Paraglider top woman in country

Paraglider Melanie Heather back in Queenstown with the New Zealand Women's Paragliding Champion Trophy and Leo Geary Award. Photo supplied.
Paraglider Melanie Heather back in Queenstown with the New Zealand Women's Paragliding Champion Trophy and Leo Geary Award. Photo supplied.
Melanie Heather, of Queenstown, has claimed victory in New Zealand's national ''orienteering in the sky'' competition.

Ms Heather swiped the first place honour in the women's section of the New Zealand Paragliding Open from Kussy Gomez, also of Queenstown, who had held the title of national female paragliding champion for the previous two years.

The competition, which was held over two weeks in Nelson and Rotorua finishing last week, involved ''tasks'' set each day to weather conditions and ''in each task you have to fly as far as you can along the route that they set''.

About 60 pilots competed.

The Paragliding World Cup website describes cross-country paragliding competitions as being similar to yacht racing where boats race around a marked course.

Instead of buoys, paragliders use GPS-enabled flight instruments with turn-points programmed in so the pilots fly a virtual course.

Ms Heather was also awarded the Leo Geary Memorial Trophy which is presented to up-and-coming pilots and was last year given to Queenstown's Louis Tapper.

Wanaka's Grant Middendorf was second while Queenstown's Mark Hardman was 4th.

Ms Heather hoped to use her achievements to promote the sport, particularly among women.

Originally from Ireland, she began paragliding in Queenstown two and a-half years ago.

Last year, she went with a team of 28 New Zealanders to Manilla, Australia, to compete in the State of Origin paragliding competition which attracted 183 pilots.

The New Zealand team came second with Ms Heather in the top individual spot.

''That was my first introduction to competition flying and obviously I learned a lot from that.''