Hanging in to claim record

It took 5hr 10min 4sec for hang-gliding pilot John Smith to set a New Zealand distance record this week, flying from Queenstown to Tekapo - and seven hours for him to return to the resort by car.

Mr Smith (43), who spends summers in Queenstown and winters in Dunedin, reached a top speed of 93.9kmh while flying the record-setting 172.4km distance. He took off from Coronet Peak at 1.15pm on Thursday and landed near Tekapo at 6.25pm.

The previous record was held by Dave Newton, who flew from Motueka to Murchison, a distance of 167km, about five years ago.

The world hang-gliding distance record was set last year in Texas by Dustin Martin and Jonny Durand, flying 763km.

Mr Smith said yesterday he had flown the route for the first time last month, getting as far as Omarama.

''I could see the potential for going further.''

The Extreme Air Hang-gliding and Paragliding School instructor taught on Thursday morning, but realised conditions would be ideal for a potential record flight in the afternoon.

''It was really nice ... I went through the back right to Wanaka.

''It's the most beautiful scenery through there.

''There are no roads ... so if you land it's going to be quite an effort getting out.''

After crossing to Hawea, Mr Smith said he travelled through the Lindis Pass and ''got low a couple of times'', before encountering more strong thermals in the Mackenzie Country, which carried him to his final destination.

''I was thrilled to be able to make it.''

While pilots could carry an emergency locator beacon with them, Mr Smith did not have one during his flight.

''I wasn't too far away from civilisation''.

He also managed to travel the distance without food or water.

''I didn't have time to think about it ... It was certainly good to have water when I landed, though.''

Mr Smith, who has more than 20 years' experience in hang-gliding and is ranked within the top 20 in the world, said he would now set his sights on upping the ante.

''I'm quite keen to do out and return - ideally fly back to base - so there's less driving,'' he said.