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German hang-gliding and paragliding ace Felix Woelk has spent four weeks snapping about 6000 air-to-air frames from Mt Cook to Te Waewae Bay on the south coast.
He’s now back at his base in the Dolomite mountains of northern Italy winnowing those "raw" shots back to about 50.
Woelk, a professional freelance photographer, was supported on this trip by high-flying Swiss paraglider business, Advance: his role to capture images for the launch this month of its new paraglider.
"I stopped university and I tried carpentry and gardening. But I can’t stop my love for flying," he said.
Woelk represented Germany in hang-gliding about 2002 and also thrived on acrobatics.
He was the first to plunge by hang-glider from the face of a dam (in Austria). After free falling, the glider catches the air and pulls away.
Paragliding has mostly superseded hang-gliding in Europe because the equipment is light (6kg to 12kg these days), the chutes are relatively cheap and there is more scope.
"It’s the easiest way to fly," Woelk said.
But hang-gliding was still the most like flying like a bird, he said, lying forward and steering via weight shifts. In a paraglider, the flyer sits and adjusts the wing.
Woelk, who also dabbles in skydiving and skiing and in photographing adventure sports, has produced two books and writes features for paragliding and outdoor magazines and takes pictures.
He holds a paragliding world speed record (100km tandem out and return, cross-country). He’s caught the thermals to a frigid altitude of 5600m, above Ethiopia, and he traversed 300km in one flight in northern Brazil.
His secondary job for several weeks a year is as a paragliding instructor. He leads guided flying tours to exotic global locations as well as "hike and fly" trips in the Dolomites.
Woelk’s favourite southern spots were not the tourist centres of Mt Cook, Wanaka or Queenstown but Mt Ida in Maniototo and coastal flying at Te Waewae Bay, Southland, and around Dunedin.
"Sandymount [Otago Peninsula] is one of the most beautiful coastal flying sites in the world," he said.
The first week in New Zealand was dismal and he and Swiss pilot Roman Berner and host Alex Tups, of Dunedin, flew only once. Windy and changeable weather blew his plans off course.
Conditions, however, improved, and Woelk expects to have an impressive selection of photographs to show off the new paraglider.
This was his first New Zealand visit, and he eagerly awaits a chance to return, exploring, too, he hopes, ski mountaineering.
"There’s so much more to discover," he said.