Story: Aerial recreation

For those who want to experience the freedom and exhilaration of soaring like a bird, New Zealand has many adventures on offer, and some stunning scenery to fly over.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: A skydiver prepares to leap from a plane

Story Summary

All images & media in this story


Before there were planes, some daring people flew in silk hot-air balloons. The balloons were hard to control, and often blew off course. The American Leila Adair, who visited New Zealand in 1894, performed on a trapeze under her balloon.

Modern nylon balloons are safer. New Zealand’s colourful balloon festivals began in 1988, and today tourists enjoy sightseeing from high in the sky.

Flying planes

In the early 1900s many New Zealanders built their own engine-powered planes, and formed aero clubs. Today almost anyone can learn to fly, including young people. A popular hobby is restoring old aircraft, which are flown in spectacular air shows.

Microlights are tiny planes with light engines. They are cheap to build and quite easy to fly, and you can train for a licence.


Gliders are planes with no engine. Launched by a powered aircraft, they stay up by riding on air currents. In 1911, 18-year-old George Bolt built and flew a glider above Christchurch. Some Kiwis have been world gliding champions.

Parachuting and skydiving

Imagine leaping from a plane: the sudden blast of air, the fear and excitement, free-falling at about 200 kilometres an hour before you pull the cord and release your parachute. New Zealand’s first parachute jump was in 1922, and the sport has been popular since the 1950s. Skydivers sometimes perform acrobatics while they are in free fall.

Hang gliding and paragliding

A hang glider is a simple aluminium frame with two wings. Launching from a cliff, the pilot hangs in a harness and uses his or her weight to catch the wind and change direction. The sport began in the 1970s in New Zealand.

A paraglider has no frame – just one wing that fills with air, and a harness. Paragliders are easy to carry and can be launched from high mountains. Kiwi mountaineer Rob Hall made the first flight from Mt Cook in 1986.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Aerial recreation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 January 2020)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 12 Jun 2006