05 March 2023

Living the dream - Air Ruatoria

UPDATED March 2024

Air Ruatoria was established by Mahanga Maru in late 2020 during the midst of the Covid pandemic. Born and raised in Ruatoria and from a young age was interested in aircraft and frequent visitor at the Ruatoria airfield scoring the occasional free flight. In the 1990's he did his pilots licence with Air Gisborne at the age of 23 going on to work for this company doing charter work, instructing students, fish spotting and flying air ambulance flights. At that time he had his sights set on joining the national airline but when a recession hit the airline stopped hiring so he headed off to Massey University.  

Mahanga Maru

In February 2020 the Provincial Growth Fund announced a $100,000 grant to develop the Ruatoria airfield which was built in the 1960s by a farmer with a home-made grader. Today it is owned and operated by Ruatoria Papa Rererangi Charitable Trust, Mahanga Maru being one of the trustees. The local aero club celebrated its 60th anniversary in March 2020.  In an 2019 interview on Radio Ngati Porou he said the trust was thinking about the next 25 years and working on a master plan for the aerodrome. 

The operation started off in late December 2020 using a Cessna 172 ZK-DXF leased from Air Gisborne. Mahanga initially lived in a caravan on the airstrip and set about renovating the clubrooms to use as a "terminal". 

Leased Cessna 172 ZK-DXF at Ruatoria on 27 March 2021

Speaking on the new operation at the time of its launch Mahanga said, It’s a bit of a risk starting an aviation business in the Covid environment. Some of my mates think I'm mad. The idea is to test the market and see how it goes. I’d always thought it was an idea worth trying. I always kept my licence up to date and I got to the point of thinking ‘well I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time so why don’t I give it a crack.’ It’s a remote place that not many people go to. That can be a strength. I’d like to get a bit of activity back in the place. It’s a pretty poor area. I’ll be living the dream. The advantage I have is that I grew up there, so I have the knowledge and can tell people about our maunga, our river and our people. It’ll be a cultural experience. Mostly it's about giving people access to a part of the world they wouldn’t have access to before

On the 24th of February 2022 Cessna P206E Super Skylane was registered to Maru Consulting Ltd (for more photos of ZK-FJH see https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2012/09/fjh-through-years.html), this being Air Ruatoria's first aircraft. On the 27th of April 2022 Mahanga registered Air Ruatoria Limited as an incorporated company. 

Shortly after, on the 19th of March 2022 a Ngāti Porou initiative against Covid-19 saw a number of  aircraft adorned with the names of the 28 Māori Battalion soldiers from the East Coast will return to Ruatoria Aerodrome to promote vaccinations in the fight against the virus. Mahanga Maru said “The whakaaro (idea) behind using the names of our C Company soldiers is to remind our people of the sacrifice and commitment our tipuna (ancestors) made on their behalf during World War 2.” Up to 100 Ngāti Porou whānau members, who were vaccinated at the airfield on the day, were to be offered a free flight around Hikurangi. 

Cessna 206 ZK-FJH at Gisborne on 22 August 2022

The company's website lists four scenic flight options from Ruatoria:

Hikurangi Maunga
"You head up the Tapuaeroa Valley, where there are a number of smaller maunga. The flight will proceed around the northern side of (Hikurangi) and round the back where from our perspective you can see Nukutaimemeha, the sacred waka of Maui and around the maunga at probably 7000 feet, then come down the Makarika Valley which is a lush series of river flats and then heading back over the Mecca of Ngāti Porou, Ruatōria,"

Whale Rider
Heading south to Whangara, you will see the remnants of the Tuparoa township once a bustling coastal town of 2,000 people until Ruatoria was established. You will be introduced to strategic pa sites hapu used to protect themselves and their resources. Taking in Whareponga, Waipiro Bay, Tokomaru Bay, Tolaga Bay/Cooks Cove then arriving overhead at Whangara, home of Paikea, the Whale Rider of Ngāti Oneone. Returning to Ruatoria inland you will get a sense of the scale of the Raukumara Pae Maunga project, an initiative spearheaded by local DOC Ranger Graeme Atkins to restore the native flaura and fauna.

Te Whanau-ā-Apanui
From Ruatoria we fly up the Tapuaeroa Valley and over the Hikurangi saddle into Te Waka o Toi (Bay of Plenty) and the western boundary of Te Whanau-ā-Apanui our iwi cousins. Flying east you will get to see Marae along this cultural landscape and the Motu River, its headwaters in the Raukūmara ranges. Approaching Whangaparāoa is the beautiful Raukokore Church set against a backdrop of extensive and rich native bush. Literally hours from the nearest supermarket, hapu fish and hunt to feed whanau with kaimoana and some of the best wild pork in the world. From East Cape, you will be flown to Lotton Point famous for its maumau fishing then south to Wharekahika (Hicks Bay), Te Araroa/ Whetumatarau, the East Cape lighthouse and Whangaokena before flying up the Waiapu River Valley past the beautiful and ornately carved St Andrews Church, Tikitiki. A memorial to local people who fought in WWI.

Onenui Station and Rocket Lab
Onenui Station is a Māori Incorporation located at Mahia Peninsula, the heart of the Rongomaiwahine people. The Station owns the land upon which Rocket Lab conducts their space rocket operations. You will see the launch pad and the infrastructure Rocket Lab has built. Enroute you will enjoy views of the worlds longest wharf at Tolaga Bay, Cooks Cove and the popular beaches of our southern neighbours, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngai Tamanuhiri situated in and around Gisborne. Returning to Ruatoria, you will see some of the largest sheep and beef farms in the lee of the Raukumara Ranges of Te Tairawhiti.

The company also advertises charter flights from Ruatoria to Gisborne on request avoiding the long road trip worsened by the roads effected by logging trucks.

On the 18th of October the Cessna 206, ZK-FJH, was damaged during an injury-free forced landing. The aircraft was replaced with Cessna T206H Turbo Stationair ZK-NVC.

After the destruction of Cyclone Gabrielle in the East Coast and Hawkes Bay areas on the 13th of 14th of February 2023 and the associated closure and damage to the roading infrastructure Air Ruatoria was busy with flights in support of isolated communities. On the 28th of February 2023 Air Ruatoria and Ngāti Porou began a partnership, running daily flights between Ruatoria and Gisborne to keep the communities connected. The flights are operating until the 8th of March and will be extended if the demand is there. 

Air Ruatoria's Cessna 206 ZK-NVC at Paraparaumu on 23 April 2023. Photos : J Elvy

In December 2023 Air Ruatoria began flight training using Cessna 152 ZK-FPI (c/n 15281203) following the Cessna 152 being registered to the operator on 17th of December 2023. An office was also opened at Gisborne airport. 

Meanwhile the registered ownership of the Cessna 206 ZK-NVC was changed to Maru Consulting Ltd on the 1st of March 2024.

Air Ruatoria's Cessna 152 ZK-FPI at Gisborne on 9 March 2024 

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