away from the radio speaker so I could clearly hear Wellington Control.

There were no high lenticulars but the low level wave was clearly marked by the firm looking cumulus usually seen on the second of two ridges appropriately aligned for the wind direction.

The country between Rainbow Station and Hanmer has to be treated with the greatest respect as airstrips and paddocks are virtually nonexistent. As well, the walk to the nearest phone or person would be more likely to take days than hours. The track I took was Rainbow Station; Hamilton River; across Rainbow River; Lake Guyon; then down the Waiau River to cross the Lewis Pass Highway and link up west of the Puketeraki Range. At this stage it was obvious that the wind was definitely W, not NW, and quite strong. Climbs in wave up to 14,000 feet did not produce long runs as the subsequent push into wind resulted in rapid loss of height for little gain in distance.

By midday I had climbed in the Craigieburn wave and was approaching the NW end of Lake Coleridge. After a small climb here I pushed forward quickly to the ridge between the Rakaia River and Lake Heron. A thermal here gave me enough height to tackle the difficult terrain between the Rakaia and the Erewhon area of the Rangitata. I was very conscious of having been spat out over one of the Rangitata tributaries while trying to ridge soar back to Omarama when I had attempted a 1000 km flight during the 1989 Regional Championship.

Although I got over the difficult area I could make no progress up the western thumb of the Two Thumbs Range. The net result was a retreat to the hill between Mesopotamia and Hakatere which I ridge-soared up to get onto the Ben McCleod Range. It was working well despite having no clouds above. My subsequent run along it and then the Two Thumbs made me feel I could have made better progress into the quartering wind by ridge-soaring rather than flying the wave. The southern end of the Two Thumbs near Tekapo only produced a thermal to 7500 feet.

Time was passing quickly and as it was now 1400 hours I seriously considered turning back. Thirty minutes later I was almost sorry I had not. I passed over Irishman Creek at 4000 feet thinking I might have to pay Justin Wills a visit with only the low ridge leading up to Mount Mary ahead of me. However, a ridge climb then a thermal just out from the hill got me out to the Benmores which I ridge-soared along to get to Mount Horrible. Another thermal took me up enough to penetrate over the spur towards Hugo’s Elevator. The subsequent climb there lead almost directly into wave in the lee of the St. Bathan Range. This wave was comparatively low level, 13 to 14,000 feet and lay at 45 degrees to a really good looking lenticular just forming with only minor breaks from Clyde to Mount Peel.

About this stage I made radio contact with Ray Lynskey. In fact I rarely go flying down the Alps without hearing from Ray or Terry Delore or both. Ray was a lot more optimistic about my chances of making it back to Nelson than I was.

Having overcome the temptation of an easy link with the high level wave and a good start home I pushed forward three waves to the Tarras Road Junction, my turn point. Luckily it was right under the leading edge of wave cloud so with the photo in the camera at nearly 1630 hours I set off for home.

The choice now was to attempt the apparently easy transition into the big wave or stay close in to the Main Divide and make use of the tail wind with options of moving east if I had to. The low level wave was easy to follow home. It was good to fly north up into areas that were not accessible on the way south then simply drop downwind eastwards to try the next wave.

My track home was Tarras; Clay Cliffs; Glentanner; Murchison Glacier; Harper River; Cass; Glen Wye; Lake Guyon; Mount Travers. Stops were minimal and most of this section was conducted between 9 and 12,000 feet. About Cass my radio and electric vario began to malfunction as the battery felt the effects of the previous days four hours use. As I dipped to 9500 feet near Glen Wye I thanked Christchurch Control for their assistance then turned all the electrics off in case I needed the radio urgently at a later state. Passing over St Arnaud township I turned to the radio. Nelson Tower came in loud and clear responding to my call.

I informed them of my impending approach. Shortly after I called my base from 40 kms out at 8,500 feet. Warwick answered sounding very happy and relieved not to be going for a long drive. A VNE approach to the circuit pattern as I dropped all my water ballast provided a spectacular sight from the airport with the setting sun seen low in the sky behind. As I rolled to a halt near my trailer I could hardly believe I had done the trip home in 2 hours and 45 minutes. The time was then 1910 hours.

A flight of this magnitude would not wave been possible without the help on many occasions of crew and tow pilot Warwick Marshall, other pilots like Ivan Evans who provide the incentive to improve soaring skills, and many cub members who have assisted in one way or another, as well as a very supportive wife. Also I must mention Wellington and Christchurch radar operators. They were very patient particularly so on a day when one was up and down in the vicinity of 10,000 feet all the time. They deserve special thanks.


Glider DG300 Standard Class, ZK-GOZ

Pilot and water ballast 173 kg

Duration of flight 10 hours 26 minutes

Average speed going south 64.27 km/h

Average speed returning north 187.5 km/h

Four pilots flew 1000 km or more on the weekend of 24/25 February 1989, two for their first time. Three of the four are picked to fly at Minden.

The Fleet

AJ (Alpha Juliet) & MZ (Mike Zulu)

Grob 103 Twin Astir

Docile and easy to handle 2 seat trainers with moderate performance. A great aircraft to learn in which is also capable of cross-country flying.

NH (November Hotel)

Grob 102 Club Astir III

A club class medium performance single seater, ideal for solo pilots to further their skills and explore further afield in.

CX (Charlie X-Ray)

Rolladen-Schneider LS4-a

A higher performance cross country soaring machine that is just beautiful to fly. Outfitted with all the instruments and modern nav equipment a cross country pilot needs.

What to expect at Lake Station

When gliding, you are usually at Lake Station airfield all day, so come prepared! The nearest shop is in St Arnaud, 9km away. The weather can vary from snow and frost, to scorching sunshine. Bring plenty of warm clothes in winter. In summer, long sleeved tops or sunscreen and insect repellent are a must. Sandflies are there most of the year. Sometimes the field is covered in fresh sheep droppings – bring a change of footwear or gumboots.


CLUBHOUSE - A small lined shed that we call Glider Base, with plenty of windows, table, chairs and deck facing the runway. Lots of gliding magazines and other interesting material. It has the base set radios in it.

PHONES - There is good 4G cell phone coverage.

POWER - No mains power available, but there is a low current 240v inverter in the glider base. Good for running laptops and similar, it runs off a solar charged 12 volt battery.

WATER - There is a farm water supply near the clubhouse. There is a gas bottle and kettle for boiling water. Some cups and teabags. We recommend you bring your own drinking water, water bottle, cup, tea, coffee.

TOILET - Longdrop located beside the Hangar.

RUBBISH - For a large group, it’s a good idea if someone brings their recycling bin from home.