Fun and Fellowship in one of the world’s southernmost cities

Between Friday 31 March and Monday 2 April, members of IFFR New Zealand met for a great weekend of fellowship and flying at Invercargill (Waihōpai), the regional capital and commercial hub of Southland. Founded in the 1850’s, Invercargill is New Zealand’s southernmost city – and one of the southernmost cities in the world. This is the report just in from IFFR New Zealand Section Leader Eoin Keith, as published in the IFFR New Zealand newsletter.

Attendees had a busy weekend kicking off on Friday afternoon with a heritage walk led by Eoin from our base at the Kelvin Hotel to the Hardware Store of E-Hayes and Sons which has been an institution in Invercargill for over 90 years. Today it also houses a unique collection of classic motorcycles including Burt Munro’s (aka World’s Fastest Indian) 1920’s motorbike, mowers, cars and hardware.

After passing some unique heritage buildings that Invercargill has managed to preserve, members and partners returned to the Kelvin for networking, drinks and dinner.

Saturday morning dawned with some light rain as we boarded the bus and headed towards the small settlement of Fortrose at the south end of the Catlins. Here we enjoyed a short stop for coffee but rain and tides prevented us from seeing the wreck of the steamship Ino that was wrecked on the sandbar in 1886.

We then headed inland towards our next stop of Gore, passing through farmland, Mataura with its Freezing Works and Paper Mills, Gore Aerodrome . The weather gods were on our side as the weather cleared into a warm blue sky day. There were a few people complaining it was too hot! Our Gore visit started with a visit to the Hokonui Whiskey Museum which is still in the throes of redevelopment. Our guide Jim provided a great insight into the illicit whiskey stills and the characters that have made it a legend. The tour ended with tasting of Whiskey from the on-site working still. This tour was a highlight for many.

Following a delicious lunch at the Thomas Green, attendees had time to view the Eastern Southland Art

Then it was time to depart for Mandeville, where the next stop was the Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre and workshop with a guided tour of both. During this time two of the members Asia/Australasia Region Vice President and World President Elect Mike McFarlane (over for the weekend with his wife Sali from Melbourne, Australia), and Shirley Keith took to the air in the Centre’s Tiger Moth.

We returned to Invercargill via Riversdale, Lumsden, Dipton and Winton.

Following networking and drinks our dinner in the 6th Floor Conference Centre featured our Guest Speaker Robin McNeil accompanied by his wife Sue. Robin spoke to us about Space Operations NZ which has grown considerably over the last few years from a chance encounter. Increasing demand from international small satellite companies for its commercial and civilian ground station services and launch support services at Awarua. Space Operations NZ provides downrange support for international launch companies, including Rocket Lab. Southland has had an active role in the space community since 2004 when the Awarua Satellite Ground Station was established in conjunction with the European and French Space Agencies. It is New Zealand’s only commercial low earth orbit satellite ground station, where data is downloaded from satellites and spacecraft are commanded. Announced earlier in March was a new state-of-the-art satellite positioning service that will bring GPS accuracy to about 10cm, refining data for aviation, search and rescue, and many other industries.

Sunday morning saw a tour of wider Invercargill with a view of The Water Tower, Strangs Building home of first commercial instant coffee powder – and then a brief stop to view and talk to the birds at the Queens Park Aviary. From there, it was on to the Awarua Communication Museum where we were meet by our speaker from the previous night.

We first adjourned to the beautifully recreated Regal Picture Theatre where our AGM was conducted.

Awarua was the location of NZ’s largest Marine Radio Station (ZLB) that communicated across the globe as well as
distress watches for ships at sea. Many of you know that I worked as a Radio Operator here in 1975-1979, luckily no-one asked me to give a demonstration of my morse code skills (once certified at 25 wpm) or typing skills on the telegraphic equipment that once stood at 55 wpm.

After the AGM we had time to view the exhibits in the museum that included items from the Invercargill telephone
exchange as well as ZLB. Some members were intrigued that ZLB was a receiving station but transmitting was done remotely from transmitters based at Himitangi north of Wellington.

Our group then had the privilege of visiting the nearby NZ Space Operations Satellite facility to see for ourselves the work the Robin had spoken of. We would expect that the security will increase over the coming years with demands from their overseas customers.

Our return to Invercargill was a visit to the Bill Richardson Transport World Museum followed by dinner at a local Thai Restaurant. Monday morning was time for farewells, some of the group went across to Stewart Island, others to visit family or to return home.

(With thanks also to Mike McFarlane and Shirley Keith for some of the photos from the IFFR New Zealand Facebook page)

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